Gibson Ek High School is a choice school open to any Issaquah School District student looking for a more independent, project-based approach to learning. Students may apply in eighth grade. We opened our doors on Sept. 1, 2016, to freshmen and sophomores, and now host a 9-12 student body of just under 200 that reflects a wide diversity of goals, from college to entrepreneurship to careers in a trade or the arts.
With no traditional classes or grades, Gibson Ek students learn through self-directed projects, incorporating reading, writing, science, social studies and math along the way. Certificated teachers guide and assess students as they work independently.
Read our Student Handbook to learn the nuts and bolts of our innovative model.
I acknowledge that I am on the Indigenous Land of Coast Salish people who have reserved treaty rights to this land, specifically the Snoqualmie Indian Tribe (sdukʷalbixʷ). I thank these caretakers of this land who have lived and continue to live here since time immemorial.
- What Is Gibson Ek?
- Core Beliefs
- Statement of Community
- Commitment to Equity
- Big Picture Learning
- Sign Up for the Weekly Bulletin
Gibson Ek High School is a community of creators, thinkers, makers, artists, engineers, thespians, writers, collaborators, friends, mentors, activists, programmers, builders, advocates, scientists, marketers, designers, learners creating a place where students find and develop their passions, and use this discovery to make a difference in the world. We know this world is complex and dynamic and needs people who are critical thinkers who can engage with diverse people. As a Big Picture school, we develop students to live lives of their own design, supported by caring mentors and equitable opportunities to achieve their greatest potential. Students graduate from Gibson Ek with the skills, knowledge and qualities necessary to be activists in their world.
Commitment to a Personal Vision: Students and staff leverage their interests, strengths and talents to set meaningful, challenging and realistic goals, and they pursue these goals through failures and successes.
Authentic New Learning: Students and staff pursue learning that is real, personal and lasting, taking risks in a variety of settings while they acquire in-depth knowledge.
Application and Influence in the World: Students and staff are positive influences on their peers, school and community. They develop supportive relationships to solve problems and make contributions to the world.
Mastery-Based Learning: Students are prepared to thrive in college, career and life. Mastery learning is deep and enduring learning that can be applied across context and time for meaningful impact. Students gain the enduring knowledge, lifelong skills, and critical dispositions to succeed on a path of their choosing.
Students and staff of Gibson Ek believe the best learning happens in an environment that values
Inclusion: We support each other through kindness and understanding, creating an inclusive environment that respects individual identities and differences.
Perseverance: We find inspiration to pursue our interests and lead our own learning by staying focused, working hard, and learning from our failures and challenges.
Collaboration: We collaborate and engage in conversations by listening to each other, suspending judgment, and encouraging others to share their ideas. We ask for help when needed and offer to help others.
Respect: We value others’ work and take care of all of our materials, tools, and equipment. We clean up and reset the spaces when we’re done.
Community: We create an environment that values and celebrates personalized learning by respecting the needs of those around us.
Gibson Ek staff acknowledge systemic racism exists and are committed to ending these practices as we examine our own structures, institutions and practices. We are committed to doing all we can to support students who experience racism either overtly or implicitly. This year we commit to forming a student and staff equity team that is committed to learning better, teaching better, loving better and fighting better.
We are not only members of the Gibson Ek High School community, but GEHS is part of the Big Picture Learning network of schools.
BPL was established in 1995 with the sole mission of putting students directly at the center of their own learning. Today there are over 65 Big Picture network schools in the United States, and many more schools around the world in places such as Australia, the Netherlands, Italy and Canada. While the design of each network school uniquely fits its own students, the rationale for student-centered learning is consistent: when you learn about what you’re interested in, you learn more deeply; when you connect with experts and do work in the real world, you become better prepared for life after school; when you’re deeply known by multiple adults, you have better outcomes.
To this end, Big Picture network schools, including Gibson Ek, are committed to achieving these purposes through an advisory model; Leaving to Learn program; and inquiry-based, project-based learning.
