Principal's Corner - New Building & Curriculum Series
Part 1: Building Design
The new Lamar campus was approved by voters under the 2012 Bond, and planning and design began in 2013. The Project Advisory Team worked closely with the architects and district personnel during the planning and design phase to ensure the building had elements that reflected the needs and desires of the greater school community. No two buildings are exactly alike, and each has unique elements that are tailored to the programs in the school. The idea was to consider that we were designing a building for the future that would take into account the needs of today and tomorrow’s students.
A major focus in the design was to ensure the space was flexible and adaptable to the changing needs of learners. Another critical consideration was to create a design that targeted some of the constant and recurring challenges for large schools. Large comprehensive high schools, like Lamar, offer the benefits of having a variety of programs, clubs and course offerings. In effect, there is something for everyone. But with that comes the challenges of navigating a large system and finding places where you fit in. With the neighborhood design we can create smaller cohorts of students that share a common group of teachers. When students are grouped into smaller communities within the bigger community, teachers can provide more individualized support within the normal function of the school day. The smaller communities also allow for collaboration and experience working with an academic team.
The third and fourth floors of the new building will serve as the home base for all students, where a student will receive instruction for four of the eight periods over two days. Students will also have access to their Language B class and/or Business class through the neighborhood. Within each neighborhood there are up to six flexible work areas - specifically, a fully-equipped, enclosed science/maker lab, an enclosed presentation area, and two to four flexible learning areas with movable walls.
Students will leave their neighborhood to access fine arts, athletics, physical education and our Career and Technical Education Programs, housed on the first floor of the new building and in the renovated North Bldg. The second floor is our student services area, which will include our school store, our College Corner, the Research and Reference area, as well as Communities in Schools counselors.
Part 2: Instruction & Curriculum Design
This week I would like to start the conversation on instruction with a look at the work we continue to do on curriculum design. Over the last three summers, teams of teachers have worked with IB consultants to develop a curriculum that focuses on the independent disciplines, as well as curriculum that allows us to blend content areas for a more interdisciplinary approach. So what does that mean?
Teams of teachers have worked side by side to create a rigorous curriculum within their own content area, using the guiding principles of IB Middle Years Programme and IB Diploma Programme. This curriculum has been implemented in our classrooms over the last two years and has been refined each year to ensure we offer students the opportunity for the best results. These same teachers worked with teams made up of a teacher of english, science, math and humanities (social studies) to create opportunities for the disciplines to overlap so that students recognize the connectedness between the disciplines. The interdisciplinary curriculum is rooted on the premise that students learn through doing. We also considered that when students work together they gain “soft” skills, such as communication, collaboration, negotiation and empathy through working together, and these skills will be critical in jobs of the future.
This year we have engaged in a critical review of the curriculum, with teams assessing the curriculum through three different lenses. First, subject area teacher teams are reviewing the curriculum to ensure both the disciplinary curriculum and the interdisciplinary curriculum are aligned to the state standards and provide rigorous opportunities for mastery. In other words, are we teaching what we should be teaching and will it result in students learning at the most rigorous levels. Second, our IB Coordinators are working with our district level IB Coordinator to evaluate the curriculum through the lens of IB; does it stay true to the philosophy of IB. And finally, Rice University School Mathematics Project is evaluating the interdisciplinary units to ensure the curriculum creates rich opportunities for students to learn through a project-based approach. In other words, are students engaging in rich opportunities to use the tools of the disciplines to solve a real-world problem?
Additionally, we are reaching out to experts in related fields to develop higher-level opportunities for our students to learn through doing. Next week we will be meeting with experts from Rice University to discuss upper-level projects that integrate mathematics, physics and engineering. We are developing connections with other schools that utilize the maker space design for project-based learning to help with identifying the right machinery, tools and materials for our 16 science/maker labs. As we near spring semester, we plan to finalize some partnerships with experts in fields of study that support learning to ensure our students have the opportunity to share their work and get feedback from those who already work in the field.
