Visit to HTHCV – day 1

There is no doubt this is a cool place to go to school.  Still feeling jet-lagged, I spent the morning at HTHCV familiarising myself and skimming the surface of the school.  I had a tour and spoke to a few teachers and students.  As an advocate of PBL and having an already established understanding of its various facets within assessment, curriculum and pedagogy, it was simply a pleasure to eventually see this community in action.  Similarly to the Big Picture school I visited yesterday, teachers have high levels of agency.  However, at HTHCV teachers will design projects around their passions and the product of the students learning are clearly stunning.  It is because of this high level of teacher agency and, I guess, accountability through the work students produce, students produce successful products.


I had a tour led by two student ambassadors who talked me through the spaces from the high school building through to the middle and elementary school.  I liked this Banksy-esque work of a student that reflects the large number of visitors HTH hosts (over 4000 visitors to HTH!).  The ambassadors were clearly well drilled, they were very good at walking backwards while giving me the tour… I was disappointed when they couldn’t carry on downstairs in the same direction ha!  But this also highlights for me the need to dig deeper beyond the product or ‘performance’ that can draw you in.  In schools like this, the engagement of students is tangible and clearly leads to successful products of learning.  My aim is to gain a further understanding of the processes that lead to such outcomes. I also want to come back to the UK further enlightened about why this high engagement model works and how this model leads to effective ‘learning’.  I have no doubt that rigorous and engaging projects lead to better learning but also the wider skills and attributes that students need to be college ready.

HTHCV is a larger school (than what I saw yesterday).  Each grade level is split into 2 groups of 50 and within that are 2 pods of 25 students who will work with a team pair of teachers.  In the UK we are ingrained in the timetable and compartmentalisation of subjects.  It sounds very Ken Robinson… but he is right.  Our system does not have to be like this, we need the change agents to show how we can do things differently.  As a take-away from todays visit, it did make me think about how this could be different.  For example, the need to teach all the traditional subjects each year or the need to teach disciplines discretely.  We are also obsessed with teachers teaching across the age range which is simply inefficient in terms of allowing true collaborative and creative practice.  HTHCV teachers will teach 2 classes within the same year group.  This leads to strong and personalised relationships with students.

IMG_0067As a PBL advocate I love learning about projects from the best at HTH.  John Bosselman and Megan, his teaching partner are geniuses, their ReVision project has opened my eyes to how ‘Human Centred Design‘.  The project with 12th grade students is an incredible experience where students have created their own consultation and design firm. Imagine if a project of this scale sat alongside A levels in the UK?  Imagine as a student to have experience of architecture, design, marketing, ethnography and prototyping alongside those results?  Imagine students working and making a real difference to their communities designing and building real school buildings, redesigning local markets or solving local environmental issues?  Imagine these experiences not just on a students UCAS application but also when it comes to applying for a job?  Imagine the wider implications of winning a €350,000 grant to make a real difference to the lives of the community? Initially I was thinking this could not be done in the UK context, but actually, would a student with 3 A levels and this level of experience be so far fetched? This would blow the extended project ‘qualification’ out of the water…

Dr Alec Patton teaches Humanities at HTHCV, designing projects through English and History.  Alec has designed a range of cool projects for his 10th Grade students. Students were showing me their DP’s (Digital Portfolio’s) that show the powerful reflective process through their projects. His students have written books and taken part in a really excellent refugee simulation. Students have a huge respect for ‘Dr P’ I think through the opportunities he has given his students to flourish in these projects.  I particularly want to pinch the model UN idea that I think can be easily integrated into Humanities at my current school where students can represent each country around a particular issue within their learning set.

The day was worthwhile simply to give me so many more cool Ideas.  I really like it how students are passionate about two opportunities to exhibit their work to the community in the year for example through their ‘Festival Del Sol’.  I have struggled so far within my own school to attract all the parents to our celebrations of learning.  Celebrations obviously need to be grand and of a whole community scale.  But also POL’s or presentations of learning are clearly far more effective then parents evenings.  The Shark Tank (similar to UK’ Dragons Den) is a school wide initiative that gives winning teams a monetary award and a competition element of a scale that is beyond what I witness in the UK.  An incredible amount of opportunity is given to students to engage in their community at HTHCV and I do think that there are many take aways here that can be applied to the UK.  It is the conditions that enable teachers, wider folk educators, parents, students and essentially the community that need to be revolutionised in the UK for the greater good of our students.




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