A blueprint for change.
A LEARNER-FOCUSED CURRICULUM DROVE THE DESIGN OF MINNESOTA'S CHASKA HIGH SCHOOL Chaska High School (CHS) is a public high school located in Chaska, Minnesota, a southwestern suburb of the Minneapolis-St. Paul area. CHS is a 10th-12 grade school; freshmen attend the nearby Pioneer Ridge Freshman Center. Nearly 2000 students attend CHS. .
"We finished our first assignment yesterday, Mr. Jacobs. Now what are we supposed to do?"
"Hey! I need a pass to go to the library because I left my books there."
"Man, I feel crummy crum·my also crumb·y
adj. crum·mi·er also crumb·i·er, crum·mi·est also crumb·i·est Slang
1. Miserable or wretched: a crummy situation in the family.
2. today. Do I have to do this?"
"Settle down, everybody!"
As Rob Jacobs' Modular Technology class gets underway at Chaska High School, the student-teacher banter is no different than you'd hear elsewhere around the country. The difference is that these students have facilities that other school districts only dream of.
State-of-the-art computers are scattered Scattered
Used for listed equity securities. Unconcentrated buy or sell interest. around the room, each loaded with software related to a different type of technology, from robotics robotics, science and technology of general purpose, programmable machine systems. Contrary to the popular fiction image of robots as ambulatory machines of human appearance capable of performing almost any task, most robotic systems are anchored to fixed positions to hydraulics hydraulics, branch of engineering concerned mainly with moving liquids. The term is applied commonly to the study of the mechanical properties of water, other liquids, and even gases when the effects of compressibility are small. , from video animation to digital sound. The students, typically in teams of two, work at their own pace through the computer-instructed units, stopping to conduct experiments and take quizzes along the way. The computer tracks their progress by student identification number and keeps records of which answers they got wrong on which tests and modules.
Meanwhile, in the classroom next door, several students doing an independent study in architectural drafting log on to several of the 25 computers loaded with CAD software. Jacobs, chairman of the technology education department, flits between the small groups of students - chiding some, questioning others - and pouncing pounce 1
v. pounced, pounc·ing, pounc·es
1. To spring or swoop with intent to seize someone or something: on every teaching opportunity that arises. He does not stand at the front of the room and lecture, nor does he give everyone identical assignments.
Looking to the future
The environment at Chaska High School epitomizes learner-focused, self-directed, technologically advanced learning - which is exactly what Minnesota's Independent School District 112 had in mind when it spent $21 million to build the new facility. Located approximately 25 miles southwest of Minneapolis, the school of 1,600 students opened in fall 1996.
Three years earlier, a design committee that included teachers, students, parents, administrators and community members had begun the process of evaluating the types of spaces the new school would need. One exercise the team engaged in was a futures workshop - looking at trends in education and design and assessing which ones might affect the curricula and hence the building.
"We make sure the building is aligned with the type of teaching the district wants to do," explains David Leschak, an architect with Hammel Green and Abrahamson, Inc., the Minneapolis firm that designed the 295,000-square-foot school. "This district was well-organized and knew it wanted its high school to be learner focused, team-centered and community friendly."
Added to the equation was the district's rapid growth. As housing developments have replaced farm fields, class sizes have risen accordingly. With the growth projected to continue, the school had to be equipped to support the needs of many students for many years to come. In a word, it had to be flexible.
Hammel Green and Abrahamson translated the district's wish list into an architectural design This article or section may contain original research or unverified claims.
Please help Wikipedia by adding references. See the for details.
This article has been tagged since September 2007. that features the "house concept." Sometimes referred to as "a school within a school," a house is an almost self-contained area within the larger building.
Chaska High School has three houses - red, blue and green - which are color-coded from the walls and lockers all the way down to the chairs in each classroom. That makes it easy to find your way around. Each two-story house has 16 classrooms situated around a commons area, its own administrative office (and assistant principal, or dean), and two resource and planning areas for teachers. At the front of each house are four labs for classes needing special equipment, such as family science, physical science and technical education.
Chaska students are assigned a house alphabetically al·pha·bet·i·cal also al·pha·bet·ic
1. Arranged in the customary order of the letters of a language.
2. Of, relating to, or expressed by an alphabet. , but they rarely stay in the same house all day. Most attend classes throughout the building, using the spacious main corridor that connects all three houses to get around. Opening off this main street are the office, cafeteria cafeteria: see restaurant. , media center and offices for community education and the school nurse.
"The decentralized de·cen·tral·ize
v. de·cen·tral·ized, de·cen·tral·iz·ing, de·cen·tral·iz·es
1. To distribute the administrative functions or powers of (a central authority) among several local authorities. house concept allows students to have a home base, an area they identify as theirs. It puts them in smaller groups and breaks down the scale [of the school] so students can establish ties with people and feel more comfortable - as though they belong and aren't just a number,'" notes Leschak.
