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Castle View sets its sights on creating a ‘transformational’ high school

CASTLE ROCK – A series of conversations over Saturday morning coffee have led Castle View High School educators to look at the way they teach students differently. They are now considering a revolutionary change that could eventually be a model for high schools around the country. This week the school hosted a symposium to gather feedback about the idea from education experts and parents.

While the concept of completely reinventing Castle View High School might seem grandiose, Principal Dr. Jim Calhoun says it began with a simple conversation at a coffee shop.

“We called them the Lost Coffee sessions,” Calhoun said with a laugh.

A small group of teachers, maybe five or six, and the principal would gather to discuss education, their school and eventually a need for change.

“We decided that we really needed to do something drastically different,” explained Calhoun. “Much of what we do at CVHS isdifferent than other schools.  However, when you got down to it and you visit our classrooms, our instruction wasn’t any different than other schools that have a more traditional model.”

The teachers in the Lost Coffee group took the lead, looking for ways to change things up at Castle View.

“As those discussions began to deepen, we began to do more research, more reading, and followed the lead of Dr. Fagen by studying the works of well-known authors like Yong Zhao and Tony Wagner.  We just felt like there were some things that we could do differently,” Calhoun said.

Eventually they began to look at emulating High Tech High in San Diego or Science Leadership Academy in Philadelphia. Last winter, representatives from Castle View visited both. While they plan to take elements from these amazing schools, they ended up deciding to develop their own model to fit their school community.

“We started to develop an idea for a school that was truly transformative, that didn’t have the traditional boundaries around it like traditional periods of the day,” Calhoun said. “The foundational element is that we need to do more to tap into student passion and student motivation.”

“What goes on in public education doesn’t adequately prepare students for the future, because these students don’t really care about what we are asking them to know,” Calhoun continued. “We’re asking them to learn things that have no relevance to their lives.”

Calhoun and his staff believe they’ll be more successful in getting students to learn, to retain their knowledge, and understand what they have learned at deeper levels.  If the teachers are able to guide student learning by focusing on authentic or real-world problems that students are interested in, students will connect with their education and become engaged in the process.  With this mindset, we take the limits off what students will learn.

For example, he says a student interested in skateboarding could learn a lot about physics through their sport.

“They can learn about what is happening with their skateboard, angles, curves, speed, force, among other things” Calhoun said. “Once you get involved in that level of physics and the students start to get interested in it, they start to learn other things about physics and they start to apply real world situations to what they’re learning in that science subject.  Their passion will lead them to deeper learning.”

Instead of lectures Calhoun envisions students scheduling time with teachers for one-on-one help.

“What I predict is that you’ll have very little of that stand and deliver, sit-and-get kind of informational session in large groups. Learning may take place in small groups, back and forth,” Calhoun said. “It, however, depends on what the kids need. If we have a 30 skater dudes that want more information on physics, and they were all looking at the same type of problem or information, a teacher could work with all 30 of them as a larger group.”

Calhoun says students will still learn the skills they need to meet the District’s Guaranteed and Viable Curriculum, which exceed state standards, as well as the items they’ll need to succeed on college entrance exams like the ACT or SAT.

He adds that Castle View educators want more—to ensure the kids can actually apply the knowledge once they graduate from high school or college. Calhoun says it’s a big change that is needed universally in education, because schools may impart a lot of knowledge, but don’t really prepare students to compete for the careers they choose. He believes that leads to the underemployment problem.

“What our employers are looking for is people that have initiative, creativity, can think critically, can collaborate, and can communicate; those 21st century skills that we keep talking about in this district. If kids can’t do those they’re not going to be successful,” Calhoun said.

As part of the process of developing Castle View’s innovative new programming, the school hosted a two-day symposium and inviting several education experts, including Yong Zhao and Gary Stager, to help the staff explore the revolutionary concept, as well as answer questions they may not have considered.

As part of the event, the school invited parents to a forum on Monday, September 16, which featured a panel of experts and an opportunity for parents to ask questions.


A list of the panelists is included below:

Yong Zhao, Ph. D.

An internationally known scholar, author and speaker. His works focus on the implications of globalization and technology on education. He is currently serving as the Presidential Chair and Associate Dean for Global Education in the College of Education, University of Oregon.

Author of: Catching Up or Leading the Way: American Education in the Age of Globalization and World Class Learners: Educating Creative and Entrepreneurial Students.

Gary S. Stager, Ph. D.

An internationally-recognized educator and consultant, Stager has spent twenty-eight years helping teachers on six continents make sense of their roles in the age of personal computing, and helping schools become more constructive places for children.

Author of: Invent To Learn: Making, Tinkering, and Engineering in the Classroom.

Karl Fisch

An educator and Director of Technology at Arapahoe High School, Littleton, Fisch is a twenty-two year math educator and visionary. Creator of: Shift Happens.

Douglas Herman

Herman is an educator and consultant at Science Leadership Academy, Philadelphia.

Kristy Lathrop

Lathrop serves on the national faculty at Buck Institute for Education, is an Apple Award Winner (DCSD) and Siemens STEM Fellow.

Michelle Baldwin

Baldwin is an educator and innovator at Anastasis Academy, Centennial

Ron Tzur

A nationally and internationally known mathematics educator whose works focus on children's conceptual learning of mathematics, teachers' development of practices supportive of such students' learning, and linking both domains via continually interweaving theory and practice.

John Lanning

Lanning is a Professor of Chemistry and Assistant Vice Chancellor of Undergraduate Experiences at the University of Colorado. Lanning carries out research on indoor air quality and undergraduate student learning, especially in STEM disciplines.

Tim Kubik

Kubik works on a variety of initiatives through Kubik Perspectives, LLC, all designed to increase student engagement with an ever-changing world. He earned a Joint Ph.D. in History and Theory from the Johns Hopkins University, and has designed and taught project-based courses at the elementary, secondary, undergraduate and graduate level. With Asia Society and the Buck Institute for Education, he has trained nearly 2,000 teachers on global and project-based learning.  Tim is also a vocal partner in policy and political initiatives to improve education in his home state of Colorado.

November 15, 2013 | By rmbarber | Category:

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