Tony Wagner on High Tech High’s “classroom of the future”

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“The philosophy of High Tech High is founded largely on the idea of kids making, doing, building, shaping, and inventing stuff.

“The engineers that I know, the architects I know, the artists I know, the great educators I know, the entrepreneurs I know — they’re all perplexed and curious about how they can do it better the next time. And that type of perplexity leads to engagement, it leads to learning, it leads to innovation. We are trying to inculcate that type of perplexity and curiosity in our students in everyday practices.”

— Larry Rosenstock, CEO of High Tech High

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Tony Wagner — the Expert In Residence at Harvard University’s Innovation Lab and a favorite here at rethinked…* — is a vocal champion of High Tech High, a network of 11 charter schools in San Diego County.

High Tech High’s 4500 students are admitted via zip-code-based lottery. Sixty percent of the students are minorities, and 48% qualify for free and reduced lunch.

But as Wagner noted in a speech at the 2013 (co)lab summit, the 11 High Tech High schools are also notable for what they don’t do. They don’t offer AP classes. They don’t offer varsity athletics. And they don’t teach to standardized tests, so, according to Wagner, the schools’ “state scores are average.”

And yet, in many important ways, High Tech High is a school of the future.

Though its name may conjure up images of students immersed in digital learning, a wonderful clip of an upcoming documentary on HTH — which Tony screened at the Learning and the Brain conference I recently attended — reveals that the school’s philosophy of innovation inhabits the wood shop just as fully as the computer lab.

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The clip (which begins at 2:23 in the video below) features an interdisciplinary physics and humanities project at HTH. Collaborative groups of students developed theories of the rise and fall of the Greek, Roman, and Mayan Empires — and then manifested their theories in fully-functioning mechanical presentations.

The students’ ingenuity, perseverance, and demonstrably hands-on learning yielded astounding visual results.

What’s more, the final stage of the project involved an annual all-school open-house, where students presented final projects to the general public. In this case, the “general public” was literally thousands of people.

One key takeaway?

Counterintuitively perhaps, in the “classroom of the future,” the most profound innovations — making and presenting as integral components of learning — are as timeless as they are transformative.

For the documentary clip, please jump to 2:23.

Sign up to receive more information about the documentary film at learninginnovation.us.

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