In contrast, he says, high schools built 30 or more years ago reflect "the cells and bells" mentality men·tal·i·ty
The sum of a person's intellectual capabilities or endowment. . All those classrooms are the same size, and the only places students can really socialize so·cial·ize
v. so·cial·ized, so·cial·iz·ing, so·cial·iz·es
1. To place under government or group ownership or control.
2. To make fit for companionship with others; make sociable. are in the narrow corridors or outside on the front steps.
"Now, with an interdisciplinary in·ter·dis·ci·pli·nar·y
Of, relating to, or involving two or more academic disciplines that are usually considered distinct.
Adjective or team-centered approach, a school needs different sized spaces to accommodate different sizes of groups, such as breakout space for five or six students working on a project as well as areas that can hold two or three classes of 25 students each," Leschak says.
"Students also need gathering areas, which I refer to as 'decompression space.'"
At Chaska, for instance, two of the houses feature open "forums" where students often lounge; the third house has a closed forum with stationary seating.
Chaska's design confirms the district's commitment to interdisciplinary teaching Interdisiplinary teaching is a method, or set of methods, used to teach a unit across different curricular disciplines. For example, the seventh grade Language Arts, Science and Social Studies teachers might work together to form an interdiscipinary unit on rivers. . Rather than clustering teachers of the same subject together, the house concept sprinkles them throughout the school. Each house, for example, includes office and planning areas where English, science, history and math teachers mingle, enabling them to easily coordinate their lesson plans.
The team-centered design requires some adjustments, admits Jacobs. He's based in the green house, while his two colleagues are in the blue and red houses. "It makes it more difficult to talk to each other. In another school, we'd probably all have our offices together," says Jacobs. "But you can also learn a lot from the other teachers, such as how someone else approaches a subject."
Time well spent
Even more revolutionary than the school's design, however, was its change in scheduling. When Chaska High School students made the move to the new facility, they traded seven 45-minute periods for four 90-minute "blocks" each day. The school day begins at 7:20 a.m. and ends at 2:15 p.m., with 10 minutes' passing time allowed between blocks. The design team made the recommendation after visiting several schools with block scheduling Block scheduling is a type of academic scheduling in which each student has fewer classes per day for a longer period of time. This is intended to result in more time for teaching due to less time wasted due to class switching and preparation. .
Students and teachers alike were apprehensive about spending 90 minutes together at a time. But once they tried the concept, they gave it an A+.
"You really get to know the teachers and the people in your classes because you do more work in groups and teams," says one student. "And everybody gets up and moves around the room, so it's not like you're sitting in one place the whole time."
"I like it because we can get so much stuff done at school - there's less homework!" adds another.
As might be expected, the teachers have a slightly different perspective. "Initially, it was a shock because you're used to doing so much of the talking - but you can't talk for 90 minutes," says Rick Rogers, who teaches the power technology classes.
"You learn to balance the time by not talking more than 20 or 30 minutes. That gives students more time to do what they want, which is hands-on projects. And it's good for doing bigger projects. [For instance] if you start gluing a dresser, you can't finish it in 45 minutes."
Chaska's teachers have one planning block and three teaching blocks each day. In addition to prompting teachers to vary their instructional methods, block scheduling saves them time. With half the number of classes as in a seven-period day, teachers don't have to clean up after one class and get the next one going as frequently.
Will build to suit
Chaska High School puts its teachers' flexibility to the test each day. For the building itself, the need for flexibility arrived early in the game: the day it opened. Instead of housing grades 10-12 as originally planned, the school had to accommodate the 9th grade as well. A school levy had failed, temporarily depriving the district of operating funds for the old high school (which is slated for renovation into a grades 8-9 facility).
The addition of more lockers and students was barely noticeable, except to the older students who weren't keen on having freshmen underfoot. The bigger and more obvious change, however, occurred in the area of technical education.
In 1993, when the school was being designed, no one spoke up for that portion of the curriculum; the interest simply wasn't there.
"The vocational program Noun 1. vocational program - a program of vocational education
educational program - a program for providing education at the time was on the decline. Not many students were taking advantage of the classes available," says Leschak.
He recalls some of the tradespeople trades·peo·ple
1. People engaged in retail trade.
2. Skilled workers.
Noun 1. tradespeople - people engaged in trade who constructed the school expressing surprise when they discovered it had no wood or metal shop. The only technical education space to speak of was a small shop behind the stage, designated for constructing scenery.
"Then the school made a new hire, and that person brought a lot of energy and a renaissance to the curriculum," Leschak adds.
That new hire was Jacobs. The program he inherited inherited
received by inheritance.
inherited achondroplastic dwarfism
see achondroplastic dwarfism.
inherited combined immunodeficiency
see combined immune deficiency syndrome (disease). in the 1993-94 school year offered eight classes; enrollment was so small that his position was part-time. Three years later, when Chaska High School opened, the technical education department offered 49 classes and had one part-time and three full-time instructors. But the original blueprints for the new school had not allocated space for these specialized spe·cial·ize
v. spe·cial·ized, spe·cial·iz·ing, spe·cial·iz·es
1. To pursue a special activity, occupation, or field of study.
To make room for Jacobs's department, the school district loaded two classrooms with specialized computer equipment. It also converted one lab into a power tech classroom: Electricians installed additional outlets and part of one wall was replaced with large doors to the outside so cars could be driven in. The small area behind the stage was converted into a full-fledged woodworking shop and retrofitted with dust-removal equipment.
