When folks ask us for good examples of next-gen school models, we start with Summit Denali in Sunnyvale. The top performing Bay Area high school network, Summit Public Schools, opened Denali last fall–its first 6-12 school–with notable innovations in both school model and platform leading to higher levels of student engagement and agency.
Summit starts with a vision for learning that includes self-directed learning, authentic experiences and personalized pathways, including;
- Students empowered to self-direct learning;
- opportunities for deeper skills development across curricula;
- authentic, real-world experiences that allow students to explore passions and careers;
- Personalized pathways for students through a competency-based progression; and
- meaningful opportunities for students to foster community and a sense of belonging.
They have clear goals and track outcomes in four categories: content knowledge, cognitive skills, habits of success, and real-life experiences–and are working on simple data visualizations (e.g., see this chart) to aid student-teacher-parent conversations. What brings this all together is the Summit Personalized Learning Plan (PLP) tool, which has been built to be a dynamic tool that students, families and teachers are able to access at all times. Through the PLP, Summit students set learning and personal growth goals, track their progress on these goals and access all of the learning resources they need each day.
The Summit Denali model is based on a dozen remarkable design elements:
- 10 days of onsite student orientation
- Personalized learning plans for every student
- 1-3 student led, mentor and family meetings every year to focus on his or her Personalized Learning Plan (PLP)
- 100 hours per course of Project Time every year, facilitated by a teacher and focused on students cognitive skills development
- 8 hour per week of Personalized Learning Time at school, where students are focused on content knowledge
- 8 hours per week of Personalized Learning Time at home
- 10 minute weekly student led conferences with his or her mentor focused on their PLP
- 120 minutes of reading per week at school through Summit Reads
- 45 minute per week of community building
- 8 weeks per year of Expedition experiences
- 10 hours per year of parent information/engagement sessions and workshops
- Ongoing support throughout the school year around the college application process
While the design elements of the next gen model highlighted above are the same across all Summit schools, each school may implement them in slightly different ways depending on the needs and feedback of its students and teachers. Each school first and foremost takes its students needs into account.
All Summit schools strive to produce self-directed learners, and rely heavily on the power of technology to be able to foster that in their students. But using digital tools does not mean that students are sitting alone in front of screens. Teachers and one to one interaction are the key component for developing a self-directed learning skill set. As a result, students at Summit Denali split their time between individual time with the teacher, online learning time and large amounts of project based work and group tasks.
Project Work. Mira Browne, Chief External Officer, explained that each Summit school does things slightly different. At Summit Denali, Students begin each day with community time in the morning and then rotate through project-experiences. Summit teachers facilitate the deeper learning experiences, and two thirds of the day is spent in the classroom working on these projects. The Summit Denali team has also explored interdisciplinary projects –something other Summit schools are watching.
Project work at Summit Denali could look like small groups, or individual work, larger group work, but basically looks like a cohort model. So, although students spend time online working through their content, they work and learn in a variety of models everyday, strengthening many different lifelong learning skills.
Group work. At Summit Denali, teachers offer skills workshops, where students are able to focus on a cognitive skill they want to strengthen. For example, a workshop could be offered on “precision and accuracy,’ or ‘inquiry process’ or speaking/listening skills. During project time, students are focused on developing their cognitive skills, for example reading, writing, speaking, thinking critically etc. Time is also facilitated in a workshop structure for students- where the teachers outline the topics being offered on the white board and then students can choose what interests them or what they need more help with in order to master. It is a great example of students learning how to “own their own learning” as well as the opportunity for students to really focus on the skills they need to grow in. Basically, they learn “unconference” style- meaning the students get to choose with their feet and decide what works for them. Offering this type of learning for professional development for educators has caused the “edcamp“phenomena to rapidly spread across the country. If we know it works for teachers, why not for students?
Playlists. Students’ personalized learning time, using digital devices, is focused on mastering content. Students work towards their individual learning goals to develop and demonstrate content knowledge. By utilizing a combination of playlists, peer-to-peer coaching and 1:1 tutoring, students learn at their own pace and in the ways they learn best. Teachers curate Playlists – for example – Multiplying and Dividing Fractions would be a playlist – which include a diverse array of learning resources to meet many different learning styles and needs of students. Students work through the playlist and focus on the learning resources that work best for them. Playlists and content assessments are housed in Activate Instruction, which students access through the Personalized Learning Plan platform.
Project and personalized learning time are not those of a traditional school. Traditional schedules, grouping and, most importantly, space do not allow for success with these next gen goals for students. Summit Denali has rethought how the student workspace needs to look like in order for them to be able to achieve their goals:
Next Gen Teacher Prep. Last year, Summit launched its inaugural Summer of Summit and brought its teachers, and peer educators from across the country, together for six weeks to create and curate a 6-12 blended curriculum. Teachers worked collaboratively by using the same methods they expect of their students to curate projects and playlists for their students- finding all different kinds of resources and mapping them to the common core. They start with rich, deeper learning projects and then connect the content that students need to learn and apply those projects. Summit teachers continued this work throughout the school year through many collaborative efforts, utilizing weekly course level team meetings and their 40 days of PD. As Browne explains, “it’s a cycle that we will continue to always ensure that our students have access to the highest-quality learning resources and experiences. We set out to create a 6-12 curriculum that enables every student to develop their cognitive skills, content knowledge and habits of success, as well as to engage in the authentic experiences that will propel them to college and career readiness.”
Summer of Summit 2014 will build on the success of the inaugural program and continue to build out resources and projects.. ,. The six-week experience is designed to:
- Engage educators in professional development focused on gaining an understanding of, and teaching in, a Next Generation school.
- Develop a Next Generation curriculum that is free and publicly accessible to educators worldwide through online platforms, contributing to the enhancement of a transformative school model advancing public education.
The program is almost full and includes all educators, from inside and outside of Summit, who are interested in this work.
Each new school in the Summit network represents the next iteration of the Next Generation school model–incorporating new elements that challenge and support students, using technology to amplify great teaching, and exposing students to postsecondary opportunity. A commitment to iterative development means Summit Denali is different than when it opened in September and will be even stronger next school year. Effective and ongoing professional development, like the Summer of Summit, allows for this type of growth..
Following is a summary of the key decisions (as outlined in the Blended Learning Implementation Guide) reflected in the Denali model.
|Goals & Strategy||Self directed, authentic, personalized learning; outcome areas include content knowledge, cognitive skills, habits of success and expeditions (real-life experiences)|
|School Model||Individual rotation featuring a mix of personalized playlists and projects|
|Platform & Content||Personalized Learning Plan (Custom UI), which houses Activate Instruction for playlists and content assessments and other and open content|
|Access Devices||Chromebooks at school|
|Staffing & Development||Extensive PD opportunities (40 days/year)Competency-based teacher progressionsNetworkwide collaboration|
Coming Soon. Summit will also launch in Washington State- opening in the fall of 2015, with a high school in each Seattle and Tacoma. Summit Sierra and Summit Olympus will grow to 9-12 capacity by 2018-’19 by adding a class of 120 students each year.
As part of the first annual Washington State Charter Schools Conference, Jon Deane, Summit CTO, and Tom Vander Ark will lead a discussion about “Continuous Innovation in Blended Learning: Utilizing Technology to Support High Quality Teaching and Learning” on Friday, May 9th at 9:00am.