- Project-Based Learning & Design Thinking
- Learning Plan
- Writing, Math & World Language
Central to the Gibson Ek experience is the idea that students act as agents in their own learning. Starting with their interests, needs, challenges, goals and opportunities, students determine what they need to learn and how they will learn it. Learning is personalized, so project-based learning, rather than teacher-directed units and assignments, is the primary way students engage in challenging work.
Personalized Learning & Projects
The Vision and Goals of a student’s Learning Plan drive the student’s projects for the learning cycle. Working closely with their advisors, students define an inquiry and develop knowledge and skills to move that inquiry to action. Advisors help students plan and manage projects as well as identify resources that will aid them in deepening their understandings. Projects might be individually executed, or done in collaboration with other students or community members. Students pursue projects at school, at home and at internships. As students complete work, they share it with their advisor for feedback and assessment.
Project-based learning is what we do, and Design Thinking is how we do it. Design thinking is a framework for moving through knowledge, challenges and inquiries in a way that asks students to deeply understand something through multiple perspectives, identify a specific need, and work to create a solution to meet that need. Design thinking is active learning.
As students question, investigate and collaborate, they move through phases of the design thinking process. Gibson Ek’s work is adapted from the work done at Stanford University’s d.school, and uses the following conceptual framework.
- Empathize: understand a challenge and the people affected by it through interviews, observations, experiences and research
- Define: use the understanding gained in building empathy to define the problem that needs solving
- Ideate: brainstorm, sketch, draft, model
- Prototype: experiment with multiple iterations
- Test: use the prototype with an audience, get feedback, and make revisions
- Evaluate and Reflect: consider the effectiveness of the design and what was learned through the process
301 and 401 students complete a senior project that identifies a real-world need and then designs and implements a response to that need. Students identify and deeply research this need during their 301 year. By the end of that year they have deeply researched the need, clearly defined the challenge they will tackle, identified a professional partner in the field, and designed a project. During the 401 year students prototype, test, revise and implement their designs. Their work is supported by ongoing workshops during Senior Institute Grade Level teams.
Exploration is student-directed time to work independently, meet with a team for project work, participate in a club (such as ASB), learn from a visiting community member, pursue health and wellness (basketball, running, yoga, etc.), meet individually with an advisor, receive tutoring, or take advantage of other opportunities as they arise. Every week there are learning opportunities for students. Some of these opportunities are ongoing commitments (e.g., Student Media, ASB) and some are short-term opportunities to learn a new skill (Adobe Illustrator, Photoshop), develop a current skill (Writing Workshop, Science Labs) or hear from guest speakers.
Gibson Ek learning is personalized, but students have a variety of more structured opportunities as they work to become increasingly independent and collaborative learners. In addition to self-directed learning and the learning done at internships, through advisory and during content time, students have offerings (or labs/workshops) each day.
Design Labs (D-Labs)
D-Labs are collaborative inquiries that take place over the course of six weeks. Students work in small teams to build a deep understanding of a complex, interdisciplinary, real-world challenge, and then use design thinking to address that challenge. The process requires primary and secondary research, community engagement, professional communication and other skills. The ultimate goal of a Design Lab is applying deep learning in real-world situations.
Examples of Design Labs include designing water filtration systems for Issaquah Creek; adapting toys for children with physical limitations; writing graphic novels for marginalized audiences; creating adapted environments for life on Mars.
Core Foundations are short courses that focus on developing a skill or deepening knowledge of a topic for future, more complex work. They may also be a place to support larger projects, such as the Capstone project. Examples of Core Foundations include a seminar on First Amendment rights; how to use Adobe Lightroom; producing a podcast; physics of flight; field trip to a local museum; or a writing workshop.
[From our Student Handbook]
Advisory is the heart of Gibson Ek’s community. Students stay in the same advisory all four years, and create a place where everyone is welcome to create, share, struggle and achieve. A student’s advisor evaluates learning, assists in goal setting and project planning, and monitors a student’s internship. Advisory peers provide each other with encouragement, accountability, partnership and support as each individual challenges themselves to grow as thinkers, creators and contributors. Each advisory shapes its own culture, but some common practices are present.
