Innovation Lab High School, Northshore’s new choice high school, opened in fall 2020. The school opened with about 110 freshman and 40 sophomore students. Up to 150 students will be accepted to future freshman cohorts. At Innovation Lab, students explore their passions, while identifying their purpose in their community and in the world. Learning is designed around the needs of today’s students, and focused on developing the skills necessary for a future yet to be imagined. By 2022, the school will serve students in grades 9 - 12.
Through Innovation Lab High School’s Expeditionary Learning model, students engage in interdisciplinary coursework and real-world project-based learning. One of the central features of Expeditionary Learning is the concept of Crew: an advisory and mutual support network that forms the backbone of Innovation Lab High School’s culture.
Alec McTavish, math and computer science teacher at Innovation Lab, shared how the school and the Crew model resonates with him. “Engineering was a good fit for the math and science geek that I have always been. Teaching, likewise. But my college years would not have fed me as they did, if I had not also been able to play trombone in the Engineering Jazz Band; acted, danced, and sang in the annual Musical Comedy Revue; and been able to spend a summer as a camp counselor. When I’m at my best, I’m drawing on all of that as I learn and solve problems. At Innovation Lab High School, I get to be a part of that full well-rounded growth of my students. Not within the narrow confines of a single subject, or even within the confines of academic growth. Through Crew, I’m going to be able to ask each student ‘Who do you want to be; how do you want to be seen; what do you want your community to be?’ and then help them to find those answers for themselves and their community.”
McTavish is bringing his expertise and prior experience within Northshore to Innovation Lab, as is the case for most staff at Innovation Lab. Many are also certified in multiple areas. For example, McTavish is certified in both computer science and math, while another teacher is certified in both English and math, and two others are certified in both English and social studies. By teaching multiple subjects, staff are able to identify connections as they work together to plan and build interdisciplinary learning experiences for their students.
“What brought me to Innovation Lab was the chance to be a part of a school that is designed to re-ignite students' curiosity, help them pursue their passions, and discover their purpose in life,” said Alex Virga, science teacher at Innovation Lab. “My purpose in life is to educate and work alongside students as they grow into the people they want to be, and head off into a world that they will change for the better.”
In addition to an Expeditionary Learning model, students will graduate with a mastery transcript. To do this, the District obtained a waiver from the Washington State Board of Education, which allows the school to focus on students learning an accumulation of critical skills, rather than on memorization of facts.
“Knowledge has become a free commodity; thus, the world simply no longer cares what you know—there’s no competitive advantage,” said Dr. Tony Wagner. “Rather, what the world really cares about is what you can do with what you know, which is a brand new, and completely different educational problem.”
Dr. Wagner is one of the many thought partners and education associations across the nation who is working with the District to support students and ensure they thrive. Other thought partners and affiliations include: EdLeader21, Expeditionary Learning, Mastery Transcript Consortium and Microsoft.
Northshore has identified the following skills as crucial to fulfill the mastery transcript: communication, collaboration, critical thinking and creative problem solving. Through the District’s thought partners, rubrics have been established to measure growth in the skills identified. This twenty-first century mastery transcript focuses on supporting the whole student.
In practice, a mastery transcript means students' work will be more focused on mastery of skills through larger projects across disciplines, placing an emphasis on students’ learning rather than on points and grades.
“Projects will be focused on real-life problems in the community, and developing solutions to those problems,” said Innovation Lab’s Principal, Peter Schurke. “Students will journal questions and wonderings they have during both the school day and at home. Questions from these journals will be used to help students identify their passions, and teachers will look for common themes in their students’ journals as they plan future projects. This will ensure projects are more personal to each student, and keep their passion at the focus of their work.”
The students of Innovation Lab are currently engaged in a learning expedition focusing on pandemics as catalysts for innovation. Utilizing the design thinking process, students began the project by interviewing people designated as essential workers. They then gathered the accumulated data from all interviews into a primary source database and used their new resource to define potential problems to be addressed. After some exercises to help them determine the root cause of their selected problem, they have formed teams to brainstorm potential solutions and begun constructing and testing prototypes for those solutions. In February, they will demonstrate their progress at a virtually held public celebration of learning to which they will invite parents, community members and local elected officials.
“So often young people are referred to as the leaders of the future. I believe that grossly underestimates them. Our young people are leaders now,” says Principal Schurke. “Young people all over this world are stepping up to lead causes tied to their passions. My purpose is to help our students develop their leadership skills and identify their passions. In that way, we will empower them with the knowledge and skills they need to step forward and begin to actively change their world for the better. Our students will be equipped with the skills they need to creatively do things with what they know, and they will be ready to apply those skills in any venture their future holds.”
Innovation Lab High School’s 2021 application process opened on Jan. 4, 2021. Space is limited, so the deadline for first consideration will be 11:59 p.m. on Monday, Feb.1, 2021. The application is only for current eighth grade students who wish to attend Innovation Lab High School in fall 2021. Current 9th grade students interested in joining Innovation Lab can apply to do so through the District’s existing transfer process.
The school hosted a webinar on Tuesday Jan. 12, 2021. Watch and hear about the exciting things happening at Innovation Lab High School.