Written by Lori Cohen, Dean of Faculty
The Bay School is about to undergo a significant schedule shift next year, and while the core elements of our academic program will remain intact (80-minute blocks on a rotating schedule, project-based and experiential learning, creative approaches to problem-solving), some portions will serve to augment our approaches to learning in depth and for mastery: Three-week “Immersive” terms where students take one academic course at the end of each semester.
While Bay is once again a pioneer in 21st Century teaching and learning, we are not alone in our approach to this kind of course. The Hawken School in Cleveland, Ohio, and University Prep in Seattle, Washington, are two additional schools who either have introduced these types of courses into their schedule (as Hawken has been doing for the past seven years) or will introduce it in the coming school year (as Bay and University Prep will). To that end, we have done a great deal of preparation both internally and through the partnerships we have formed with our peer schools engaging in similar work.
And what better way to prepare than to invite those who have paved the path before us: The Hawken School.
Starting in the fall of 2016, we envisioned and planned a professional development arc that served to align the work we expect of teachers with the new schedule implementation. Last year, we began by asking Bay teachers to “dream big” about what they might teach and/or co-teach that breaks them outside of their disciplines. We devoted several days and numerous hours outside our professional days to this work, including using Grant Wiggins’ and Jay McTighe’s (of Harvard’s Project Zero) Understanding by Design principles to help teachers refine their thinking into a three-week unit plan. From there, teachers were given time to collaborate across disciplines to design prototypes that may or not be the seeds of an Immersive course. The ultimate goal, though, was for teachers to be thinking about experiential, cross-disciplinary learning in depth. This work inspired new partnerships across disciplines and fueled creativity in our curricular development.
From that point, we also focused on pedagogical strategies that allowed teachers to consider the types of activities and entry points they would provide students over the course of a three-week course that met for 5-6 hours a day. We provided in-house Teaching Seminars and targeted coaching around these areas as well.
The next piece of this professional development puzzle was to offer Bay teachers opportunity to gain wisdom from others who have had the experience we’re about to undergo and provide a foundation for curricular development going forward. We invited a team of teachers and school leaders (Julia Griffin, Jodie Ricci, Michael Ialacci, Brendan Daly) from The Hawken School in Cleveland, Ohio to work with Bay and share their lessons learned from implementing Immersives (Intensives) at their school site. And after several months of careful planning, the visiting team from Hawken presented to Bay Staffulty on October 30.
The goals for the day were the following:
- To provide Bay staffulty with on-the-ground practical advice about implementing Immersives: lessons learned, caveats, and what to anticipate
- To offer presentations about ways to structure Immersives in relation to curricular considerations, pedagogical tips, assessment strategies, and what it’s like to “live” in an Immersive.
- To provide time for departments to determine where they are now and what they need to accomplish in the next year.
The day began with a panel presentation in which the Hawken team shared their wisdom. The major themes of this presentation centered around the following:
- Bay should be proud of how well prepared we are ahead of the new schedule launch.
- It takes a lot of work to build an intensive. Start early.
- A semester-long course does not equal an Immersive. We need to think differently about days and time in the Immersive.
- Plan sustainably and work with your co-teacher on how to manage workload and collaboration.
- Students with learning differences fare well in Immersives because of the singular course and singular focus.
- Be flexible and know your plans may change; have a back-up plan in mind
- Create as authentic an experience as possible for students.
- We have as much to offer Hawken as we have to learn from them—this is a true partnership.
- Immersives are life-changing for students and teachers—and Hawken teachers cite that if given the chance to return to their more traditional schedule, they wouldn’t.
From there, Bay staffulty could choose among four presentations to attend. There were three presentation slots total, so departments worked to ensure there was good departmental representation at each. The presentations were the following:
- A Day in the Life of a Hawken Intensive: Michael’s workshop focused on a typical day in the Intensive schedule. While in some sense, there is no typical day in an intensive, this seminar discussed the principles to both maximize the experiential learning of students and minimize the burnout of teachers. In addition, provided detailed examples from various intensives. Topics discussed included creating a classroom environment, learning outside the traditional classroom, use of community partners, finding time to grade in the schedule and managing independent projects.
- Keeping It Real: Curriculum and Pedagogy in the Intensive: With Julia, we explored some of the pedagogical strategies to promote deep learning that have been most useful to Hawken in intensive teaching, including problem-based, design thinking, and inquiry-based techniques. While intensives are not “one size fits all,” we explored some of the core elements of course design that make a course work well in the intensive format.
- The Creative Process Intensive: In December 2016, a group of educators and students came together to deconstruct creativity through a three-week intensive course. Jodie shared how the process was used to identify and capture the core components of creativity. This presentation included a description of the creative process intensive learning model, examples of student work, as well as tools and routines used to enhance creativity in any intensive experience. The session also highlighted the advantages of working with facilitative partners to develop real-world learning experiences.
- Experience and Assessment in the Marine Science Intensive: Borrowing from a presentation he gave with his coworker Jennie Becker at last year’s National Science Teachers Association National Conference (“Hawken’s Intensive Program Through a Science Lens”), Brendan discussed the model Hawken used to evaluate students during their marine science intensive. He also co-chaired Hawken’s Intensive Task Force a few years back, and he shared his conclusions on that work as well.
In each of these presentations, participants learned firsthand wisdom, learned about specific course offerings (such as the Creative Process and Marine Biology Intensives) and had an opportunity to ask specific questions of each presenter.
From this point, teachers returned to their discipline teams to discuss next steps and questions that remained. While each department will have a different set of curricular priorities, the overarching themes of the day were clear: while seemingly overwhelming, not only is this work possible, but it’s inspiring to see what we will be offering our students in the coming year. Teachers at Bay are discerning, critically engaged, and thoughtful about their work, and this day gave our teachers a chance to learn from a peer school and to show a peer school how prepared we are to undertake this task.
Teachers then had an opportunity for one final panel presentation with the Hawken team to ask questions that emerged from the day. Teachers were curious about sharing the workload with co-teachers and sustainable practices to stay energized, and they wanted to know more about ensuring students engaged in authentic tasks with authentic audiences. The day ended with Bay Staffulty sharing appreciations with the Hawken visitors and writing “notes to self” about their most pressing priorities. Hawken team member Julia Griffin also shared this appreciation for Bay Staffulty: “I appreciate the opportunity to engage with (and learn from) such wonderful colleagues from a really inspiring school. Here’s to the beginning of a beautiful friendship.”
We still have a little over a year before we offer our first round of Immersives. Andy and Lori are finalizing the Immersive slate and staffing for next year, and the work of the next few months will center around intentionally designing each course with curricular and pedagogical tools in mind. In the summer of 2018, teachers will receive stipends to work on curriculum for their Immersives so that all courses are ready to launch prior to the start of the 2018-19 school year; in this work, teachers will determine course outcomes, essential questions, and the day to day tasks that will allow for a standout student experience in each course. Additionally, Andy, Lori, the Academic Committee, and key school stakeholders will be supporting teachers and departments in a successful launch of the Immersives through thinking about logistics such as the course sign-up process, reporting periods and feedback for students, policies that ensure students are able to succeed in the Immersives, specific pedagogies and skillsets our teachers most need, and how to integrate our co-curricular programs into this shift in our schedule. By the fall of 2018, we’ll be primed for this incredible evolution in Bay’s approach to teaching and learning.