Writer Dan McQuade Speaks to Workshop Students

On Friday PhillyMag writer Dan McQuade visited Ms. Melville and Ms. Clark’s 9th grade English classes. The freshmen have been studying journalism in their afternoon literacy seminar, and Mr. McQuade generously volunteered to speak to the students about his work as a writer. First, he presented his own journalism journey, encouraging the students to not give up on their dreams, no matter how difficult the market is. Then, he shared how he produced his piece “How Far Did Rocky Go in His Training Run in ‘Rocky II’?” Finally, he ended his presentation with a Q&A that allowed students to ask him everything about his experience as a writer and his own opinions about some of the pieces they are working on in class.

We can’t thank Mr. McQuade enough for such wonderful visit!


Teaching imagination and creativity

We all know that creativity is central to problem solving. We know that the ability to think critically and solve problems is critical to students’ long-term success. The question is: how do we teach people to be creative?

Last Friday, Michael Clapper posed this question to students in his eleventh grade advisory. You can read about what happened next here.

A school design thought experiment

Imagine your school with no curriculum and no roster, no standards and no assessments, just a space where students and adults show up every day. Imagine that the adults are available to the students but make no attempt to organize and govern their behavior, save the minimum requirement to keep them safe. What would happen?

If you know your students, you could probably make some decent predictions about what it would be like. For our school, they might include the following:

  1. Some students would gravitate to workshop spaces, and would ask adults how to use technology and equipment.
  2. Just about everyone would ask for a laptop.
  3. A group of students, concerned about grades, college, etc., would ask us for classes. They would feel deeply uncomfortable doing nothing.
  4. Almost no one would gather in groups to talk about themselves, their interests and passions, or how they hoped to change the world.
  5. There would be laughter. There would be dancing. It would be loud and often joyous.
  6. Students would form cliques. There would be drama. Sometimes, there would be fights.
  7. Phones would be ubiquitous, exacerbating #5 and #6.
  8. Attendance would fall and lateness would increase, but both would find a point of equilibrium. (For a whole host of reasons, a majority of our students want to come to school.)
  9. Eventually, a kind of bifurcation would happen. One group of our students would come to school because they need to go somewhere, and their friends are here. A second group would effectively design an academic program for themselves based in their individual needs and interests.

Now think about what you would like to see happening in your school each day. To keep it really simple, for the Workshop it would be something like this:

  1. Students are engaged in real-world problem solving.
  2. Students manage their own time and work. Advisors are coaches.
  3. Students understand what they are supposed to be doing and the reasons for doing it.
  4. Students work together and support one another.

Next, consider the gap between Scenario A (what would likely happen with no formal program) and Scenario B (what you would like to see happen). That gap defines what your school should be doing. Once you’ve defined that, then you can think about the people, organization, tools and routines that will help you to do it.

We always talk about designing schools from scratch, but the truth is that’s hard to do. Usually, we design them compared to a norm, what historians David Tyack and Larry Cuban describe as “real school.” It’s why so many of us are more comfortable describing our schools in terms of what they are not rather than what they are. But if we’re really trying to rethink high school, if we really want to build from the ground up, we need a more open framework for defining and explaining what school is really for, and that framework needs to be rooted in our understanding of who our kids are, their strengths and their needs.

Brightening-Up Science with Solar Power

While many students in Philadelphia are learning about solar power in their textbooks, few are able to learn about it the way Workshop School students do. Currently, the sophomores are studying solar power in one of their project blocks. First, students are learning about the basics with hands-on experimentation. However, after they master the nuts and bolts (or shall we say the rays and volts?) of solar power, they then will be designing their own “wearable technology” that makes use of solar power. Let’s just say this end-product is a slightly more electrifying exit-ticket. IMG_2657

Texting and Mac-n-Cheese: Not just your regular PTA!

