Students ‘Owning’ Their Projects: Highline Big Picture High School

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Editor’s Note: Last July, staff from Highline Big Picture High School in Washington State participated in Eagle Rock’s weeklong Growing Equity Together Summer Institute for educators — an initiative that grew out of an Eagle Rock staff member’s (Sarah Bertucci’s) 24-month Deeper Learning Equity Fellowship. Other schools participating in the Institute — which is scheduled to meet again this July here at Eagle Rock — include City Neighbors High School in Baltimore, Fannie Lou Hamer Freedom High School in the Bronx, Winooski Middle/High School from Vermont, and Eagle Rock School. As you’ll see from today’s post, a lot has happened at Highline since last July:

By Highline Big Picture High School staff in Burien, Washington

Highline Big Picture High SchoolHighline Big Picture High School (HBPHS) and Eagle Rock have a history of collaboration, with several advisors and administrators traveling to Eagle Rock in the past and representatives from Eagle Rock’s Professional Development Center arriving in Seattle to support us at different stages of our school’s development.

Having heard good things about past work, several newer staff members were excited to be able to join the Growing Equity Together cohort. Our team consists of Dan (STEM specialist), Gwen (301 Advisor), Mia (201 Advisor) and Bev (201 Advisor).

In mid-July of 2016, we traveled to Eagle Rock to begin our work with a cohort of adults representing five different schools with five different goals connected by the common theme of equity. We quickly jumped into it, utilizing a method of rapid prototyping to identify our individual schools’ problems, assets and strengths.

While we could determine that our schools had problems that needed to be addressed, the challenge was to figure out which ones to tackle first and how to address them in a meaningful manner. We discovered that using rapid prototyping became uncomfortable at times. But that was because we suffered change fatigue and we were painstaking in our methods to create plans that were feasible.

One problem we identified at HBPHS is the challenge of our students to take ownership of the quality of their work during the project process. At Big Picture, projects are based on student interest — not assigned or group projects. And effectively proposing, executing and reflecting on a project that has personal meaning to a student is a challenge. Our goal was to help students “unstick” themselves when projects hit a wall.

An amazing part of Highline Big Picture High School — and one of our strongest assets is that students at every level engage in internships with a mentor. We wanted to leverage mentor knowledge of quality standards within their field, advisor knowledge of the student, and student interest to create guideline to use throughout their project.

Enter the co-created rubric — yet another asset that had been piloted by veteran advisors.

In our final days at Eagle Rock, we received feedback from both staff and students to help finalize our plan, leaving the school with the commitment to implement the practice of utilizing co-created rubrics throughout our own high school. Next, we compiled a collection of sample co-created project rubrics from advisors who have prototyped them in the past.

We furnished this material as a shared Google Drive folder to all Highline Big Picture High School staff members at our meeting last October. At that meeting, we examined the example rubrics in small groups with two goals:

  • Advisers who haven’t undertaken these kinds of rubrics saw diverse examples of implementation.
  • We discussed whether there are any common elements to the rubrics that we can agree should be shared and established across all future co-created rubrics.

As we moved forward in the learning cycle, our team captured two to four data snapshots of the status of the co-created rubrics from each advisor. These data snapshots included questions to assess how co-created rubrics were or were not used at exhibitions. The idea was to guide students toward our goal and whether they helped students engage in deeper reflection on the meaning and implementation of quality work.

There is beauty in a collaboration of five coast to coast schools that are focused on a common goal. Because we come from different cities, and different schools with separate educational models — and because we face different challenges with our students — we can gather as a cohort with the common goal of increasing equity through student projects.

The strength of the Growing Equity Together cohort is that we have many great minds in education coming together to support one another and our students as we collaborate on a similar aim. As we set individual goals for our schools and our students, we enjoy the blessing of receiving feedback, counsel, and advice from one another either by computer, in person, and via conference call.

Collaboration creates enthusiasm as well as commitment. With our conference calls, campus visits, and by staying in touch with one another, we can share discoveries, report back successes and failures, and brainstorm ideas.

Combining unique perspectives from five different schools across the map allows us to build on the talents and experiences from those in our cohort and that synergy will help us all foster great success in advancing equity.

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