Ignite talk - Nik Apostolides

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Video: “Smithsonian High” by Nik Apostolides (U.S. Capitol Visitor Center) , an Ignite talk for the Openlab Workshop Unconference, December 1, 2015, in Crystal City, VA. Published on Jun 27, 2016

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Nik Apostolides, U.S. Capitol, Visitor Center


I want to thank my wife who challenged me to give this talk and start doing something about this idea. It's about my hometown Washington, DC where our graduation rate is sixty-four percent, which is a high for the city, but is low compared to the counties that are immediately around the city. It's something that I really feel as a lifelong resident, DC teens deserve better.

You'll hear this frustration in the voice of DC students heading onto these high schools like 10th grader Jerome Petticolas who confronted with an old school that needs updated textbooks and science equipment said, “This makes us feel unwanted or unwelcome.” Jerome deserves better.

You'll hear it in the voice of DC students heading already in high school like senior Dyamond Gooding who said, “We achievers are in a Stone-Age learning environment.” Dyamond deserves better.

And you'll hear the desire for a new kind of high school in DC students like Destini Tyree who said, “People think we're bad kids. I'm only 16. I didn't drop out. I just wanted to go to a go to school in a different way.” Destini deserves better.

And she's right that there is a different way and a different kind of high school in Washington is needed now. We're the home of problem solvers, the wonks, the science, the research, and public policy nerds who aspire to tackle the world's biggest challenges like disease, global warming, space exploration, the environment, and so on.

But we need a different kind of high school curriculum. Harvard's Tony Wagner has said, “Today, knowledge is available on every internet-connected device, so what you know matters far less than what you can do with what you know, and that's the kind of school we need.” He also said, “The capacity to innovate, the ability to solve problems creatively or bring new possibilities to life and skills like critical thinking, communication, and collaboration are far more important than solely academic knowledge.”

Fortunately, we don't need to spend billions of dollars creating the kind of public research and cultural institutions to address the world's biggest challenges, like tackling poverty, hunger, education, saving the environment, and so on.

Billions have already been invested here in Washington, DC over many years to tackle these huge problems. With breakthrough technologies and radical solutions we are standing at the center of that X Factor that our teens need to thrive in the 21st century. Billions have already been invested here in Washington, DC.

Over and these public institutions, we have the highest concentration of them anywhere in the world—free, accessible that's something we should think about, what are we doing with it?

They’re in fields of study that high school students need most like science, technology, engineering, and math: NIH, NASA, Smithsonian research programs, air and space, and natural history museums, the National Park Service, the US Geological survey, and also arts and culture, the Smithsonian Art and History Museums, the US capital where I work, the White House, the Library of Congress, the National Gallery of Art, the Kennedy Center, the National Archives--where many of you all are represented representing here today, and all of these free public institutions have individual mandates to make their research, your research your collections accessible and free and open to the public.

However local DC high school students are currently really only using them for one-off projects or the occasional field trip. That's not only a wasted opportunity, I think that's a waste of our public investment.

All of these public institutions also have digital repositories, collections, research databases, social media, and other forums to share their groundbreaking research and projects. And many have already created curriculum plans for students to learn from their work, so the building blocks for a project-based learning already exists. We just need a new high school to put this research at the core of the curriculum. At the center of an innovative new school for public high school students that can build on that public that project-based learning platform. It can't exist in a vacuum.

We have dual enrollment partners scattered all over the city. We can help teens get the opportunities now to build a pathway to for success, a pathway to get college credit. These institutions that you see are dying to improve their own graduation rates and completion rates. They would love to partner with a new kind of high school to help achieve their own mission, and new high schools like me to include a new way of measuring achievement accomplishment of students.

Thomas Friedman and others have talked about the importance of having digital portfolios. Let's give students something that will and merit badges. Let's reinvent the way that high schools recognize achievement of their students.

Finally we've got to we've gotta do something for Jerome, and these kids who are aspiring to be high schoolers in DC. This is a way that we can leverage our resources and help them achieve their dreams.

Though what I'm calling this the working title is Smithsonian High, and I love any of your ideas or feedback for how to make it happen.

Thank you.