Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Discovery High School

Wander the halls of Discovery High School at Newton Conover on any given day and you will immediately see that this is not a traditional high school. Students might be sitting in the hall working on laptops, or writing on a “chalk-talk” board where students respond to open-ended questions, or they might be filming videos for a class project. If you happen to venture outside, the students might be sitting and eating at outdoor tables, or working in the school greenhouse. You might have passed one or two students on your way in, blowing leaves or tidying up the memorial garden. Students might be in the media center, working on online classes, or in the creativity room painting, or filming in front of a green screen.
These students do not fit the stereotype of a surly teenager, though they are certainly teenagers. They are polite. They answer questions from visitors. They continue about their business. Teachers move in and out of these places purposefully interacting with these students. The teachers ask questions, call the students by name, and might challenge student thinking. Other teachers might be lecturing in classrooms or helping students working on projects. A visitor might recognize semblances of their own experience in high school, but there are also major differences.
And that’s just the way they want it at Discovery High School.
Discovery was started as a “redesigned” high school within the framework of the New Schools Project in NC. Initially funded by money from Gates grants to New Schools, Discovery is now funded entirely by Newton Conover City Schools. DHS is a public magnet school and is seen as an alternative to the traditional high schools in the area. Students from the area must apply to attend, and Discovery staff interviews every student who applies.
Currently, there are 196 students who attend Discovery High School. School officials would like to get that number to about 250 students total and to stay around that number for the foreseeable future. The idea is that a small school is more like a family. Students and teachers know each other well and thus, relationships are formed. A certain level of trust between teachers and students lends to a more fluid and open environment. Students are often self motivated and allowed to incorporate their own interests into their school projects.
Discovery is a project based, 1:1 laptop school. Students work individually, in pairs, or groups using the latest technologies to learn curriculum. They produce work and take tests just like at other schools. The pathways to learning just might be different.
In their less than 10 years in existence, Discovery has won many major accolades and awards. ASCD, PD360, and MTV have all filmed on campus to highlight DHS and the innovation taking place there. In 2008, Discovery won the Innovator Award from NC New Schools. DHS has presented at the Model Schools conference, and the NC New Schools conference. In 2015, they were named as a top 20 high school in NC by the Washington Post. US News and World Report put them in the top 30 high schools in NC. They recently became the only high school in NC to be named as an Exemplar School by the Partnership for 21st Century Learning.
With all of this recognition, Discovery still continues to strive for excellence. They continue to challenge tradition and examine assumptions. Discovery High School is an ever evolving entity and they are looking for creative, self-directed, hard-working students. Applications for next year have gone live on the DHS website and can be found Here.

Tuesday, September 1, 2015


Just about every morning at Discovery High School I am in the hallway greeting students as they enter the building. Usually I refer to the day of the week and loudly proclaim something like "people of earth, I see you," or "people of the Discovery tribe, good morning!" I feel like it's important to let students know that we are happy that they are here. And I think that for some of them it helps to wake them up.
I was thinking about this this morning because lately I have been considering the idea of community and what makes a strong community. As some people may know, I am currently in the middle of a campaign for city council. One of the things that people often ask me is "why did you decide to run?" It's a good question and it's one that I ask myself as well.
"Why did I decide to run?"
There are varying reasons that I will get into later and that might be better served in a different forum but for me the underlying idea is that I want to make my city better. I see things that need to be changed. I see work that needs to be done. I want to help make positive changes. I think I'm the right person to help make those changes. It boils down to the fact that this is a community that I care about.
And there's that word again. Community.
It has different meanings to different people. Here at school we have a community time where the entire school assembles and we share information, celebrate successes, recognize individuals who embody the spirit of Discovery, and feature the talents of our students. It's a fun time where we are all together and it helps us to build this "Discovery Tribe." It's shared by all of us and is important to us.
But a community should also mean something bigger. Here at Discovery we bring many students from all over the area into our school. These students come from different feeder schools, different districts, and different counties in some situations. We throw them all together here and try to make something special.
But one of the things I think we often overlook is the parents of these students. These parents come from disparate backgrounds as well. And we want them to be part of our community. Let me correct myself. We NEED them to be part of our community. We, as a school, can't be as successful as we want to be without the support of the parents.
Parents have always been an integral part of a school, Sometimes it isn't as evident as it used to be but schools need parents in a big way. In a time when societal support is waning for public schools, and our own state government can't pass a budget to fund basic services, parents are the life-line to making schools better. Schools need to appeal to our parents more and we need to not be afraid to ask for help. Parents often ask what they can do to help. We need to ask them to help when we need them and they need to be prepared to step up when we do so.
You see, this is central to the idea of a community. People depending on one another, holding each other accountable, and working together to make a better place. Parents, teachers, students.  A school is a community and we are all in this together. Parents and students expect a lot from their school. And they are right to do so. But we are never stronger when we are all in this together. Supporting one another. Fighting the good fight. Striving to become more than the sum of our parts. Working to become the best school possible. The best community possible. And that's going to take all of us.

