Monday, September 14, 2015

The Networked High School Campus

At Holy Family Academy we have torn down the walls of the classroom embracing the mindset that learning happens all the time, everywhere and in both formal and informal ways. Three days a week (and sometimes more) our students are spread out across the city. Two days a week students participate in their work study program at over fifty locations across the city. Whether entering a tower in downtown Pittsburgh, walking onto a university campus or in the suburbs at a high-tech manufacturing company, HFA students are gaining important workplace ready skills well ahead of most of their peers to become #FutureReady. In addition to building workplace skills, students spread out across the city through a network of curricular partners. We currently have four primary partners and work to build more each day. On Fridays, our students head to:

  1. Energy Innovation Center - they explore STEAM courses to build skills in computing, green energy and entrepreneurship. 
  2. The Citizen Science Lab - our students take advanced biology lab courses and have access to equipment found in the finest labs that would otherwise not be available to them and get mentorship from Dr. Andre Samuel and his lab assistants from Duquesne University.
  3. Manchester Craftsman's Guild - at MCG the students work with master teaching artists and explore digital design and fabrication, visual arts such as screen printing and photography and create clay ceramics. This year we will plan a private gallery showing in the MCG on-site gallery where students will hold a Salon of their work. 
  4. Carnegie Science Center - our studnets will spend Friday mornings at the Carnegie Science Center rotating between the new Fab Lab and the permanent exhibitions where they will interact with top of the line tools and programming. 
In addition to these network partners we also leverage the historical and cultural sites across the city in our cultural literacy class and integrated studies program. Given the network of our Corporate Work Study partners, we plan to do site visits this year at the areas most prestigious and advanced companies and non-profits. These visits will be tied back to project based learning happening within our curricular program where student voice and choice are essential elements. 

Learning that focuses on student-driven inquiry, makes thinking visible and allows for active maker education are core components of the HFA program. Cross-disciplinary, shared and collaborative resources enrich our students' ability to critically think, reflect, identify and solve problems. 

What we are developing is not exactly new. According to the Hive Chicago movement: "We know that formal educational systems need to be a hub in a larger network of learning opportunities. We know that Connected Learning provides a design framework to build transformative experiences by linking individual mentors and educators to organizations and networks. We know that emerging models like Hive – as well as a focus on tools, content, and community – is working. This, combined with the spontaneous emergence of real, hyper-localized activity around the world, illustrates the opportunity to transition from an inspired initiative to global movement." 

Much of my inspiration is from what is happening with Hives across the United State and within the Remake Learning network in Pittsburgh. At HFA we have re-designed the school schedule to allow any teacher to take her classes off campus and into the network across the city. I have also been inspired by friends like Thomas Steele-Maley and his work with GEMS Academy where students and teachers are out of the brick and mortar building using the city as a learning network daily. According to Thomas: "the combination of good curricular design and educational technology that works is very powerful. Anywhere and anytime learning has measurably contributed to the success of students and the whole learning community." At GEMS, during the year, a minimum of four hours each week are dedicated to Field Studies, in which students actively explore cultural institutions, neighborhoods and natural landscapes throughout the city of Chicago. Their extensive Field Studies program, a model for HFA, allows students to be self-driven researchers who see their world as a learning laboratory. It also helps them make connections between their environment and those of other cities and cultures.
To support this level of connection, our students at HFA all have a personal laptop provided to them and are permitted to use mobile devices to document their field studies and create artifacts for their ePortfolios. We are committed to our Network Campus Program. Mrs. Jennifer Lanas is our Coordinator for Cultural and Educational Affairs in addition to her role as a cultural literacy teacher. You just might hear from her!

Follow me this year as I blog about case studies of projects, programs and organizations our students are interacting with. Do reach out if you would like to work with some of Pittsburgh's most engaged Urban Youth, eager to learn and explore the network of resources across Pittsburgh and beyond. Help them see the city in a new light, learn from those different than what they are used to seeing and hire them to solve a problem for you. All students are being trained to be human centered designers as part of our integrated studies program and we are looking for clients, sites to visit and people to interview. 

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