Adventures in Learning – The Science Leadership Academy

Wow.   This was the third and final installment in our Philadelphia journey and really, that says it all.  This school is unbelievable.

The Science Leadership Academy is a magnet school.  This means that the school staff & administrators select their students on a variety of criteria, including grades.  They have over 1000 applicants every year and every single applicant receives an interview.

As we wandered the halls and the classrooms, interacted with the students, this school had a very different feel to it.  There was a genuine sense of community with the teachers, the administration, and the students.  Kids wandered in and out of the principal’s office, and when we spoke to the students in their classrooms, they were eager to share their learning and explain why they were so engaged in the process.  It was amazing to see.

We were given a tour of the school; the building itself is located in downtown Philadelphia, a better neighborhood than the other two schools that we visited, but the school itself offers a partnership with the Franklin Institute and so proximity is an issue.  During our visit, we wandered into classrooms, spoke with teachers and students alike, asked as many questions as we wanted, got a general sense of the teaching practice and general attitude that the school and staff embrace.

The school focuses on understanding by design.  The work is both project based and inquiry based although it is matched with some traditional instructional methods as well.  Students take mini courses at the Franklin institute in stem fields such as mathematics and science.  Each student, during their time at the SLA, develops an individualized learning learning plan.  There is a focus on “real world” projects.  Students complete internships in areas of personal interest.

In terms of technology, the SLA permits and encourages the use of BYOD – and they continue to fund and support a one to one laptop program.  Again, as with the School of the Future, any and all funding related to the laptop program is done through sponsorship and through an educational technology conference that the school hosts each year (EduCon).

Finally, the school promotes the core values of inquiry throughout the school (and integrates classroom practice into those core values).  The values, along with specific cross-curricular themes per grade, were on every wall of every classroom.  The expectation of understanding was very clear.

So, to sum it up.

Technology is important but must be used in a way that supports excellent teaching practice.  It is not the be all and end all in education. It is a tool that can be used to support pedagogy but it is not a replacement.  Teachers must receive support in understanding how to successfully integrate technology into their lessons and classrooms in a meaningful way.

Professional development and collaboration among peers is so important.  This school has PD time every Wednesday afternoon.  They support their teachers in their efforts to create learning communities and meaningful learning for their students.  They encourage their teachers (and students) to think outside the box and to take risks and they allow them the freedom and support to do so.

Leadership is so important.  And it must be meaningful leadership.   This school has the advantage of a forward thinking principal who has been there from the beginning of the school’s development.  He advocates for his teachers and students and this involvement lets the school create a sense of family and community.

How we teach is changing every day.  No longer can teachers continue to follow the same traditional model.  As our students, the larger world around them, the technology implications and the demands on our students all change, we must change along with them.  Real world learning with the inclusion of apprenticeships, partnerships with outside agencies, inquiry and project based learning, is taking the place of the traditional classroom model.

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