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-

Diana Laufenberg

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:






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











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!


“Now that the money’s gone…”

Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings sing a song with lyrics that appear in the title of this post. I think it’s on the 100 Days 100 Nights CD. Today, educators have to live with less resource of every kind. The money is gone. In 2011 we have to be development experts–we must become “teacherpreneurs.”

Yesterday I had the opportunity to meet with Kendall Glouner, Director of Curriculum, Instruction and Professional Development at the Montgomery County Intermediate Unit. Kendall shared the following presentation about identifying and writing for grants.

Moral of the story: Identify what you need and why, define the expected outcome and how the outcome will be measured, explain who will benefit and how–then look for funding. You may be suprised how many potential resources you will find!

Just Sharing: The Moral Imperative

Futures Fair: “Making It Here” Innovation and Entrepreneurship

Yesterday was our second annual Futures Fair; 2011 theme-“Innovation and Entrepreneurship” (last year we were “Green“).  This year regional school districts sent representatives to check out our event so I’m going to share what this is, how we do it and why we do it.

 “The Futures Fair is an opportunity for students to meet with and talk to adults in our community who are successful because they are creative and innovative thinkers,” said Sue Fox, career education and work curriculum coordinator at Hatboro-Horsham High School, who designed the project. “We want our students to discover exciting new ways to unlock their creative potential and we know that the Futures Fair will add to our school’s environment – one that encourages innovation and allows it to flourish.”

” I was down at the fair and it was a hit! I talked to vendors and I also spoke with students during 4th period. The vendors seemed excited to talk about their craft and the students did talk about viewing different careers as options. One perspective the students appreciated was that those professionals that were there were passionate about what they did for a living. Nice job in presentation and with the chosen people/professions. I think that they were interesting and had a lot to offer.”  -C.M., English Teacher

6ABC WPVI Philadelphia-Futures Fair coverage (video clip)

Bucks County Courier Times: Students get a peak at possible futures by CRISSA SHOEMAKER DEBREE

1. What this is: The Futures Fair is a hybrid event; not quite a career fair and not quite a college fair. The format is popular with students and has impact on both faculty and kids.

Exhibitors use our gym and the area outside of our gym for display. Exhibitors include (1) professionals in their field of work, (2) post-secondary programs of study (PoS), not admissions representatives, reflecting the academic area the professional exhibitors represent and (3) selected high school seniors presenting their graduation projects. Seniors selected have projects that reflect the theme of the fair. Exhibitors are mixed throughout the event and the ratio we strive for is 75-80% professional, 10% PoS and 10% seniors.

2. How we do it: We have and enjoy a collaborative partnership with our local Chamber of Commerce (CoC) and Educational Foundation (EF). The partnership is the secret to our success.

Our EF helped recruit professionals representing regional businesses, maintained our website and processed registrations. They promoted the Futures Fair at all EF functions and dedicated a keynoter to kick off the theme for the year. They also designed the beautiful logo you see at the top of this post as well as other graphics and literature concerning the fair.

Our CoC matched their theme for the year to ours. They focused time each month talking to local business professionals about our project and recruited their support. They also provided tables, table cloths and other resources needed by the exhibitors as well as a contential breakfast during set up time and lunch for all including the entire high school faculty and staff.

The school district provided human resources for recruiting post-secondary programs of study, planning the logistics of the day (with administrators, teachers, cafeteria and transportation departments and our middle school). We also identified the perfect seniors to present at the fair as well as recruited student volunteers to “man” various posts i.e. direct traffic, serve food, etc. We extended invitations to all other school districts in the county (so they could bring their highly interested students) and our own middle school.

3. Why we do this: To connect our students to their future. When planning our themes, we first think about high priority professions in our region and our state. We want our kids to understand what opportunities there will be for them-that they can learn and earn a family sustaining wage here.

In our area the high priority professions identified by Pennsylvania are healthcare, engineering and green technologies. Armed with that knowledge our first fair was Green. For our second fair we chose Making It Here as our working title. We started thinking about what skills allowed people to “make it here.” And that’s when we realized that the 21st Century Skill we associate most with success is innovation. Our president tells us that entrepreneurialism is our nations opportunity for growth and prosperty. For these reasons our second theme became Innovation and Entrepreneurship.

Why include middle school students? Because they are making important career decisions–do I like math? Should I take science seriously? If the answer is no to either question it could be a career limiting decision. Students who understand where a subject could take them will do better in high school.

In all, 2000 students and 250 faculty and staff visited the fair. All were able to talk to individuals who make a difference in our world and are passionate about what they do. PoS’s explained to students various ways to prepare for the professions presented. And students taught students that you don’t have to wait to be an innovator. You can start in high school!

*To see student documentary click here. Produced by the Montgomery County Education & Workforce Partnership.

*Next year’s theme? TBD-First suggestion: Arts, Culture and the Creative Economy…

Thanksgiving was last week-is it too late to offer thanks?

Yesterday I was lucky to spend the day with my Career Development (CDLN) friends from across the state of PA. I love meeting with this group because they are smart, creative and share everything (best practices, theory, strategy, etc). We enjoy healthy debate and students across the commonwealth benefit from this exchange.

I found myself sharing my new e-portfolio model with my CDLN colleagues. (PA requires all school districts have students begin a portfolio by 8th grade-PA Career Education and Work (CEW) Academic Standard 13.2.8D) My model was developed as an example for students. I used my own career to populate the pages of the portfolio. As I was explaining my e-portfolio, I realized that most of the professional examples used as evidence of who I am as a professional educator, was a result of being a member of this group.

My last post offered a video about sharing. To really harness the power of sharing, you must be willing to listen and contribute to your team, give and take. Sharing makes everyone (students and teachers) better, stronger, and learners. Have I ever thanked the CDLN for sharing so openly with me? Not until now—Thank you!