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Three futures: Dewey High School

I am working on the last chapter of my technology "survival" book for classoom teachers. Its focus is on the future and how it is up to each of us to help create the future we desire for ourselves and our students. The chapter will start with three possible scenarios for "high tech schools," based on trends I see today. I'll be sharing the drafts of these scenarios over the next few days. Your comments, as always, are welcome. 

Scenario Two: John Dewey High School

... children in one set of schools are educated to be governors;
children in the other set of schools are trained for being governed. Jonathan Kozol

Carlos’s mobile is behaving strangely. And it’s a bad time for this to happen since one of his biggest projects is due on Friday. And project-based learning is at the core of Carlo’s suburban magnet high school education.

On the four days he attends school*, Carlos spends the majority of his time in the learning commons – a huge room that contains groupings of tables, chairs, and soft seating. The offices of teachers and specialista are around the perimeter of the room allowing students easy access to them. Carlos has a personal workspace but he rarely uses it.

Meeting with his learning groups, Carlos spends most of his time completing multi-disciplinary, collaborative projects that require research, problem-solving and communication components.  He does meet at least twice a week with his teacher/advisor in a classroom setting, but the majority of his time is spent working with one of his learning teams –  both online and off - in the building and outside the building.

The projects that form the core of Carlos’ school work are carefully designed to insure that state standards are addressed, that the work is relevant to Carlos, and that his work is authentically assessed. Developing “self-assessing” learners is a major goal of John Dewey High. Carlos met the basic standards of writing, reading, mathematics, and technological literacy before he left eighth grade. High school is for applying those skills and practicing "right brain" dispositions.

Carlos likes using a lightweight tablet mobile** with a 10” touch screen as his personal communication/ creation/ research device. His is literally never without it, and of course the school is fully wireless with open Internet access. Other students prefer laptops, smartphones or netbooks, but the purpose is the same – to keep in contact with their peers, their teachers, resources, and their own work. Due to the individualized nature of learning at the school, textbooks have all but disappeared and those remaining are electronic and leveled. Dewey High does have some more powerful computers for more complex tasks like video editing.

Carlos loves school and works hard, but his mother who is an electrical engineer and member of the parent advisory council has concerns. She worries that Carlos's coursework lacks the rigor that is needed to prepare students for college - especially in math and the sciences. In fact, performance on state and national tests and participation in AP classes is below average at Dewey High and colleges report a high percentage of freshmen needing remedial classes. Other parents worry that graduates won’t have the common basics of history, literary and scientific information.

* At the high school level, school’s custodial responsibilities are less important. Students are required to attend 2 1/2 days, but many attend more to see friends and work in F2F teams. For a longer description of a similar school vision see Miles's Library: Annotated.

** Carlos prefers his own moblle but the school provides them to students whose families cannot afford them or in an emergency basis such as when a device needs repair. Since all of Carlos's work is stored in the cloud, his library media specialist loans him a netbook with a webbrowser and wireless connectivity.

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Reader Comments (7)

What John Dewey High School are you writing about? I graduated from JDHS in 1974. What you write about sounds like a parallel universe to what is going on there today as opposed to what it could have been by now if the experiment had not been de-funded and budget-cut over the past 30 years and especially over the last 5 to 10 years.

February 15, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterBarbara


This is a totally fictitious place - as is Skinner Elementary and as will be Duncan Middle School in the next post.


February 15, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterDoug Johnson

Just saw this series and went back to read the first vignette. I definitely find the elementary one chilling--I just don't think elementary students should have that much screen time, that little school time, and no physical activity. I know how addictive screens are (I put on a DVD, and I know my 2 year old will stay in one place until I turn it off), but I can just see a bunch of elementary school kids absolutely off-the-walls when they get out of a 4 hour computer session! And that's not even discussing the content of that curriculum.

The high school one seems slightly better--I don't mind the idea of largely individual, project-based learning, but it sounds fairly tracked, which I'm not sure I like. All the screen use also bothers me, but maybe all the time that monks spent shut in with books worried their mothers, too.

You are very adept at creating realistic scenarios--in your abundant spare time, are you going to write a sci-fi novel? :-)

February 15, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterLibby

Interesting vision. Can't picture it where I am, or students having that much free time. We have so many problems with students not showing up, and the group think-tank idea would tank with students who never do work unless you breathe down their neck. But this model is certainly more inspiring, but it may be at the expense of our careers as there would be little need for a lot of teachers.

February 16, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterBob

Without the context it is a little unclear what the purpose of changing the setting from urban to suburban is here, and you might be sending unintended, or simply wrongheaded, messages here regarding which kinds of students need or deserve which kind of education.

February 16, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterTom Hoffman

I like the concept and would have enjoyed going to a school like this but the issues you mentioned about students needing remedial work in college is a concern. It can be addressed I think without throwing out the entire scenario. I'm trying to picture a 14 year old freshman working in this environment and it's hard to do. Maybe a more gradual integration of this approach could work. Freshmen would be in a more traditional classroom setting working on those standards. Each year transition to more project-based learning until senior year is like the scenario you've written. That's similar to what happens in college where you work on your core classes for a couple of years then you concentrate on your major classes, hopefully with more room to do the work you want. It won't work for every student though. My very bright daughter needs a Tiger Momma approach when it comes to school work. Maybe admittance by application.

February 17, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterKelly Posey

Hi Libby,

These are kind of fun to write, but no plans to write science fiction. I get enough science fiction in my day job!

I hope these scenarios might spur readers to envision THEIR ideal school of the future.


Hi Bob,

My sense is that politicians will be looking at running schools with less money, and that mean fewer teachers, like it or not. I'm encouraging ALL readers to write their own future school descriptions - ideal or likely or both.

Thanks for the comment,


Hi Tom,

Nothing unintended in my settings. And while I don't think all kids will (or ever have) received equal educations based on their locations/socio-economic levels, it certainly doesn't mean that I don't think they should. I hope reader don't take it that I am suggesting separate treatment for kids in urban, suburban and rural areas.


Hi Kelly,

I don't think I described the ideal scenario in any of these three - only likely ones. I would argue that YOU are the person best suited to describe what you think an ideal school would look like for your daughter or others.

Thanks for commenting,


February 19, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterDoug Johnson

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