Advisory is a student’s home at Gibson Ek. Students and the advisor work together to create a safe space where students know and support one another. This might happen through advisory projects, team building activities, off campus explorations, collaborative discussions, and restorative circles.
Project Planning and Organization
Individualized, project-based learning is new for most students, and advisory is the place where goals are set, plans are made, learning is organized, so that a student can leave advisory to pursue rich learning throughout the day.
Students share their work in progress with one another as a way to overcome obstacles, push their work to more challenging levels, get feedback or receive mentorship from other students.
Academic and Community Pursuits
Advisories engage in thoughtful discussions of current issues, read books together, examine community issues, participate in service experiences, or hone academic skills.
Social-Emotional Learning and Health & Wellness
Time is dedicated to conversations about healthy choices, active lifestyles and a growing self-awareness and skills.
School Announcements and Information
School-wide communication runs through advisory. Students receive information about expectations, events, deadlines and opportunities.
[From our Student Handbook]
Learning Plans are the cornerstone of everything a student creates at Gibson Ek. Every learning cycle, students articulate their visions for their futures, and then set goals to work toward their visions.
Students design their project work, pursue their internships, and select their labs, guided by their Learning Plan. During exhibition at the end of each of the year’s three learning cycles, students demonstrate the degree to which they achieved their goals.
Learning Plans typically follow the outline below:
Your vision statement should reflect holistic goals for your life going forward. It should consist of narrative paragraphs with both long-term and short-term goals. It also should include personal visions which are not strictly academic or career related.
Guiding Questions (write a paragraph for each)
What do you see yourself doing after high school? Why?
How do you envision a successful rest of your high school career? Why?
What does a successful year look and feel like for you? Why?
Vision must identify your current career interest/goal and educational interests/goals.
Your goals for this learning cycle should move you closer to achieving your vision. They should be authentic to you, have real-world application, and challenge you academically. Ideally, these goals will be S.M.A.R.T.:
Specific: Not vague; leaves little room for interpretation
Measurable: Quantified or otherwise stated in a way that makes it clear exactly how you will have met your goal
Ambitious & Authentic: Challenging; will push you to work hard & be real to the work that is happening in that field
Realistic: Something that is reasonable for you to accomplish
Timely: Something you can complete or make significant progress on during this learning cycle
*Many of your goals will be projects, e.g. “My goal is to learn how to use the woodshop by building a coffee table by June.”
Some of your goals will just be goals, e.g. “Run a 5K in under 30 minutes by May.”
[From our Student Handbook]
Rather than earning grades and credits, students show learning by demonstrating their mastery of competencies. This means a student’s path to mastery will be personal, unique, varied and challenging.
As defined by the Aurora Institute, a Competency-based education is a system in which:
- Students are empowered daily to make important decisions about their learning experiences, how they will create and apply knowledge, and how they will demonstrate their learning.
- Assessment is a meaningful, positive, and empowering learning experience for students that yields timely, relevant, and actionable evidence.
- Students receive timely, differentiated support based on their individual learning needs.
- Students progress based on evidence of mastery, not seat time.
- Students learn actively using different pathways and varied pacing.
- Strategies to ensure equity for all students are embedded in the culture, structure, and pedagogy of schools and education systems.
- Rigorous, common expectations for learning (knowledge, skills, and dispositions) are explicit, transparent, measurable, and transferable.
Gibson Ek is authorized by the Washington State Board of Education (SBE) to graduate students based on mastery of competencies rather than credits, and the competencies are aligned with Common Core State Standards and admissions expectations of selective baccalaureate colleges in Washington state and nationally. The competencies are clustered within five interdisciplinary Learning Goals representing the skills, core knowledge, and attributes of effective learners prepared for college and career.
