Thursday, September 14, 2006

Commentary: Sotir: Philly's School of the Future

Source: TechLEARNING News link (9/12/06) to an article from The Philadelphia Inquirer:,

Here's an interesting concept...a school of the future. Actual future thinking educators and businesses (the school was built under the guidance of Microsoft Corp.), creating a first-of-its-kind model for technologically advanced schools. What a concept. The school, built at a cost of $63 million, claims to be as paperless as possible. Students each get a lap-top (soon to be upgraded to tablets). No textbooks are used as nearly all learning materials will be accessed by computer. (Are you listening, Texas?). General amenities include interactive white boards, plasma boards, ceiling projectors, smart cards that track student movement throughout the school, virtual teaching assistants and software that allows parents to track students' progress from home. Even the sports teams will use electronic-play diagrams. Of course, it's totally wireless.

While Microsoft assisted with the design, they did not donate money, equipment or software, other than $100,000 to name an area of the building. Kudos to Microsoft for giving the school what it really needed, which is a vault of experience, from personnel time, to best practices and access to its network of "international thought leaders". I am excited to see that there was a real working relationship with the business, rather than simply a monetary (and transitory) donation.

Futurism in schools is not merely the presence of technology, but rather a thoughtful approach to using technology effectively. Even non-technology equipment was considered by putting classroom furniture on wheels to allow for group work in varying configurations. Conservation was also addressed. Photovoltaic panels in the windows and the roof will covert sunlight into electricity. The building will also catch rainwater and convert it to non-potable uses, such as toilet and boiler water.

Two local universities, University of Pennsylvania and Drexel University have established partnerships with the school. University professors will teach courses in areas such as robotics and urban design, and provide staff and student resources. Honor students from Villanova University will serve as online tutors.

Yes, a futuristic school needs more than the newest technology. It needs people from both inside and outside of education who are thinking in the framework necessary to achieve real student success in the impending society where they will exist, not the world that existed 50 or even 25 years ago. Students will be required to apply to at least one college to graduate, and also to demonstrate 11 "adult competencies". Proficiency on standard reading and math tests is also considered a graduation requirement. Even the start time has been thought through, starting at 9:15 based on research that says teens function better a little later in the day. Thank you, Microsoft, and thank you Philadelphia. I hope to see more effective collaborations in the future, and more movement towards re-designing education, rather than just designing buildings. It's about time.