A Look into Design Tech High School: A Revolution in Redwood City

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Design Tech High School recently opened their new facility, which is located on the campus of tech giant Oracle. Read on learn about this partnership and how it's impacting the school's innovative approach to education.

Design Tech High School

Though Design Tech was founded in 2014, it gained national attention when it partnered with software giant Oracle, who offered to build the high school a new facility on their own campus. Design Tech will pay just $1 a year in rent, and students have the opportunity to work with Oracle employees and other San Francisco Bay Area giants.

As the students, teachers, and administration get comfortable in their new building, occupied in January 2018, and the first class prepares to graduate in June, people are eagerly learning more about this revolutionary charter school that's changing the foundations of secondary education.

History

The school, known as d.tech, welcomed its first students in 2014. The 139 freshmen started without an official facility, instead operating in the hallway of a Millbrae, California high school. As the school grew, it had to spread across two schools, also using space in a school in Burlingame. They moved into their new facility authorized by the San Mateo Union High School District in January.

Curriculum

D.tech was founded to give students the skills they need to succeed in the 21st century. Located in the Bay Area, d.tech has looked to the innovative design school at Stanford University when creating the model for their high school. The focus is on design thinking, where designers consider the end user before solving complex problems. Many businesses, including Oracle, also use this model. It's also a draw for parents. As one Facebook review states, ''The school culture of inclusiveness and strong message of empathy was a big draw. The personalized learning and design thinking were also important to us. Could not be happier.''

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One of the teachers, Galen McAndrew, explained to EdSurge that design thinking can apply to many subjects. EdSurge writes, ''McAndrew used an example of a student writing an essay in an English class. The pupil would identify the 'user' as the audience, and the 'problem' as the message that the student is trying to send by writing the essay . . . With design thinking, says McAndrew, the school pushes students to think about problems and approaches that are constantly evolving, instead of the mindset that 'there's only one answer.'''

The high school utilizes competency-based learning, which allows students to revise their work until they demonstrate competency in the subject. This also allows students to control their pace of study, accelerating or slowing down as needed.

One of the most exciting parts of the curriculum is intersession, two-week 'breaks' offered four times per academic year. During these breaks, students can take elective classes in either the visual or performing arts or do internships in industry areas they're passionate about. Some of the intersession courses are taught by Oracle employees, but the school has also worked with local partners such as Wells Fargo, AutoDesk, Mela Yoga, and Peninsula Ballet Theatre. Past Oracle and d.tech intersession courses have included wearable technology, experiential gaming and design, and data visualization.

Students

According to the founder, Dr. Ken Montgomery, students have a personalized education, and they can ''use their knowledge to improve the world around them.'' Students were involved in the school from the beginning: in the classrooms at Millbrae, students designed the classrooms and built classroom furniture.

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On the school's Facebook page, one review states, ''The teachers and faculty are amazing. After a year of witnessing my son's transformation academically and socially, it's hard to express enough my admiration for Design Tech High School.'' Students also retain rights to any ideas or inventions they may develop in classes with their tech partners. This means that if any students develop marketable ideas, the students will profit, not the companies that are helping with the courses. In the wearable technology class mentioned earlier, two students invented a purse that can only be opened by its owner, deterring pickpocket theft, and Oracle helped find a lawyer to patent the idea for the students.

Design Tech is a charter school, which is an independently-run, tuition-free public school, and current California residents can enter a lottery for possible selection for grades 9-11. The present enrollment is 550 students, with the first class of 128 seniors graduating in June. At the end of 2016, the board approved priority lottery selection for students who qualify for free or reduced lunch. More information about student demographics can be found in the school's profile.

The New Facility

The school gained a lot of recognition when it was announced that they would be moving to a facility on Oracle's campus. The $43-million building is 64,000 square feet, and architects met with students during the design phase of the building. Some of the notable features are a two-story makerspace, the Design Realization Garage. A makerspace is similar to a collaborative workshop, where students can work and realize their ideas together. Students can use the garage for class assignments, but also for personal projects.

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The students seem excited about the partnership with Oracle. One student, a junior, was quoted in a New York Times article about the new facility, saying that the partnership will provide ''more opportunities to learn from experience.'' Both the building and the partnership attracted another junior, who noted in The Daily Journal, ''I joined d.tech because it was something that was new and exciting. And also Oracle was involved. And also there was a new high-tech campus coming.''

Of course, not everyone agrees. In a HuffPost opinion piece, Alan Singer, an educator in the Department of Teaching, Learning, and Technology at Hofstra University, cautions against calling d.tech a success too soon, or the potential motivations of Oracle, a concern that has also been expressed by others. However, Oracle and the school emphasize that d.tech will not receive any undue influence from Oracle on faculty or curriculum, and Oracle employees will not receive any special consideration if their children want to attend d.tech.

Design Charter Schools

Public design high schools are not a new idea. These new high schools are indicative of the school choices currently available to students and parents. Some other notable design high schools are CHAD (Charter High School for Architecture and Design) in Philadelphia and the magnet school, DASH, (Design and Architecture Senior High) in Miami. However, the partnership between Design Tech and Oracle is an innovative idea in high school education.

What do you think about Design Tech's innovative approach? Do you think students will benefit from this relationship with Oracle?

By Michelle Garrigan-Durant
February 2018
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