In the next part of this series, I will give more information about the instructional strategies that we currently employ and how that will be enhanced in our new space.
Part 3: Instructional Approaches (How We Will Teach)
In last week’s Principal’s Corner I offered an overview of the curriculum work we are doing. This guides us in “what” we will teach. This week I would like to focus on the instructional approaches we are using, or the “how.” Several years ago the Lamar faculty started shifting their instructional practices. As an IB World school we incorporated strategies such as flipped instruction, Kagan Cooperative Strategies, and Project-based Learning (PBL) into our instruction, in order to ensure all students are maximizing their opportunities to learn while in the classroom. Here is a look at the instructional practices we are using, the ways we continue to support teachers in improving their practice, and how these instructional practices are complemented by the new facility to enhance learning.
International Baccalaureate (MYP, CP and DP)
- What is it? The IB Middle Years Programme, the IB Career-related Programme and the IB Diploma Programme provide an instructional framework that focuses on the development of characteristics, our learner profile, providing students with the opportunity to learn through inquiry with a focus on the connectedness between disciplines.
- How are teachers supported to continuously grow in this instructional approach? Each year Lamar teachers attend IB training specific to their discipline that focuses on instructional practices that are in line with the IB philosophy. Through our continued collaboration with Texas IB Schools and other HISD IB schools, we will continue to offer training every summer.
- How is this instructional strategy complemented by the new facility? In our new building, the flexible learning spaces will allow our interdisciplinary neighborhood teams to fully embrace the IB philosophy. Teachers will be working together to seamlessly offer opportunities for inquiry-based, hands-on learning through an interdisciplinary approach. In other words, students will have opportunities to develop rich, engaging questions about the world, seek to understand the complexity of the problem from a variety of perspectives and then work to solve that problem.
- What is it? Flipped Learning is an instructional design approach that puts an emphasis on having the teacher available as students begin to practice and gain expertise on curriculum. Teachers utilize technology and online tools to develop short lessons to frontload the basic knowledge students need to make sense of new material. Then, as with any good apprenticeship, the teacher is in class available to facilitate and offer support as the student begins to gain expertise on the material.
- How are teachers supported to continuously grow in this instructional approach? This instructional approach was launched a few years ago and had several early adopters that have helped drive the development of strong flipped lessons in each content area. Teachers are continuing to receive professional development to improve the quality and appeal of the lessons. This year we are working with HISD Educational Technology department to offer training each month on a new tool for engaging students in the flipped lesson.
- How is this instructional strategy complemented by the new facility? Flipped lesson design allows students to use the time in class to engage in exploration and practice with new content, while teachers are readily available to guide them in their learning. Teachers will prepare opportunities for students to interact with the new content and get help as they apply the new skill.
Kagan Cooperative Strategies
- What is it? Kagan Cooperative Strategies provide a framework for working with others. When students work together and have a positive experience they boost academic understanding as well as emotional intelligence, or in the world of IB, they advance themselves in developing the characteristics of the learner profile. Kagan provides structures and routines for working in pairs, small groups or even larger groups.
- How are teachers supported to continuously grow in this instructional approach? Lamar implemented Kagan structures several years ago and continues to provide training as new teachers join the Lamar faculty. New teachers receive continuous support through our new teacher cohort and through our Appraisal and Development system.
- How is this instructional strategy complemented by the new facility? Cooperative learning requires flexibility in the learning environment. The new facility is designed to offer a variety of flexible learning spaces, allowing teachers to choose the most effective cooperative routine, and allowing students to work in a location that fits their own learning goals.
Project-based Learning (PBL)
- What is it? While students at Lamar have long been engaging in projects, the project-based approach is an instructional approach that allows us to shift from using projects simply to measure understanding at the end of a unit of study, to creating opportunities for students to learn through the doing process. It relies on students to use inquiry and design theory to work together to explore and solve open-ended, real-world problems. You may want to watch this short two-minute video from Edutopia that explores the difference between projects and project-based learning at pic.twitter.com/6qemsuCa0i.
