Imagine being a grade 12 student and getting this assignment for your next chemistry unit:
Design and make a new type of soap and present your findings to an audience of your peers.
That’s what Grade Twelve students at High Tech High did in chemistry class for just one of their projects this past term. In the constant pursuit of excellence in Christian education, the Ontario Alliance of Christian Schools (OACS) and the Ontario Christian School Administrators Association (OCSAA) combined forces and raised funds to help send over 60 Christian school leaders to San Diego to visit High Tech High on January 21-23. Similar groups have travelled there from B.C.
High Tech High is a system of Charter schools in the San Diego area that is known worldwide for innovation, creativity and excellence in education. Although the word “Tech” is actually in the title of the name, the vision that drives this school system is far deeper than just technology. HTH takes an approach to education that is dynamic, collaborative and student-centered like few school systems out there.
As Christian educators it was stunning to see how such an exciting educational program could connect so easily with our vision of unpacking our Father’s creation with our students while equipping them with the skills to do this on their own – all in a setting that highly motivates students through real world projects.
The current trend to describe such a system would be Project Based Learning (see related article on p. 11). HTH uses projects as the primary vehicle to teach skills, values and empathy to students. Students have regular opportunities to present these projects to audiences several times a year to ensure ownership of their learning and to receive feedback and grow from it. The system is still framed with clear expectations and standards that need to be met within this process.
Is this type of education new?
No – for years good Christian schools have implemented parts of Project Based Learning and the more innovative schools have pushed further and deeper into the areas of students creating, exploring and unpacking God’s amazing creation. What courageous organizations like High Tech High do so well is they dare to dream outside of the box of traditional education (pen to paper, drill, memorize and forget) and allow projects to drive the system, deeply motivating students and creating life changing experiences consistently as part of the entire system!
Learning skills and concepts for life
A practical example was a senior Math class, which had students design and build a boat that would float a certain distance in the local bay. Do you think the concept of circumference, diameter and buoyancy would be remembered better by studying a textbook and notes? After each project was presented, students went back to class and reviewed what worked and what they would have done better.
As one student said, “the projects we do are intense, challenging and push me to do my best. I want to be proud of my final project when I present it!”
Many of the projects designed in classrooms by students also have a “make the world a better place” component to them which blesses some part of the local community. One middle school project focused on how to bring awareness to local residents about the garbage found on a local beach and what method of media would change habits.
Redeeming, reclaiming and pulling creation back to the Father has kind of a genuine, authentic redemptive ring to it! Almost a natural fit for Christian schools.
The vision in sending leaders from Ontario Christian schools to High Tech High in San Diego was to interact with a world-renowned educational centre that has taken student learning to a higher and deeper level. The conversation on the plane back to Canada centered on keeping the conversation of innovative education alive, supporting teachers and creating environments where students thrive. Overall, the visit inspired us to continue to stretch and grow into the vibrant Christian schools God calls us to lead.