I’ve talked a lot about the tenets of The ChangeMaker Academy, including:
But what will it actually look like in practice? Our first unit, Life on Mars, illustrates the key features of the program.
One might think that “Life on Mars” is a science unit, but for us, it is the theme and premise of our first unit in physics, math, English, and history. Our primary text is The Martian, a fictional story of an astronaut stranded on Mars. The story may be fictional, but the math and science of the story is accurate. We will learn the physics and math standards by putting them into practice. We are going to recreate a Martian exploration and, in the process, we will:
At the same time, we will develop our reading, writing, speaking, and listening skills by exploring personal narratives and the art of storytelling. In addition to The Martian, we will listen to “The Habitat” podcast and watch scenes from Apollo 13, Hidden Figures and Gravity. We will write our own narratives and create our own podcasts.
Voice and Choice
By “going to Mars,” students are essentially creating a new society, so they will need to establish a government and a constitution. This work requires that students know the answer to this question: What do we value as a society vs what is valuable to society?
We will give them the history of world-wide society, what caused them to rise, fall, and evolve, and students will use their knowledge to establish their own utopia.
Throughout the unit, there will be many opportunities for hands-on learning. Some include:
Opportunities for Authentic Audience
This unit has a subtheme: the importance of communication and community/ the effects of isolation. We will explore this theme by reaching out. We would like to write letters to soldiers and create care packages for refugees. Ultimately, we hope to also share our work with the greater community.
Last night, a group of thirty ChangeMaker Academy parents met to discuss education, PBL, and what to expect from this program for their children. We started broad, by discussing philosophical questions about the purpose of education, such as "What skills do students need to be successful in the 21st century?" and "What does it mean to learn?"
Then we transitioned to how The ChangeMaker Academy will fulfill our ideals. There are four main learning objectives. Students will be able to:
We are excited about how each content area, not only fits into each broad theme, but also really complements the others. My next post will give an overview of the the first unit.
Our educational vision for a new Waltham High School focuses on the need to better prepare ALL students for the demands of college, career and community. We know that universities and employers want candidates who think and engage in an interdisciplinary fashion, focus and complete high-quality projects and who demonstrate 21st century skills including complex communication, empathy, problem-solving, creative and innovate thinking, and collaboration and teamwork.
The ChangeMakers Academy is designed to deliver to our students a set of knowledge, skills, and competencies that will best prepare them for the demands of college, career, employment and community. I am so excited about the pilot of our ChangeMakers Academy because I believe it is going to ensure that our graduates are even more competitive for college and career.
I am so impressed by the work Allyson McHugh is leading to ensure ChangeMakers Academy is a success and that it scales up in the future to ensure ALL students have access to a program that we believe is good for ALL students. Equally impressive are the high-quality teachers Ms. McHugh has selected for the program. In their collaborative work together, they consistently demonstrate the 21st century skills we look to build into our students and the lucky students in the Academy will benefit from their work.
I hope that all of you can join the Design Swarm scheduled for Monday, May 14th from 6:30 p.m. to 7:45 p.m. in the Waltham High School Library. I’m acutely aware that this is a busy time for all, but I think you will get a sense of the academic program from this experience and I encourage you to prioritize and participate.
If you have any questions or concerns, please do not hesitate to contact Allyson McHugh or me.
Superintendent of Schools
The MESH teachers of the The Changemaker Academy and I recently participated in an online workshop offered through Harvard and The Right Question Institute, entitled "Teaching Students to Ask Their Own Questions: Best Practices in the Question Formulation Technique." I am so grateful for this opportunity to learn more about best practices. But don't take my word on it! Check out what Ms. Perna, the English teacher, had to say about the class and the technique:
As an English teacher I pride myself on my ability to frame questions about a text in order to foster in-depth thinking about characters, setting and theme. But, as we shift to the Project Based Learning model next year, I know it is not my questions that are the important ones. Students will be taking the reins of their own learning in new and powerful ways and part of that process will be leaning to ask the right questions. That also sounds like a daunting tasks for ninth grades (and for me!) How do I give students more power over what they are learning, while still making sure we are hitting all of the standards, aligning curriculum and fostering the reading and writing skills that will help them be successful communicators?
The Question Formulation Technique really helped to show me the possibilities. By thinking through the focus you want students to think about, offering prompts and specific guidelines you are guiding students in the right direction. It is not a free for all of anything goes. Rather I, the teacher, set up the perimeters and they, the students, start the exploration.
I’ve been using this technique with some of my tenth graders as we study Macbeth. When I used the QFT to preview Macbeth and being introducing themes of the play, I was surprised by the questions they created. It wasn’t that they were that different than the essential questions I normally propose. Rather they were somewhat similar, but because they created them and they reworked them, the students are more invested in finding the answers. Now as we continue to read and look at guilt and ambition, it is with a renewed interest because they have a stake in the answers.
Acceptance Folders are stuffed and ready to hand out to students! We are excited to meet these rising freshmen!
A Note from the Director
I want to start by saying that I am so excited for The ChangeMaker Academy. I have been in education for 15 years, most of which has been spent in the high school English classroom. I feel at home surrounded by Shakespeare posters and small groups of teenagers reading The Catcher in the Rye. I became an English teacher because I knew that I could use literature to empower students, to help them see the complexities of human nature and their own role within their community and beyond. I think most teachers begin with these kinds of lofty goals: “my content area will make their lives better.” Truly, teachers become teachers because the work of the classroom can make change in the world, but the reality of schedules and testing and competing needs can overshadow our true goals. Enter The ChangeMaker Academy! This program takes all the best things the high school offers and capitalizes on them all, so that students are in the driver’s seat of the best educational opportunities. Students in The ChangeMaker Academy get everything any student in our high school can get, just better. Let me explain:
Interdisciplinary Work Layers Knowledge
All high school students do cool projects throughout their four years. There are awesome teachers in every content area that want students to have fun with the subject area, whether it be by writing a story, creating a video, or recording a podcast. But there’s power in combining these endeavors. Imagine the lesson a history teacher and a chemistry teacher would create together on the Manhattan Project. Or the campaign on local energy efficiencies that an English and math teacher could build.
Content Knowledge + Soft Skills = Power
We have bundled the core classes, so that we maximize learning and have the opportunities for relevant, hands-on projects. Therefore, the development of soft-skills, such as leadership, collaboration, and problem-solving, becomes just as important as the content knowledge. This is a huge shift from the traditional high school experience, where the content comes first. In a typical group project, the teacher cares mostly about how well the group learns the content, and if the group dynamic is good, then that’s a bonus. But in this new design of the day, where teachers have up to four hours to work with the group, we can design for content and interpersonal skills. We have all been in a group where one student will do all the work, while the others sit back. We will teach students to manage this situation.
The Whole Person
When teachers have the luxury of planning for content and personal development, we create a culture that considers the whole student. We can guide a student to becomes a leader, for instance, whether that means public leadership opportunities (president of student government or captain of their team) or more private leadership decisions (by simply making the right choices).
I’m thrilled to be taking this journey with a great group of students (and some really awesome teachers)! I hope that you will encourage your rising freshman to join us. -- Ms. McHugh