Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Microsoft's K-20 Innovation Tour

Wow! On Monday I had the opportunity to attend the Microsoft K-20 Innovation Tour at George Washington University in Washington, DC. I just love going to these things!!

Basically, we were able to view the World Premier of School of the Future Documentary and then hear from and interact with a panel group about the project. The movie was interesting--- it served it's basic function of providing background information about the project. This is another one of those instances where I wonder where I've been and how I missed out on knowing that this was going on--so for those of you who are not familiar with the School of the Future let me catch you up to speed.

For over 2 years, the City of Philadelphia and Microsoft have been collaborating to create a model high school (FYI Microsoft did not pay for this school, the city funded it---Microsoft paid 100K to have it's name on the auditorium I think). This school opened in the Fall of 2006 with it's freshman class. For the next 3 years a new group of freshmen will enter until the school reaches it's maximum capacity of 750 students. You read that right--- it's a very small school. Not only is it a small school, it's a very unique and special school. When they started, the ditched the model of what all the other schools look like (because our schools are outdated!). They dreamed, planned and designed a building, curriculum, and environment based on the needs of today's students. Here are a few of the highlights, in completely random order:

  • Entirely digital--- there are no textbooks; all assignments are submitted digitally
  • Mentors-- every student has a mentor from a local college
  • "hosted solution" -- Drexel University hosts and supports their network
  • Hiring Practices of teachers--- teachers were interviewed and then some were advanced to the next level... in that level they were given a puzzle (ie Sudoko) and required to work on it collaboratively; they were also asked to create a lesson plan as a group--- the key things the hiring team were looking for in candidates were their willingness to say "I don't know" and also the fact that they were able to be highly self-critical (notice--tech skills were not on that list, no was being the best of the best)
  • Culture of PD-- Professional Development are not one time experiences at this school--- it's constantly happening; teachers collaborate with each other and leadership provides the time and necessary resources to do that
  • Curriculum---teachers develop it as it goes using an inquire based model. Standards are kept in mind, but do not drive content. Inquiry Based. Real World. Relevant. Engaging.
  • Scheduling --very flexible, there no is set schedule (ie 6 55 minute classes a day), if students need 2 hours to do something the time is there, need a trip to the zoo---go!
  • Parent Community-- the community is encouraged to use the building, it's open till 10pm with 80% of the first floor available to them including a fitness center, a performing arts center and an interactive learning area. Also, parents are given refurbished computers and can get wireless internet for $4/month. The school has a portal for parents to tap into that allows them to see students grades/assignments and to connect to teachers.
Overall, I am very impressed with what they've done. When you think of all the red-tape involved in trying to do something like this, it's amazing to see that they were able to make it happen. I have a few concerns about how likely it is that this model can be replicated (a mentor for every child, a school that cost $64 million to build for only 750 students, etc..)....but it's a start to say 'We need to re-examine our systems and create schools that cater to today's students AND communities.'

Microsoft's Partners in Education page focused on Building the School of the Future, with links to more info.

News Coverage of The School of the Future (video)

CBS Article

Professional Leadership Education Competency Wheel -- designed by educators, for educators to be incorporated into professional development and hiring practices to build school system personnel

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