Yesterday was a professional development day in Weston. The entire K–12 faculty met together for a long lecture on special ed law, two workshops (I picked Google Classroom and 3-D Printing among a lot of choices), and a film about a charter school in San Diego (Most Likely to Succeed).
On balance, the day was definitely a success — one of the better PD days that I have seen. That’s not to say that it was flawless. The initial lecture by a knowledgeable lawyer, for instance, was important and clear, but she went on for too long (close to 90 minutes) with no visuals.
I was glad to participate in the Google Classroom workshop, as I intend to start using that app in my Algebra II classes very soon. As always happens, there are some features that it doesn’t have but I wish it did have, but it still looks like a vast improvement over plain vanilla Google Docs. Stay tuned.
The 3-D printing workshop was one of those workshops that is useful because it tells me what not to do — at least not yet. Although we have a 3-D printer in each school, it’s clear that this technology is not yet ready for prime time. Perhaps the high-end ($10,000?) models are, but certainly the low-end ($300) models aren’t, as even the midrange ($900) models we tried had too many flaws. They kept crashing, they were very slow, and final results were unimpressive. Furthermore, this might just be a solution in search of a problem: it’s not yet clear how we would use 3-D printing in high-school teaching. That’s not to say that it’s hopeless; I feel confident that in five years the technology will be great, it will of course cost less, and we’ll find appropriate uses. At the moment the only use we could think of is to demonstrate one approach to volume, as a series of layers being accumulated, as that’s what you can see the printer doing as it s-l-o-w-l-y creates your object.
Most Likely to Succeed is worth seeing — but I say that with many reservations. On one level, this film is a portrayal of the Gary and Jerri-Ann Jacobs High Tech High Charter School, an awkwardly named charter school in San Diego commonly referred to as “High Tech High.” On another level, it’s a critique of American secondary education today. On a third level, it’s a promo for the educational philosophy of the Coalition of Essential Schools. All three levels show promise; all three show limitations. Although you can’t tell it from the movie, High Tech High is one of thirteen schools — elementary, middle, and high — in San Diego County operated by the same organization. There’s also an associated graduate program. The most intriguing thing about these schools is that they are project-based and require students to exhibit their work publicly. The downside is that far less content is learned than one would want. Maybe, of course, that trade-off is worth it, but it would take some careful thought to reach that conclusion. The other thing about the movie that disturbed some of my colleagues is that the featured school appeared to have no kids in special ed, none on the autism spectrum, very few who were non-white, and very few who appeared to be low-income. I say all this with many caveats, as the film never claimed to present a balanced view of the entire student body. Maybe we got the wrong impression. But even if we did, we still came away with a number of ideas that we can implement to improve our standard curriculum. One of those can be inserted into the June Academy, an idea already in the process of development — watch for more info in these pages.