I heard an interesting story on NPR recently about The School of the Future, a new high school that opened in West Philadelphia last month which is designed to give students the tools they need to excel in the 21st century.
And by "tools" they mean a fully connected learning environment that is constantly investigating new instructional practices to improve student achievement. To that end, it offers some of the most advanced technology offerings available, including:
- a laptop and home broadband connection for every student
- campus-wide Wi-Fi
- student IDs embedded with smart chips that track attendance, open lockers and pay for meals (in 2007 they'll even track nutrition information for meals purchased there)
- plasma screens and video projectors in the classrooms
- an Interactive Learning Center offering streaming media content on a variety of subjects
- a digital format for all paperwork and school assignments
- access to digital cameras
- special software for teachers to track students' attendance and progress, as well as adjust curriculum
- a conspicuous absence of pencils, paper, textbooks, chalk and blackboards! (which are so old school)
What's also neat is that the school day itself more closely resembles the real-world workplace: it is project-oriented and based on appointments rather a traditional class schedule. Students attend a 7-hour day, but use software to schedule classes, meetings, meals and activities.
The school was first concepted in 2003, when Philadelphia School District CEO Paul Vallas pitched the idea to Microsoft, which subsequently dedicated a full-time staff member and a technology architect to the project, in addition to purchasing naming rights to the visitor center. The district itself put up the bulk of the cost -$61.4 million, which is a normal budget for area high schools.
The School of the Future will serve 750 students in grades 9-12, all admitted by lottery. Over 98% of students are minorities and most live below the federal poverty level. There are no academic or discipline performance required for admittance, but each student must apply to college in order to graduate.
This is such a great idea; hopefully more big business (and small for that matter) will find ways to donate time and materials for similar ventures.