The Home School Alliance held its monthly meeting on December 10, 2015. A guardian in November requested that a student teach the parents more about texting because he was confused by his student’s text messages. A freshman volunteered to teach the entire HSA about texting, along with her advisor Ms. Clark. Laughs and questions filled the audience as everyone learned more about abbreviations such as “OMW” and “NP.” Everyone enjoyed the presentation as they feasted on a holiday potluck. The HSA looks forward to its next meeting on Thursday, January 11th at 5:45. IMG_9826

Thinking about College as Sophomores

On Friday, December 4, 2015 Ms. Rowe’s advisory was invited to attend a class at Temple University. A professor from the Temple Graduate School of Education visited Ms. Rowe’s advisory in the Fall with some of her Temple students, and were so impressed by discussions taking place at the Workshop School that she invited them to visit Temple and her own class. For many Workshop School students this was their first time sitting in a college classroom, but undoubtedly, this will not be their last! Countless opportunities await them, especially if they pass their Gateway Projects in the spring. Then, they will be able to leave school as juniors and attend classes at CCP. Congratulations to Ms. Rowe’s class for receiving such an exciting invitation to visit Owl Territory! IMAG4464

Service Learning in the Community

Ms. Kimmel’s 10th grade advisory initiated an incredible service learning project in the community. Last Thursday, December 1st, almost 20 sophomores walked to Locke Elementary School to teach younger students about the solar system. The sophomores worked hard throughout the month preparing presentations and activities to teach the children about the planets. Embodying the principles of the Workshop School, the students designed projects that would allow the children to work together and inquire more. The project will continue every Thursday for the next month. IMG_2071IMG_2067

Students encouraging students

“Think about your future.”
“Get ready for college.”
“What you do now, affects you tomorrow.”

Often students hear these phrases again and again from their teachers, but what happens when students begin to hear these phrases from their peers? On Wednesday, November 18th juniors traveled to all of the sophomore and freshman advisories to inform underclassmen about the unique opportunity of taking college classes at CCP during 11th and 12th grade if they pass the Gateway Presentation in 10th grade. Unlike many high schools, the Workshop School allows students to leave school starting junior year to prepare for college by actually attending a college. Eleventh graders gave underclassmen encouragement and inspiration to work hard now so they too can take a class at CCP as juniors. Students engaged in a roundtable discussion with Ms. Hayden, Dr. Riggan, Dr. Clapper about what the Gateway Presentation entails before hearing from their peers about the amazing opportunities that come after passing Gateway. IMG_2415



The work we do

At our staff meeting this afternoon, we took some time to share appreciations – of the community we’ve created and of each other as individuals. There were many riffs on a common theme: we all appreciate being a part of a community where we can be creative, experiment, and take chances. We all are grateful to be a part of a place where we feel like the work we do is meaningful. We all value a community where people support one another, where it’s OK to have bad days and where successes (big and small ) are celebrated.

Meaning. Purpose. Connection. At the end of the day, isn’t that what all of us want?

This work is hard and sometimes heartbreaking. What allows us to come back and do it each day and not carry discouragement or resentment with us? The belief in what we do, and the knowledge that we don’t do it alone.

I am deeply thankful to be part of a place that embodies these values so fully. And I am proud to be part of a school where those values are central to the work we do with our students. Helping students find meaning in the work – especially when it gets hard – isn’t part of any standards framework. Cultivating deep, caring relationships with and among them doesn’t show up on state tests. But these are the most important things we do. This work prepares students for the future by making them less vulnerable to all of life’s turbulence and volatility. But just as important, it gives them more opportunities to experience joy and fulfillment, camaraderie and community today, tomorrow, and the day after that.

We don’t just owe these kids a future. They deserve a present, too.

Families Welcome: All of the Time

This week at the Workshop School families visited classrooms everyday. From 8:30 until 3:30, parents and guardians watched student exhibitions, providing feedback to the students about not only the quality of their presentation, but the content as well. Students openly reflected about their growth this quarter in 20-30 minute presentations, and then fielded questions and comments from their peers, their teachers, and their parents. On Thursday evening, the Home School Alliance held its second meeting, with over 25 community members in attendance. At the Workshop School, parents, guardians, and supporters aren’t just occasional guests, they’re integral partners.

The Home School Alliance met on Thursday evening.

The Home School Alliance met on Thursday evening.