Space remains tight. The wood shop, for example, can handle no more than 18 students at a time. Students often are turned away from popular classes such as consumer automotive and introductory woodworking simply because the converted classrooms can't safely accommodate students as well as their equipment, tools and projects.
Jacobs attributes the program's newfound new·found
Recently discovered: a newfound pastime.
Adj. 1. newfound - newly discovered; "his newfound aggressiveness"; "Hudson pointed his ship down the coast of the newfound sea" popularity to the department's philosophy: Keep class fun, keep it interesting and provide information that's useful.
"We focus on how the student can apply the information to a career path. For instance, we bring in guest speakers and take a lot of field trips to industry. Students can see how drawings are turned into actual parts or products - and see the people doing it making $70,000 or more a year," says Jacobs. "Nothing makes me happier than to have a student look up from a project and say, 'I think I'm going to go to school for this.'"
He gives much of the credit for the program's turnaround to Chaska High School's principal, Jim O'Connell. It was at O'Connell's urging that the necessary changes were made to the new building.
"You can have a lot of ideas, but without the support of the administration, nothing will happen," notes Jacobs. "Not all students will go to college. Some will go to technical schools or right into the workforce. Our principal has the foresight (graphics, tool) Foresight - A software product from Nu Thena providing graphical modelling tools for high level system design and simulation. to accommodate those students."
Within the next five years, those accommodations may become more spacious and specialized. The architectural plans commissioned back in 1993 call for the future construction of a fourth house to hold the growing student population. Like the other houses, the new one will feature classrooms, decentralized offices and labs. But this time, Jacobs and his colleagues are virtually guaranteed a say in the design of those spaces. Their vocational course offerings are so popular that they're turning away students - and numbers speak volumes.
RELATED ARTICLE: CHECKING OUT THE OPTIONS
"What should I be?"
"Where should I go to school?"
When Chaska High School students put those questions to Susan Hoff, she has plenty of resources to guide them to. As manager of the school's career center, Hoff can sit them down in front of a keyboard for a computerized computerized
adapted for analysis, storage and retrieval on a computer.
computerized axial tomography
see computed tomography. skills test or school sort. Or she can point them to shelves crammed cram
v. crammed, cram·ming, crams
1. To force, press, or squeeze into an insufficient space; stuff.
2. To fill too tightly.
a. To gorge with food. with videos from four-year colleges and universities or pull out course catalogs Noun 1. course catalog - a catalog listing the courses offered by a college or university
course catalogue, prospectus
catalog, catalogue - a book or pamphlet containing an enumeration of things; "he found it in the Sears catalog" from two-year, business and technical schools.
"Our goal is to get students into the career center early, in ninth or 10th grade, so they start getting a sense of their options," says Hoff, who relies on a staff of 27 volunteers to catalog catalog, descriptive list, on cards or in a book, of the contents of a library. Assurbanipal's library at Nineveh was cataloged on shelves of slate. The first known subject catalog was compiled by Callimachus at the Alexandrian Library in the 3d cent. B.C. , file and keep track of all the school and career-oriented information.
"For instance, a lot of students think just about four-year colleges and don't realize the scholarship opportunities available at technical colleges," she says.
In addition to bringing in representatives from various schools and the uniformed services The Army, Navy, Air Force, Marine Corps, Coast Guard, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and Public Health Services. See also Military Department; Military Service. , the career center has co-sponsored a career fair with local businesses. Recent alumni who have followed different career and education paths have returned for a frank "Life After Chaska" discussion with juniors and seniors.
Hoff also arranges job shadow days for students with a career goal already in mind. She's lined up such opportunities for people who wanted to know more about being a sign-language teacher, a pastry chef A pastry chef or pâtissier is a station chef in a professional kitchen, skilled in the making of pastries, desserts, and other baked goods. They are employed in large hotels, bistros, restaurants, and bakeries. , a masseuse masseuse /mas·seuse/ (-sldbomacz´) [Fr.] a woman who performs massage. and even a Harley-Davidson motorcycle motorcycle, motor vehicle whose design is based on the bicycle. The German inventor Gottlieb Daimler is generally credited with building the first practical motorcycle in 1885. The motorcycle did not become dependable and popular, however, until after 1900. repairmen.
Sandra R. Sabo is a freelance writer and editor in Mendota Heights, Minnesota Mendota Heights is a city in Dakota County, Minnesota, United States. The population was 11,434 at the 2000 census. The St. Thomas Academy boys school is located here, as well as Henry Sibley High School. .
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Contact Chaska High School at 545 Pioneer Trail, Chaska, MN 55318; (612) 361-5470.