Competency-based learning is personalized, allowing students to receive just the right amount of challenge and support where needed. Competency-based learning also rewards and celebrates growth over time. Therefore, Gibson Ek students show growth throughout their 4 years from being an emerging and exploring learner in their 101 and 201 years to being an engaged and empowered learner in their 301 and 401 years. Students share evidence of learning to demonstrate competency attainment along the following timeline:
101 students meet 10 of the 20 competencies at a Foundational or Advanced level
201 students meet the remaining 10 competencies for a total of 20 competencies
301 students meet 8 competencies at the Foundational or Advanced level, but at a greater depth and rigor and community connection
401 students meet a different 8 competencies, also with greater depth, rigor and community connection
Foundational & Advanced Level Work
Students can meet or exceed competencies at a foundational or advanced level. A student demonstrates advanced application of competencies through work that has an impact outside of school and exhibits at least two of the following:
- leadership that inspires others toward social responsibility
- consistent and ongoing mentorship from a professional in a relevant field
- deep and complex knowledge of a subject or skill set
- professional-level performance; significant contribution to a community outside of school
- critical application of Design Thinking, including multiple iterations and revisions based on a range of feedback
Personal Qualities: Graduates possess the habits of mind to achieve their goals for the future. They are curious and express a joy for learning. They feel a sense of responsibility to make a contribution in their local communities and in the wider world.
Communication: Graduates are confident, respectful communicators. They initiate conversations and participate effectively in a range of collaborative discussions with peers and adults to build understanding of concepts and ideas and complete authentic tasks and projects.
Empirical Reasoning: Graduates observe phenomena, generate their own questions, design and conduct investigation, and construct and defend arguments as contributing members of society.
Quantitative Reasoning: Graduates make sense of quantitative phenomena by constructing viable arguments, justifying their thinking, and generalizing understandings to solve real-world problems.
Social Reasoning: Graduates understand diverse perspectives and engage with critical issues of the past and present to examine their impact on society. They use their understanding of local, state, and world policies to become active participants in local, national, and global communities.
[From our Student Handbook]
Download this PDF to view the complete list of Learning Goals, Competencies, and Learning Targets:
Integrating competencies into projects
Most authentic projects are interdisciplinary, so projects will include elements of various competencies and targets. Here are just a few examples of how to integrate competencies.
- Write a reflection of a global issue, apply learning to own life and share.
- Research a personally relevant health issue, and connect this research project to a Health and Wellness plan.
- Research a community challenge or need early in the year. Spend the remainder of the year volunteering with a community organization that addresses that challenge or need.
- Provide a testimonial from a mentor, peer or other community member attesting to skill, responsibility, respect or integrity.
- Adapt a final product for a new user – older, younger, physically disabled, learning impaired, limited language, limited finances, etc. Make it authentic by working with and soliciting feedback from an actual user.
- Use art (visual, musical, performance) to communicate an important social issue, challenge or problem
- Study a scientific concept of interest, and communicate your understanding through fiction: a play, poem, science fiction, etc.
- Organize an exhibit of GEHS student art that is thematically connected by a social issue. Work with the City of Issaquah to create a pop-up art exhibit in one of the local parks.
- Study sound waves and apply the learning to the recording studio, experimenting with and documenting the effects of variables on the quality of the recording.
- Film skateboarding maneuvers and use software to analyze the velocity of these maneuvers, experimenting with variables.
- Record the speed of a cyclist on a velodrome (maybe the one at Marymoor Park). Use math to determine the cyclist’s speed on various lines of the velodrome. Use this data to design a model of a velodrome.
- Research nudge economics and then design and conduct a nudge experiment to change student productivity.
- Create a scale drawing of furniture, staircase, etc. to build at a later date, and label these plans with appropriate information.
- Observe patterns (customers in a store, etc.) to make predictions for a business.
- Gather analytics from a social media account and use it to create a social media marketing plan for a small business.
- After researching a social issue, analyze data sets related to that issue and communicate your findings in an infographic.
