Monday, January 01, 2007

Interview with Science Leadership Academy's Chris Lehmann (School 2.0, Part 3)

"We need to stop thinking that the job of schools is to create the 21st century workforce, it's not. The job of our schools is nothing less than to help co-create the 21st-century citizen. We want our kids to be active, engaged citizens of the world. They'll be workers if they are that, too... that part will take care of itself. We want them to be able to engage in the world around them and to make it better. Nothing less than that is our task as educators."

Chris Lehman is the principal of the Science Leadership Academy (SLA) in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and a proponent of "School 2.0." Here is his description of SLA:

"The Science Leadership Academy is a new high school that opened in September 2006 in partnership with The Franklin Institute and the School District of Philadelphia. Opening with a powerful School 2.0 vision and a 1:1 laptop ratio, SLA looks to redefine the learning spaces and tools our students, parents and teachers use. The school uses open source tools such as Moodle, Elgg, Gallery and homegrown school information system software to create a robust school-web portal to support the learning that happens in classrooms. Our goal is to create 24/7/365 learning environment for all members of the community." (From his accepted proposal to speak at NECC this year.)

(We'll be holding open workshops on Moodle, Drupal, and Web 2.0 (with Will Richardson) at SLA in Philadelphia the week of January 29 - February 3. For more information, please visit EdTechLive's workshop page.)

  • Chris spent 9 years at the Beacon School in New York as a teacher, coach, technology coordinator, and administrator. The experience was amazing. Has come home to Philadelphia to start SLA--"a small progressive public high school with a focus on technology infusion across the curriculum."
  • While SLA is a public school, their first class of 110 students (the 9th grade) have had to apply for admission and each applicant had a personal interview. Future classes will have current students on their admissions committees.
  • Microsoft's School of the Future also opened in Philadelphia this year ("they have a nicer gym than we do"). If SLA is reinventing the wheel, School of the Future is "blowing up the car." Both have a focus on project-based learning and re-imagining what a school can look like, but SLA is based on more familiar pedagogies (sounds like it would be really interesting to interview someone from School of the Future!).
  • They are using Linux, Moodle, and Elgg and consider themselves an "open source" school.
  • "At the end of the day, it isn't about what computer you use, it's about the pedagogy and how the teachers implement it, and what your goals are for how your teachers and students use it." Technology doesn't change the classroom, pedagogy changes the classroom. The new tools make it affordable to integrate the technology and support the pedagogy, but the pedagogy comes first. If you put the technology first, the tail will wag the dog. "SLA was never a laptop school first, it was an inquiry-drive, project-based school with five very strong core values, and the technology we use supports those core values."
  • The five values are: inquiry, research, collaboration, presentation and reflection.
  • Blogging has helped him be a better teacher and administrator through "reflective practice." It has also helped them through the starting of SLA by allowing for "transparent" dialog by blogging during the planning process--which also produced a very involved community. He feels that this made the SLA very "School 2.o" by doing this from the start.
  • "We've got to teach kids to be powerful, careful, and critical consumers and producers of information and content." "The fundamental jobs of our schools as we move forward in this new era is to teach wisdom... unless we realize that our job is to teach kids what to make sense of this world, how to critically analyze what they see out there, and how to do something with it, then it doesn't matter what we do with the technology."
  • "We can't be complacent in education--the stakes are too high... the fear of what could go wrong can't stop me from doing what is right."
  • All of the students went nuts when they first got instant messaging on their laptops--and the parents were really worried about their children having access to instant messaging during school. Chris's response was: the kids are going to figure out how to have access to these tools even if we try to block them, and they will need them in college and in the workplace eventually... so let's help them to figure out how to use them responsibly now.
  • They did have a problem with misusing instant messaging (including bullying)... and the students started solving the problems themselves, as they wanted there to be consequences so that they could keep their laptops.
  • Chris's definition of School 2.0: School 2.0 starts with a progressive pedagogy that recognizes that the role of schools has changed, and that the role now is to help students navigate an ever-changing world, and to help them have the skills they need to adapt, to create, to judge, to synthesize, and to analyze. It has to be about teaching kids to become critical consumers and producers of the information around them... We can't assume that we have all the answers--we've got to teach the kids to take a core set of skills and find rich, powerful answers that are out there in the world for themselves... School 2.0 doesn't have walls to it--it recognizes that this happens all day every day. When we invite the world in rather than shut it out, we create communities and institutions that are real and authentic and caring, and that kids recognize as valuable in their own lives.
  • School 2.0 isn't about letting students do anything they want. It's about rigor and passion--keeping students engaged, but also helping them understand the need to work even when we don't want to.
  • "We actually do know how to fix what's wrong in education. Because the fact of the matter is that there are lots of places in this country where schools are doing just fine... they are good, healthy places where kids are doing well. We know, sadly, that most of those places are not in cities, and when we talk about the crisis in education, what we are really talking about... is urban education... It's not just schools size, it's teaching load... We want to change education?... Let's have teachers teaching fewer classes and planning more... Do that and we will change education."

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