Our guide led us down the hallway of the Great Room. Offering us snippets of what kinds of things we were going to see. He was well versed in the tenants of Larry Rosenstock's vision and could recite the purpose of everything going on around us. That was my first revelation. All the students that attend HTH are aware of the purpose and intention behind everything done there. The goals of every project, every instructional method, every philosophical stance on an issue was a conscious choice at the school and the students had a voice in all of it. I later learned that its one of the tenants of PBL as HTH approaches it, as well as part of their professional development for their teachers. Students sit in on faculty discussions on teaching practice (similar to our AIW sessions around Norwalk) and give feedback to their teachers on what worked and what to do differently. They are part of the instructional teams. Very interested concept and one I think we can adopt in Norwalk. As we went farther down the hall we got views of some of the classrooms. Nothing really spectacular here except the windows. It was interesting to note that a lot of the windows are covered with student work. I think it also serves as an attention blocker. I don't have to tell teachers how windows can work in a classroom. Especially when people are walking around the hallway.
I did see the room above curtained off. That is the big projects room (as I understood it). There was a trailer in there where students and a faculty member were working on a large project. The were definitely involved in PBL in that room, but there really wasn't instruction going on, just work on the task at hand. Our guide kept saying things straight out of the HTH manual and he really was doing a great job. I, of course, decided to go off on my own to see what else I could find out about pedagogy around the facility.
I stuck my head into probably five classrooms at HTH throughout that tour. I visited with the Art instructor and one of their science teachers for a few minutes each. The science instructor, Jesse Wade Robinson was very helpful and informative. She was very happy to walk me through her world as I was witnessing it at the time. The art instructor and I just talked about Macs and PCs, which was a fun conversation. Most of the other classroom instructors did their best to ignore me (as did their students) as I walked around taking videos. I admit, I felt guilty watching everyone try to teach around my distraction. I was shocked to see direct instruction going on in a lot of the classrooms. The Spanish instructor was doing the same stuff I have seen our Spanish instructors do. Verb conjugations and pronunciations I think, but my Spanish is rusty. Straight-up lecture style for the entire time I was there. The Art instructor was painting a picture while we discussed Macs and PCs, and his students were busy working on their own art. Again, its probably related to a project somewhere, but it wasn't instruction as I currently understand PBL. Just the same kinds of things our Art teachers (and probably all Art teachers worldwide) do with students and their art projects. Where things got really interesting was the ELA and Science rooms. I have since learned that really they were not ELA and Science rooms as everything is taught in an interdisciplinary fashion. At the time, it appeared that there were definite Science, ELA and Media and Publishing rooms. I spent a good portion of time in Jesse's room and got to learn a lot about how her life functions.
Jesse Wade Robinson is an 11th grade Biology teacher at HTH. She has been there for ten years, almost as long as the facility itself. Jesse is a San Diego native and has spent time abroad prior to teaching at HTH. She spent about 15 minutes talking with myself and our group and served as my primary expert that I met in PBL from the teacher's point of view. Here is a link to her PBL resources. The day we visited her students were working on a paper concerning their data mining of their Honey Bee project.
The paper was one aspect of the entire bee project. Jesse explained that her students were working on a scientific paper answering their individual questions that they developed from mining the data set they were collecting for a local scientist. The paper was based around the data they found supporting their hypotheses. This project was organized by Jesse and the aforementioned scientist at the University of California, San Diego. The project was arranged around his work on his dissertation. The essential question being worked on collaboratively by her students and her research partner was: "How does urbanization affect bees in San Diego?" Jesse and her students were doing data gathering for his doctoral research. This was evidence of another of Larry's tenants. Schools should interact with their community and the outside world. Bring it in to the school day. This concept was mentioned several times throughout the day, but I saw evidence of it most plainly here. The students were also creating bee boxes to display insects they had collected in their yards. The insects were pinned and labelled and identified by their scientific names. The bee boxes were an interesting item. They were all a various stages of completion and quality. Each student creates draft labels initially, then final labels when they have identified the insect correctly. That process illustrates another tenant of PBL at HTH, revisions and re-working a product until the product is high quality and worthy of display. This information was going into a graduate level dissertation as sample evidence. Each student's bee box was going to serve as evidence of their understanding of the environment around their house. Students are regularly asked to display their work to each other and to the outside collaborators. The methodology is designed to enhance the level of quality as the student should see the project as something that is not just for their consumption, but for a larger, more high stakes purpose. At the end of their work on this project each student was going to present a "poster presentation" to the scientist as well as other faculty on his team at UC-SD. Not an uncommon educational expectation, but rarely do you see students presenting to professors.
Students at HTH, and in Jesse's class, are asked to identify questions they have centered around the question: What do I need to learn to find answers to the project's questions. They investigate other realms of instruction as a part of every project. Art and science and writing work together to help them learn more about biological topics. The students become active guides of their own learning, but the group is centered around a singular focus for the duration of the term of the project. One student might need to know more about environments, another more about data mining and still another might need help in presentations or writing skills. Evidence of their learning process are supposed to be evident in every final presentation that the students do. Faculty at HTH are concerned with the students understanding the process of their own learning, not just the products they produce from that learning. Every student is expected to produce similar products, but the products are secondary to the process that the students go through to learn what to create as a product. I asked Jesse about her process she uses to create a project. "I think there are steps I commonly go through since I teach science, because I want my kids to act like scientists." She primarily teaches using an inquiry-based instructional methodology (I came to find out) centered around the project at hand. So not just PBL, but other pedagogy as well. Units within units, depending on the personal learning questions developed by her students. "We tend to go through the process of science steps together," Jesse told me.
She broke her instructional plan for the process down as follows:
1) Launch event where the scientist comes in (or they go there) and set the stage for what the outside entity needs them to do
2) Students generate questions about what they will need to learn in order to help with the project
3) Attack that list together -collaborative learning
4) While three is going on - teacher attempt the project outcomes themselves to learn the process first hand
5) Do some "Research pieces based on primary sources of prior research in the area" as well as some "Initial observation pieces" of their initial findings
6) Collect their data and begin data analysis
7) Continue to follow Scientific Process until the answers are apparent and projects are finished
8) Exhibitions of process and products presented to outside entity. -and parents.
more in the next post...