- Research gender norms and attitudes in the 1950s and compare it to norms and attitudes now. Create a photo essay to capture your research, and display it in the Commons.
- Use King County’s Equity Maps and, using additional research, analyze the relationship among economics, resources, physical geography. Apply what you learn to mapping downtown Issaquah.
- Research how Gibson Ek can filter more of its stormwater runoff and the impact this would have on the microenvironment around GEHS as well as the larger watershed. Design a system to make this happen, create a budget, and write a grant to help implement your design.
- Research the current and potential impact of electric cars on the environment. Work with local government and the school district to get an electric car charging station at Gibson Ek.
[From the Student Handbook]
Exhibitions are one of the key distinguishers that makes Big Picture Learning unique. Instead of tests, students at Gibson Ek are assessed through public displays of learning that track their growth and progress in their areas of interest. Assessment is individualized to the student and the real-world criteria of their work.
While students meet individually with their advisors to evaluate the specific learning targets of their projects, exhibition is the time when students make the case to their parents, mentors, advisor, staff and peers for what they have holistically learned throughout the cycle and how they have learned it. Therefore, exhibition is an assessment of the whole learner, rather than the particulars of a task.
Students showcase three elements of their learning. These elements are progressive:
- Commitment to Personal Vision. Students set a vision for the learning cycle that is authentic to who they are and what they need to pursue their goals. They design work and experiences to move themselves closer to their visions.
- Authentic New Learning. Once a vision is in place, students challenge themselves to pursue this vision by engaging in learning that is deep, relevant, authentic and new.
- Application & Influence. Ultimately, students push their learning by making it public and designing it in a way that it contributes to the community. They themselves are also integral parts of the community both at Gibson Ek and out in the world.
Learning Cycle 1 (December) exhibition is a panel exhibition. Students present evidence of what they have learned during the cycle. The panel asks questions and provides feedback and assessment of the learning cycle. The exhibition lasts 50-60 minutes.
Learning Cycle 2 (March) exhibition is a gallery exhibition. Students publicly display a project that demonstrates their strongest design-thinking work. They also provide a portfolio of all of their other work from the cycle. Parents, mentors, advisors, staff, peers and other interested community members visit the “gallery” of displays and ask students questions about their displayed work and work in their portfolio.
Learning Cycle 3 (June) exhibition is a panel exhibition, but it is also the Level-Up/Gateway/Graduation exhibition for most students. The format changes and the students’ focus is to not only celebrate their work but to also demonstrate meeting the requirements and readiness for the next level.
- Completion of 3 Exhibitions each year. Students and their parents are required to participate in each exhibition.
- Exhibition Portfolio at each exhibition with all required elements
- Participation as a student evaluator in other students’ exhibitions
- Post-exhibition Reflection
- Additional requirements as specified for each type of exhibition
The Role of the Panel
Panel members are essential to a meaningful exhibition. Parents, mentors, peers and staff ask the students questions that help them articulate their learning, hold them accountable to the work they’ve done to pursue their goals, provide feedback on their learning, and celebrate their growth.
[From our Student Handbook]
Whether drafting an engineering design report, creating a graphic novel, developing a social media campaign for an internship, preparing testimony for a state Senate committee hearing, or researching the causes and effects of a major historic event, writing is integrated into all aspects of learning at Gibson Ek. A student’s writing will be inspired by their learning plans and be authentic, purposeful and challenging. As students pursue learning, they find a real world need to write, discover the conventions of that writing context, and then engage in the writing process with mentorship from their advisors, other staff and professionals in the relevant context.
Students gather evidence of their writing process on a page of their online portfolios. The writing portfolio will include some personal narrative, but also technical writing, creative writing, academic writing, and/or workplace writing as it relates to their learning.
Portfolios emphasize students’ growth as writers, so each portfolio begins and ends somewhere different. Every portfolio, however, demonstrates that a student can produce a range of effective written expressions for a variety of purposes.
