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. 

Flipped Learning

  • 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 

In this week’s Principal’s Corner I would like to answer some of the frequently asked logistical questions families have about the new building.  So, here goes!
 
Will students have the opportunity to socialize with students in other neighborhoods?
Of course!  Students will be assigned to the neighborhood based on their four core courses, but will still have opportunities in their schedule to engage with students from other neighborhoods in the fine arts, physical education, career and technical education classes.  Students will continue to have opportunities to engage in clubs and other student activities and programs, and we expect this to take a more prominent role in the new building.
 
Will students have the ability to eat lunch outside (like they do now) or will they be kept indoors all day?
Breakfast and lunch distribution will take place throughout the building in the neighborhoods.  We have heard from many students that they wish to continue to have opportunities for lunch locations outside of the neighborhood and are exploring those options.  Currently there is one patio area within the perimeter of the fence line that would serve as a secure location for students to eat lunch.
 
Will we be able to have pep rallies for the entire school in the new gymnasium?
The new gym is approximately three times the size of the current gym, and would be a fantastic space for pep rallies next year.  The gym will have seating for 800.
 
Will the North building maintain the original classrooms or will the interior be redesigned completely?
The historic north building will be completely renovated to contain suites for several of our programs, including orchestra, choir, dance, visual arts, JROTC, engineering and our variety of communications programs.  Our clinic will be moved to the second floor near the Main Office, and our special education suite will be located in the same area.  That work will take place over the summer and the Fall semester. 
 
How will you determine which students will be in a neighborhood?
Neighborhood assignments will be determined by coursetaking.  We have studied common coursetaking paths to determine which courses should be offered together.  In essence, a student who wishes to take Geometry in 10th grade will be placed in a neighborhood where Geometry is offered for 10th graders. 
 
Will there be tutorials before and after school for students?
We will continue to have tutorials available through our student services before and after school.
 

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.   

 

Neighborhood 1
English – IB English III HL or Eng III Recommended
Math – IB Math I A&A (Calculus) or IB Mathematics A&I (Prob/Statistics) or Geometry
Science – PIB Physics or Physics Recommended or IB Biology SL or IB Computer Science SL
Social Studies – PIB US History or IB Economics SL or US History Recommended or IB Art History
 
Neighborhood 2
English – IB English III HL or Eng III Recommended
Math – IB Math I A&A (Calculus) or IB Mathematics A&I (Prob/Statistics) or Geometry
Science – PIB Physics or Physics Recommended or IB Physics SL or IB Chemistry SL
Social Studies – PIB US History or IB Economics SL or US History Recommended or IB World Religions SL
 

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

I have had a few inquiries about the safety features in the design of the new building.  I want to share with you the information that was provided by our Bond office.  You will notice that creating a secure facility was an important consideration in the design.
  • 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?

Q: How many kids will be at lunch? How will lunch work?
A: We expect to have two lunch periods daily.  Each neighborhood will have food distribution lines during the lunch periods where students can get food from the hot service line or the cold case.  Students will be able to eat in their own neighborhood or that of a friend who is also assigned the same lunch period.  Students may also choose to eat outside of the neighborhood in the Grand Hall or on the patio. 
 
Q: Will you be with the same 35 kids all day?
A: The schedule will operate like it does now – you will have 8 class periods over 2 days. Four of your classes will be held in your neighborhood (English, Math, Science and Social Studies/History).  The other four periods of your schedule will take place in other areas of the campus.
 
Q: How will this improve my learning?
A: How much easier would your life be if your 4 core teachers all worked together?  If your English teacher knew what was going on in your other three classes?  Teachers will work closely together to make connections between the content areas, and offer a more balanced and integrated work load.  Utilizing the flipped classroom model, you will receive the “lecture” piece of instruction prior to the lesson at home, and use the time you have with your teachers to practice the new skill with support and apply it to real world problems.
 
Q: How will kids be grouped into each neighborhood?
A: Students will be randomly and heterogeneously grouped in each neighborhood.  We want to make sure you are not limited in the courses you can take because of the neighborhood in which you are placed.  If for instance the math class you need is only offered at the same time you want to take band, we can assign you to a different neighborhood so that there is no conflict.  All of that will be done before school starts to ensure we have complete and correct schedules on the first day.  You will have access to Recommended and PreIB/IB classes in all neighborhoods.
 
Q: How will kids be grouped into their individual classes?
A: Students will still be assigned to each course during a specific period.  Each class section will be identified as Recommended or PreIB/IB.  Teachers within the neighborhood will have the flexibility to use each class period to work on specific course content, or work on integrated projects with other content area teachers/classes in the neighborhood.
 
Q: How will I know where to go on the first day?  Will there be tours of the building before school starts?
A: Watch social media and the Lamar website for information on tours and activities before school starts.  We will plan events that help students and parents get acclimated to the new facility.  Additionally, you can watch for a new student handbook and family guide with everything you need to know about navigating the new school.
 
Part 8:  One of the big questions that people still seem confused about is what the day will look like for students, and that is usually followed with “and how will 200 kids work in one room?” 
 
First, 200 students will not work in the neighborhood at the same time.  Students will follow the same schedule they do now, with 90-minute classes, attending four classes each day.  Teachers will continue to have the same student load, and will have the added benefit of a more flexible environment.  So take a look at this document to see what a day might look like for four students assigned to the same neighborhood.  Classes highlighted in blue would take place in the neighborhood, while the other classes would take place in other parts of the campus. 

Neighborhood Mock Schedule

 

Part 9:  On Time, On Task and On a Mission
 
I want to spend some time talking about what our lunch periods will look like next year.  Instead of four lunches during a class period we will offer two lunches, which will leave our campus “in flux” for only an hour and ten minutes instead of two and a half hours.  Half of our students will eat lunch during the first thirty minutes and the other half will eat during the last thirty minutes.  What will the students do when they are not at lunch?  I’m excited to announce a new period that we will add to our school day for all students… “On Time, On Task, & On a Mission” (TTM).  During this period students will be assigned to a specific teacher, for attendance purposes, and will have time for tutorials with the teachers in their neighborhood, will have time to make up missed assignments from absences, work with groups on projects, meet with Academic Deans, the college corner, or the IB corner.  This is also a great time for groups to meet to work on projects.  We will continue to offer tutorials before and after school as we do now, however, we believe TTM will give students time during the day to take care of their business and lighten their evening load.
 
While this will be a flexible time for students, structures will be put in place to ensure that this time is productive for students, and that they are where they are supposed to be.  Students will not be able to take two lunches.