Open High: A Great Choice and Contribution

Imagine "one-on-one tutoring for every student in every subject" and you get a picture of Open High School, a virtual charter school serving 250 Utah students in ninth and 10th grades.
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Imagine "one-on-one tutoring for every student in every subject" and you get a picture of Open High School, a virtual charter school serving 250 Utah students in ninth and 10th grades, expanding to up to 1500 students 9-12 by 2014.

Aptly named, the Open High School of Utah Trailblazers are forging new paths in multiple arenas, but what sets them apart is their commitment to use open education resources (OER) where possible and to share what they develop under Creative Commons licenses.

The curriculum is hosted on MoodleRooms learning management system (but they miss their BrainHoney gradebook).

Curriculum Director Sarah Weston gathers content drawn from a variety of sources including OER Commons, Curriki, and a little Hippocampus. Some specialty courses are purchased from Florida Virtual School. Courses are leveled for different academic goals and to meet individual needs.

Teachers and students make extensive and integrated use of Twitter (#openhs). History teacher Jennifer Klein is conducting "TwHistory," projects; teaching history via characters on Twitter (and glows when she talks about it). Math teacher Crystal VanAusdal poses extra credit questions and opportunities for peer mentoring on Twitter.

The faculty uses a variety of strategies for communicating with students including text, email, gchat, Skype, and sometimes a good old-fashioned phone call.

Instructional tools include:
  • Glogster: poster maker
  • Google Docs and Apps
  • GeoGebra: math sketch pad
  • Oneeko: screen sharing application
  • Grockit, Brightstorm, and Khan Academy: tutoring
  • Raptivity: interactive digital learning games
  • Voicethread: collaborative whiteboard and presentation tool
  • Sliderocket: presentation tool
  • Vimeo: video sharing
  • Flickr: photo sharing

Active collaboration takes place in the virtual faculty room, the Teacher Commons. They just integrated the Genius student information system and to ensure that no one or nothing drops through the cracks, the faculty uses Highrise as a case management tool to track interventions and conversations related to individual students.

They are experimenting with a variety of fitness strategies. They plan to use something like Eric Whitacre's Virtual Choir, a very cool mash up of individually recorded student videos and are looking into SimCEO business simulation for next year.

Open High School builds a strong sense of culture by sharing the vision with parents and students from day one. Class officers, Spirit Week and social activities serve to strengthen the camaraderie developed first online. More than 80 percent of the students live within 60 miles of Salt Lake, so the school community can gather monthly for social activities, while those in outlying areas plan regional activities to attend.

Each student is encouraged to document at least 25 hours of community service per semester. In 2010 students, faculty, parents and board members logged well over 6000 service hours to earn the Gold level President's Volunteer Service Award.

Open High is highly personalized in terms of attention, partially personalized in terms of academic path, but not really competency-based -- it's generally an age cohort model built around courses and semesters. The school remains somewhat constrained by state-mandated year-end tests (rather than on demand end-of-course exams) and seat time requirements.

Director DeLaina Tonks is able to be very selective about her faculty by weeding through 150 applicants per position by auditioning them. The first wave drops down to ten when asked to produce and demonstrate a one-week online standards-aligned instructional lesson using a variety of tech tools. She only hires cream of the crop teachers who are passionate about online teaching.

This fall, the 9-12 Open High platform will be robust enough to support not only their students but half of their courses will be shared with other blended and virtual schools nationwide. The other courses will be taught through once before release in 2013.

Founding board members David Wiley and Robyn Bagley (Chair), and the faculty are making an important contribution to American education while shattering the mold of traditional learning.

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