Monday, March 23, 2015

and now for something completely different...

I've said in the past that I might use this blog for things other than technology or teaching. So here we go.
One from the archives:

a moment in march                                                   03/07/04
dabbed colors blur on the edge of vision and
what cost is our sight worth?
forgive me for the moment
surrendering to the melancholy
to fatigue, to often grim realities
etched in stone for history.
this night is hopeful
maybe because of lessons learned-
sometimes it’s in the breathing,
still others, when it abruptly stops...
do we perceive ourselves
as those few lines in newsprint?
or is this, “the stuff of life”
greater than that?
are my dreams still real?
are any of us where we
imagined ourselves to be?
open hearts are, sadly, more
in the realm of surgery
than something looked upon
with awe and understood
when we remember days of
“ill show you mine,” and how
as children, we were transparent-
love and anger, happy and sad
all from moment to moment
in lyrical necessity living, breathing
existing on the edge of what we were-
unborn, and commingling with what we saw,
what was heard, phrases uttered carelessly,
examples shown, learning to grow
in ways maddening and unexpected.
innocence slips silently
away in small bits
dreams die in collisions
with expectations of conformity.
sit right here young man and tell me why you did that.
you don’t really think that way now do you?
it’s a stage he’s going through,
it’s the medication talking,
it’s a mid-life crisis,
he was just a little eccentric...
these cycles, these universes we
inhabit where does time go?
how do we get there from here?
can you show me the path?
can you show me the way?
strings attached to one another,
chaotic conclusions, levels of hell,
planes of existence.
whatever it is, we are but a pea
in the soup, in the fog
catching fleeting glimpses of
something other than here and now,
once remembered and forgotten
lifetimes in beautiful streams of
suddenly coherent and cohesive space and time.
and just like that
fading and lost,
gone, untouchable
and we can’t quite put
our finger on it-
out on the edge of vision.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

How often do you have to blog to be considered a blogger? If I haven't blogged in over a year am I still a blogger? Was I ever a blogger?
A few friends have been after me to start writing again so I thought maybe we would take this old blog out for a ride. Knock the dirt off of the tires. See what happens.
Today I want to talk about old habits. You know, they die hard. Just like our affinity for using the same old tools and the same old worksheets and the same old jokes. As humans we tend to gravitate toward the tried and true. But is it all so tried and true anymore? Just because something worked for students five years ago doesn't mean it's going to work today. Or maybe it will. I don't know.
The point here is that we shouldn't be scared to try new things. New ways of delivering info, new ways of imparting knowledge. Just try it. You might like it. -Sam I am

Monday, September 23, 2013

Road Trip

Once of the things that I was trying to accomplish with my last post was to put forth the idea that, often, learning takes place outside the walls of the traditional classroom. In fact, I would argue that in the history of the world a very small percentage of learning has taken place inside a classroom.  Real knowledge comes from real experience and one of the things that we are horrible at manufacturing in schools is reality.  Most of the time, the things that students are supposed to be doing and learning have little obvious connection with the reality of the world outside the confines of the school.  Our reaction to this is the push for PBL.
PBL seeks to make learning relevant.  Projects aren't treated as isolated bits of knowledge for students to learn. The projects should be integrated within the framework of the curriculum and should include as many real world experiences as possible. The audience should be bigger than the teacher and the project should include opportunities for students to engage in practicing 21st century skills.
Today my students began to investigate Lewis and Clark through the PBS website and Ken Burns' documentary. I always talk about Lewis and Clark embarking on the greatest of road trips. We will try to expand this idea tomorrow by launching a project on the Great American Road Trip.  Students will examine why people "take to the road."  What kinds of things push people to move, to explore?
Students will partner up and look at specific instances in US History when Americans moved about and what were the motivations for this movement? The students will then design a museum exhibit based around the idea of a road trip and will seek to display the reasons why Americans have taken to the road in the past. The exhibits will be set up in an area where people from outside the school can see them and give feedback. I look forward to seeing what the students come up with.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Redesign = rethinking

Wow. It's been almost a year since I last posted on this site. Seems like school begins to happen and I lose track of time and space. Every year it happens and then I turn around and I have gone months and months without posting. I won't vow to change that this year. I've been around the block long enough to know all the cliches that go with resolutions and vows. I won't beat a... oh, never mind.

