Science Leadership Academy

This winter/early spring I watched this video about Philadelphia’s Science Leadership Academy. I was intrigued. I’m all about inquiry based learning, learning by doing, leadership development, etc. One of my PLC’s at school was studying the idea of a freshman academy so I lobbied for the opportunity to take this PLC to the SLA for a visit. The visit was arranged and hosted by Jon Amsterdam from SLA. This place is amazing. It is my dream of what a school in the 21st Century should be.

One thing I want you to know that was unique about this visit was that after we were orientated to the school we were set free to roam the halls, talk with kids and teachers at will. The remarkable and exciting thing was that every kid we (randomly) spoke to knew exactly what they were studying and attempting to learn and why it mattered. WOW! (No red T shirts at SLA)

The following is a report I prepared for my SD administrators after our visit:

Interesting videos about SLA:

Science Teacher we met yesterday and others discuss working at SLA and students discussing learning at SLA- http://youtu.be/B1p22QWEJNI

Diana Laufenberg http://youtu.be/oxtqXtPEcLc

Site visit report:

On Thursday, Christy Matik, Ed Doran, Mary Ellen Frey, Tracey DeRosier, Vanessa DeLuca, Jen Bryan and I went to the Science Leadership Academy to learn about their academy model as we research for our freshman academy. (We met briefly with Ralph Rapino yesterday and plan to have an extended meeting to discuss our reflections and what they might mean to the HH freshman academy within the next 10 working days.)

We were met by Jon Amsterdam, assistant principal. He described the essential questions they use to frame learning for each grade as the “through-line.” It is the common theme that runs through all learning, all content areas and connects that learning beyond high school. The core values at the academy are:

Inquiry

Research

Collaboration

Presentation

Reflection

SLA essential questions:

9th grade 10th grade `11th grade 12th grade
Identity Systems Change  Creation
Who Am I?How do I interact with my environment?How does the environment affect me? How are systems created and defined?How do systems shape the world?What is the role of individual systems? What causes change?What is the role of the individual in creating and sustaining change?What is the relationship between the self and a changing world? Sorry, didn’t see these and in interest of getting this report out in a timely fashion, I’ll research this at another time.

Note: Each classroom had the grade level EQ posted on a very large poster. Interesting ways this is displayed in classrooms. Ask any of us to explain.

The only rules at the school:

  1. Respect yourself
  2. Respect others
  3. Respect the learning environment

All curriculum is designed in UbD (Understanding by Design; Wiggins and McTighe).

All curriculum is framed around a common language (“so kids don’t get lost between the adults”) 

  1. Common language concerns systems, structure, pathways and process
  2. Example of common language (and common assessment) use: all rubrics are formatted this way (subject teacher will fill in expectation blanks depending on learning goals)
SLA Common Rubric

DESIGN

20

KNOWLEDGE

20

APPLICATION

20

PRESENTATION

20

PROCESS

20

Exceeds Expectations20-19
Meets Expectations18-15
Approaches Expectations14-13
Does not meet Expectations12-0
  1. Students plug into learning through their own passion for a given topic. Example: Why should we learn about the American Civil War? Students research the civil war from their interest inquiry (personal passion*). I might want to know about the role of women during the civil war, another student may want to understand how the geography of Gettysburg may have determined the outcome, etc. Units of inquiry run between 6-7 weeks. All learning is presented.
  2. SLA takes kids from micro to macro when learning by hooking them with their personal interests first. Another example from SS: What is the study of history? Who writes it? Teachers are concerned with students expressing understanding, not the content.
  3. There are no survey courses-all curriculum is a mile deep, not an inch deep and a mile wide. Students are charges with this: “you are a learner in the world-ask questions”
  4. They use few books b/c inquiry based.

We also met Chris Lehman, school principal, during our visit and other teachers. Interesting notes about the adults we met:

  1. Always talked about the students and their learning in answering our questions
  2. Always talked about being learners themselves

Teachers share common time to discuss students, projects across the curriculum (about 3 hours a week).

  1. Teachers lead about 20 kids (same kids) in a four year long advisory system.
  2. Teachers practice and teach students
  3. Distributive leadership
  4. For kids: kids become school leaders. We met a senior being a very capable and effective learning assistant in a freshman science class. We also saw kids who are Apple certified computer techs fixing tech troubles. All SLA kids intern during grades 10 and 11.
  5. For teachers: advisory boards, sports team leadership, curriculum development, student clubs, etc.
  6. Internal discipline
  7. For teachers: this keeps everyone in step via collaboration, process, etc. It allows teachers to understand their students from peers experience with the students and encourages teachers be “school teachers vs. classroom teachers.”
  8. For kids: as learners and collaborators
  9. Lead a week long 9th grade summer camp for transition to SLA

Their freshman core:

  1. Lang Arts: biography and auto biography
  2. SS: early civilizations
  3. Science: 9 & 10 bio/chem (two year study)
  4. Lang: Spanish and Computer programming
  5. Math: didn’t write this down, sorry-probably varies by student experience
  6. Enrichment: tech class, fine arts, performing arts, pe

No HR: Students can find all info online (one on one laptop school)

Many thanks to our host, Jon Amsterdam and all the students and professionals at SLA for a truly great day!

And as for our PLC and freshman academy? We are moving ahead-September 2011, our first Freshman Academy! If anyone has experience and/or suggestions I’d love to hear from you.

*Personal passion and learning is a topic I’ve been learning about this year via my PLN! I’m currently involved in a book study focusing on the book The Passion Driven Classroom by Angela Maiers and Amy Sandvold. More on this topic soon!

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One Response

  1. This is great! Sorry I am just finding this now. I hope you liked our book and that you were inspired to do even more passion-driven instruction. Your students are lucky! -Amy Sandvold, Co-author The Passion Driven Classroom

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