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Finding Inspiration at High Tech High

Written on February 3rd, 2015

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Over sixty people from the Ontario Alliance of Christian Schools (OACS) membership were California bound last week. Their destination: a network of integrated elementary and secondary schools based in San Diego called High Tech High (HTH).

When it comes to conversations about project-based, student-engaged learning, HTH has long served as an inspiring touchstone for teachers, administrators and board members working within OACS schools.

The goal of this year’s trip was to have members of the OACS community look closely at student work to improve their own project design, implementation, and assessment. During the trip they were able to observe the four design principles that define an HTH approach to learning: personalization, adult world connection, common intellectual mission, and teacher as designer. While visiting the campus, OACS principles, vice-principals and teachers had the chance to attend workshops about the role of critique in the classroom, collaborative assessment and the importance of student presentations of learning.

In a Facebook update about the California excursion Sylvia Harmsma and Wilma Vanderkloet offer a few highlights from their experience:

“We saw students working on mousetrap cars and writing novels and short stories. We saw teachers in action and students collaborating with each other and with teachers. They’ll be the first to tell you that it’s hard work and they “leak oil everyday” but the results make it worthwhile.”

The back stories behind that high quality student work left most of the OACS membership feeling encouraged: both teachers and principals came away from the trip eager to take what they’d learned and continue building on the projects they’d already started in their own classrooms. Other teachers left High Tech High with some big questions about how to manage learning schedules so that the necessary subjects can be taught while leaving room for larger multidisciplinary projects to get traction.

Granted, this wouldn’t be the first time that such questions were taken into account by the OACS community. For years now, High Tech High’s learner-centered approach to education, which typically engages students through group projects, has been of interest to learning leaders in OACS schools. That’s one of the reasons the trip was intended to serve as “a catalyst” experience for visitors. Teachers and principals were not expected to shed their own pedagogical approaches in favour of the HTH model—rather, the trip is likely to help teachers continue refining and deepening what they’re already doing within their distinct school communities.

In reflecting on the great student work of a grade 2 class at High Tech High, OACS Director of Learning, Justin Cook, makes an observation that likely applies to many of the students who attend the innovative California based schools: These are empowered kids, he notes. They inspire us “to consider how we can also dream bigger to empower our students to be “co-creators” of blessing in God’s beautiful world and vision for flourishing.”

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A lot of participants are writing about their own experiences. Let us know where your own reflections can be found and we’ll link it to our list!

  • Read a pre-reflection by Christine Soultanidis by clicking here!
  • Want to hear more about Justin Cook’s experience, click here!