- How are teachers supported to continuously grow in this instructional approach? Teachers will be receiving professional development throughout the spring semester and summer to develop a foundational understanding of the work, and then will be engaging with experts in the field throughout the implementation of PBL.
- How is this instructional strategy complemented by the new facility? Project-based learning requires flexibility with instructional time and the physical learning environment. Neighborhood assignments allow teachers to work together to design instruction and instructional time that allows for that flexibility. Additionally, each neighborhood has a science/maker lab that allows students to get elbow-deep in their work, with all the tools to help them turn a conceptual idea into reality.
Part 4: Frequently Asked Questions
Part 5: How will the neighborhoods work?
I received this question from a parent last week…
"I’m still unclear on how the neighborhood works with the wide variety of core courses offered. For instance, my daughter is a sophomore in physics and pre-calculus. Next year she will be in English 3, Chemistry 2 SL, Calculus and World Religions. Will she be with 200 other kids who take those same classes? She knows a few kids who are a year ahead in math or science but not many who are a year ahead in both."
The students will be arranged in neighborhoods based on course taking. In 9th and 10th grade it is a fairly simple process with students taking similar subjects, such as AP Human Geography or the recommended course World Geography as their social studies class in 9th grade. But as students move into 11th and 12th grade, coursetaking options expand and it becomes a little more complex. We are organizing course options on a matrix so that there are a variety of pathways, but also expect to partner neighborhoods so that more options are available to students. Some teachers may support two neighborhoods, for example those who are expert in physical sciences can focus on delivering that content while teachers who are expert in life sciences can focus on that content. This type of grouping allows more flexibility in scheduling so that students can really make a path that is right for them. Let me show you how the course offerings may lay out in two of the neighborhoods as an example for 11th graders.
With this idea in mind, we will place students in a neighborhood where the courses they want are offered. While 180-200 students will be assigned to the same neighborhood, they will not all be there at the same time throughout the day. We will maintain an 8 period blocked schedule. Teachers will maintain a student load comparable to this year where approximately 30-35 students are assigned to a course for a specific class period. Using the teaming approach, the teachers will have the flexibility to work together to design projects that allow for interdisciplinary teaching. An example might be that during the dedicated 2nd period, an English class and a History class may utilize the flexible space and be regrouped to work together on an interdisciplinary project, or a math and science class may be working under the guidance of the math and science teachers to use the tools of mathematics to solve a complex physics problem.
Part 6: Safety Features
- Clearly Delineated and Fenced School Boundaries, using vegetation, ornamental fencing, signage, and other measures to discourage trespassers and allow natural surveillance of approaching threats.
- Electronic Access Control Systems Installed at Parking Garage to restrict its use to students with permits, school staff, and administrators.
- Architecturally Distinctive Main Entrance to the School Directing Visitors through administration check-in and screening area.
- Security Vestibule with Electronic Access Control Systems to provide greater control of visitors entering the school. Individuals are encouraged to pass through the Administration area before being granted access to the remainder of the building.
- Electronic Access Control Systems at Frequently Used Exterior Doors throughout the campus and No Re-Entry Hardware at Less Frequently Used Exterior Doors to limit access to the building by unauthorized individuals.
- Over 180 High Definition Closed Circuit Television (CCTV) Cameras strategically distributed throughout the campus to provide continuous surveillance of corridors, common areas, building entrances, gymnasiums, dining spaces, stairwells, and other areas designated by campus administration.
- Learning centers doors, Cohort entries, and Administrative Offices will have Doors/Entrances that can be Locked from the Interior in the event of an emergency lockdown.
- Offices for Assistant Principals, Counselors, and other Administrators are Carefully Distributed Throughout the Building to monitor and engage students in each Cohort and provide administrative direction in case of an emergency.
- Compartmentalization of the Building will help control visitor movement through the building and facilitate identification of individuals in the wrong areas.
- Comprehensive Intrusion Detection System that includes door sensors, motion detectors, alarms, and 24-hour central monitoring.
Part 7: What do the students want to know?