Project Based Learning at High Tech High

I’ve written earlier about my unparalleled ability to take the (English) weather with me when venturing abroad. Well, I’ve done it again, this time in San Diego. So, on a day when the city has had more than half its annual rainfall in one day what better way to spend a torrential day than in High Tech High again? Although a national holiday (this is Martin Luther King day) there were still plenty of staff in.This time, my guide was Jeff Robin, the school’s art teacher. Where, in some schools, the position of art teacher might seem peripheral, you only have to be in HTH’s CEO, Larry Rosenstock’s house to see the centrality and importance of art and the humanities, in Larry’s vision, as it is in his schools.

Jeff is one of HTH’s longest-serving members of staff and has a terrifically impressive portfolio of the projects he has directed at his website. I’d urge you to spend a long time looking through the projects: not only has Jeff, beautifully curated the student’s works, he also gives really clear narratives, of how the projects were Planned, Managed and Exhibited (Jeff’s taxonomy of process). See, for example, the Blood Bank Project. It’s an exemplar of what we’ve been calling, in the Learning Futures project the ‘Four P’s’ of deep engagement: It’s Placed (it’s all about giving blood in San Diego); it’s Principled (giving blood is a good thing, but too reliant upon baby-boomers, so more need to donate); it’s Purposeful (the work was exhibited in a gallery and the student videos are aimed at raising awareness of hematology issues); and it’s Pervasive (students learned at school, at home, in the city and in the community). And there’s a real understanding of biology behind the visuals.

But this is just one of many projects that Jeff has directed. By visiting his website, any teacher could get their hands on the resources needed to do similar work – all freely available. Jeff’s got strong opinions, and they emerge unfiltered. In describing one of his projects (pictured above) he says, ‘In a one week period, 120 students hit every California state standard in visual art. Then we started to really make art. ‘ He’s enormously creative, dedicated, and passionate about getting kids to do work that they can feel proud of, so isn’t going to let convention, protocol or standards constraints prevent that from happening.

It’s a terrible indictment of the system that he probably wouldn’t last five minutes in a conventional mainstream high school.

David Price, OBE
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