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Critical Perspective and Engaged Learning at High Tech High: What Now? Ep. 4 with Dr. Sarah Fine

Some people watch Most Likely to Succeed, the 2015 documentary that showcases High Tech High‘s revolutionary approach to teaching and learning, and think, “Why can’t my kids go to a school like this?” But I think the more common reaction among adults, watching students passionately engage in rich, project-based learning, is: Why didn’t I get to go to a school like this?

Yet as Dr. Sarah Fine, the Director of the San Diego Teacher Residency at High Tech High Graduate School of Education says, “It’s about a lot more than, ‘that’s cool, that’s different, that gets kids motivated.'” The learning environment at the High Tech High schools–of which there are now 16, serving grades K-12–depends on a profound rethinking of education, with a commitment to each teacher as an ethnographer of their students and a facilitator of learning. Very far away from the traditional “sage on a stage.” High Tech High also has a central commitment to equity, which means integration and de-tracking students–no AP classes–and personalization.

Sarah came to High Tech High GSE after co-writing, with Jal Mehta, In Search of Deeper Learning: The Quest to Remake the American High School. The book follows their journey across American high schools, and paints a rather disheartening picture. Deep learning, where kids felt “their brain hurt, in good ways” was occurring in pockets, but rarely across systems. Now, Sarah spends most of her time thinking about how a teacher’s role and work change to facilitate the deep learning she was searching for.

In this interview, Sarah will talk about how High Tech High tries to structurally create more collaborative, authentic and contextualized learning experience that empowers students to critique society and its power imbalances. Learning becomes meaningful for students right now, not just for “some future we’ve imagined for them, not even with them.”

Sarah’s interview is a part of our What Now? video interview series on education.

What Now? asks: how should we navigate through this pandemic, and ensure a more prosperous Michigan in our recovery? Click the icon for other videos in this series.

Check back next Thursday for our next interview with David Gamlin Sr., the Executive Vice President of the Midnight Golf Program.

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Sarah Szurpicki

Sarah is the Vice President for Michigan Future Inc. and a partner at New Solutions Group, LLC, a consulting firm devoted to smart, collaborative, innovative approaches for organizations serving the public good.

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