Reinventing high school: Bringing in the brains!

For the last four years, our Pacific Northwest Noggin volunteers, developing experts in neuroscience, psychology, anthropology, and the arts, have collaborated, and partnered with public schools, museums, libraries, hospitals, symphonies, homeless youth centers, drug rehabilitation clinics, and bicycle shop pubs


Even Congress, and the White House!

DC House pic Alex6

We’ve brought Noggin graduates and undergraduates from Portland State University, WSU Vancouver, and OHSU into classrooms, with real brains and our own innovative arts projects to draw in students, many considered “academic priority,” who get clearly enthused and excited about all there is to learn and do in our community.


McCoy High 2


There’s something energizing about shaking up existing classrooms, too often driven by standardized assessments, with ingenious art activities that offer students the chance for personal experimentation with topics and ideas, and with folks actually studying and researching, and using language pertinent to their exciting professional pursuits.





Those one right answer sorting exams, with clunky language out of education departments, have failed so many of our kids, who naturally don’t get their relevance, and miss the chance to explore, and be creative with those who understand, and are learning about their fields.

HeLa High

So this experience led us to a fascinating opportunity, known as the XQ Super School Project, a national effort to reinvent the American high school, using the latest research on adolescent brain development…

Last fall we gathered our practiced Noggin volunteers together to consider, develop and submit our concept of reinvigorating existing high schools by linking them, like critical, developing adolescent brain regions, into vibrant and productive community networks, bringing our university students and community professionals into classrooms, and classrooms into the broader community…

Velo big

We passed the first XQ submission hurdle, and went on to pass two more, developing ideas, informed by our continued outreach experience, on school mission and culture, teaching and learning, student agency and engagement, and networks and partnerships.  We got very excited  –  we want our existing schools, home to the terrific teachers we’ve worked with on outreach, to become “rich nodes” in distributed community networks, the same way adolescent brains develop rich nodes in distributed neural networks important for attention, decision making, emotional regulation, language, and other abilities  We want our students to hear real stories from their near-peers studying and researching and working in Portland and Vancouver, stories of failure, recovery, creativity, and success!

“Teenagers have the best b.s. detectors…” Absolutely true!


But they also respond well to genuine information, and opportunities to personally engage in activities where their own questions and responses are welcome, creative expression is valued, and mistakes are terrific opportunities for learning more…








Today a subset of our Noggin team reviewed and submitted our development application, the final step in the XQ process!  We’ve been expanding our plans for talent and training, time, space and technology, our financial model, and our strategies for sustainability, governance and capacity for implementation…



A small subset of our Noggin team!


Regardless of what happens next, we’ve enjoyed this experience immensely, and have thought productively about our successful Noggin model and approach.  We want to thank XQ for the opportunity  –  and for their investment and commitment to reinventing high school..!


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