I do have something on my mind though. It's been bugging me for a few days and being that I do have a soap box of sorts, I think I'll stand on it for a minute.

Last Friday, our school took the whole school on a field trip to the park. Yep, the entire school. To the park. And? It was awesome. Easily the best day of the year so far.

Why the park? Why the entire school? What did we hope to accomplish?

Let me try and explain.

Our school is what is known as a redesigned high school in NC. The General Assembly of NC refers to us as a Cooperative and Innovative high school. What that really means is that we are charged with redesigning high school as we know it. We are trying to be innovative. Trying to throw out some of the old that may not work as well as it once did. Questioning why we do things. RETHINKING assumptions.

Our school also pulls students from 3 different school districts across our county.  We serve as a magnet school of sorts. Once students choose to attend here, students from different feeder schools are suddenly thrown into classes with people they have never met; people they may have little in common with. As a school, we hope to take all of these varied personalities and mold them into the best people they can be.

So we took them to the park, for a day of team building, away from the walls that are too small even for a small school.  Away from the rooms that are too small for the amount of students that have to be packed into them. Away from 3 weeks worth of classes, subjects, books, and teachers preaching the gospel of standards and curriculum, and into the great outdoors.

The planning that went into this undertaking was gargantuan. Things like buses, subs, schedules, approvals, permission slips, parent signatures, etc... all had to be worked out. And it was hard. Seemingly there was a never ending litany of hoops to jump through and obstacles to avoid. But in the end, we made it happen. And it was so worth it.

A beautiful day with students outside. They did team building activities, played soccer, went for walks, gave awards to each other, took pictures, recited monologues, played guitar, and blogged about their experiences.  When it was all over they cleaned up after themselves, thanked us for making it happen, and enjoyed the ride back to campus. As we unloaded the buses, I watched students from different grades and different walks of life hug each other. A few gave high fives. All had smiles on their faces.

The smiles and the hugs and the high fives,  they made it all worthwhile. For one day, actually for half a day, we had taken them out of school where the SCHOOLING takes place. We had put them in a different environment and LEARNING took place. And that's why redesign = rethinking. That's why all the trouble was worth it. And why I hope we do it again soon. No matter how hard it was to make it happen.

Monday, October 1, 2012

students grading teachers (man bites dog)

This morning I found this article in my reader:


I agree with the article.  I have publicly espoused this view for many years.  I said as much more than 20 years ago, almost 25 now, when I interviewed for the NC Teaching Fellows Scholarship as a young and naive high school senior.  If you want to know what's happening in a classroom, ask the students.  They know.
Students are captive audiences day in and day out.  They know the inner workings of a school or a classroom intimately.  We should ask for, and value, their feedback.
We haven't quite hit on a good way to evaluate teachers.  States want to use test scores to say how effective teachers are.  This is a cheap way to evaluate teachers which is why state legislatures often like this method.  However, a test score will never show how a teacher changes a student's life.  A test score will never show that a teacher takes a kid home on some days, stays after school to talk to a student about their life, or cares about the student as a human being.  Tests only show a tiny amount about teachers and should only compare student growth across time using data from the same students.
Accountability should be measured in many ways.  All stake-holders should have a say.  I have never believed that standardized tests tell the whole story with regard to teaching.  I do believe that they can be part of the picture.  Peer, parent, student, and supervisory observations and reviews should all be part of an accountability model for educators.  Teachers that perform poorly in this accountability model would receive additional help tailored to improve their performance in areas of concern.  Some would say that this would become merely a popularity contest.  I would counter that the “popularity” effect could be minimized.  At any rate, a certain amount of public perception and satisfaction should be part of our jobs as teachers.  
   Peers should also be used in an accountability model.  Teachers know what is going on in their schools.  Peer reviews and observations should be part of any accountability model with regard to the teaching profession.  Doctors do this when they have rounds.  Doctors observe other doctors and comment on what they observe.  The reasoning behind this is that both parties will become better professionals because of the experience.
    I have always argued that students know better than anyone what is going on in the classroom.  Student reviews should be part of a teacher accountability model.  We do this at a university level but don’t often do this at elementary, middle, and secondary levels.  We should.  Again, statistical corrections could be made so that the effect of outlying data could be minimized.  If we don’t trust the students, how can we expect them to trust us?