Writing is supported in Grade Level teams, Design Labs, Core Foundations — and by advisors.
Minimum requirements include:
- 101: 10 pages (3 pages of autobiography, 7 of additional writing)
- 201: 25 pages (3 pages of autobiography, 22 of additional writing)
- 301: 25 pages (3 pages of autobiography, 22 of additional writing)
- 401: 15 pages (3 pages of autobiography, 12 of additional writing)
TOTAL by graduation: 75 pages
Content Time (Math or Language)
One hour each Monday, Wednesday and Friday (and Tuesday and Thursday for students who are on campus) is dedicated to students’ online learning in math or language, or to individual or small group tutoring in math or language.
Online Math (ALEKS)
Students complete 100% of one ALEKS (or other identified platform) online math course each year. Students may request a math waiver through the counseling office for their senior year if they meet the following expectations:
- Have completed three years of math including Algebra 2 or a personal pathway math course
- Have met all state requirements for graduation for standardized tests
- Do not need four years of math for college admissions requirements.
Time: The time needed to complete a math course varies from student to student, but most students will need to spend time doing math on campus and at home. At a traditional school, students spend an average of four hours in class and two to three hours at home working on math each week. This is something students should keep in mind as they plan their work time both at school and at home.
Support: Students who need more support than what the online course offers have a variety of options at Gibson Ek including small group and one-on-one tutoring during Content Time and Exploration.
Suggested Timeline: When students begin an ALEKS course they start with a pre-test. Their performance on this test determines at which point in the course students begin their work. This means a student might start the course at 10% complete, 18% complete or 37% complete, etc. Once students have a starting percentage they should divide the remainder into thirds and plan to complete at least one-third each learning cycle. Additionally, ALEKS gets progressively harder as the course continues, so many students try to complete as much as possible during the first learning cycle. Some students finish the course well before the end of the school year and start on their next math course.
Targets for completing ALEKS may look like this:
Learning Cycle 1
- Complete pre-test first week of school
- Complete 50% by the end of LC 1
Learning Cycle 2
- Complete 80% by the end of LC2
Learning Cycle 3
- Complete course by the end of May
- Take ISD course final in June
Some students set monthly or weekly progress goals.
Students at Gibson EK have multiple options to pursue competency in a world language of their choice. While demonstrating competency in a world language is not a requirement for the Gibson Ek High School Diploma, students at GEHS may choose to study a world language in order to meet admissions requirements for 4-year colleges and universities. Most will require a minimum of 2 high school credits (2 years) of a world language to be eligible for admission. Because students at Gibson Ek do not earn credits, the following options are available to students to complete this requirement.
World Language Competency Exams: Nationally recognized proficiency assessments will be offered twice a year. Based on a student’s performance, they may be eligible for competency credits on their Gibson Ek transcript. These competency credits, if equivalent to 2 credits or more, will meet college admission requirements in the state of Washington. This option is for students who would like to study a language in a self-paced environment. It is also for students already fluent in another language and/or who study a language at a private language school in the community. More information at OSPI Competency Credits for World Language.
- Cost: $25 - $220 depending on the exam taken (this is driven by the language in which the student will be assessed)
- Over 100 languages are available for assessment.
- Students who demonstrate a high level of fluency can also earn a Washington State Seal of Bi-literacy on their Gibson Ek transcript and diploma.
Online World Language courses: The ISD Online Learning department provides access to OSPI approved online provider courses. These courses earn students high school credit on their Gibson Ek transcript (please note that these letter grades would not generate a GPA). To meet the minimum college admissions requirement for 2 credits of a world language, this option will take students 2 years to complete. This option requires students to be independent learners who turn in assignments on time and meet deadlines, know how to prepare for tests/exams, and can initiate communication with the online teacher when they need help.
- Cost: no cost to student
- Languages: Spanish, French, German, Mandarin, Latin
Running Start: Students who want a traditional learning environment to study a world language can do so through the Running Start program and/or the Summer Enrichment program at Bellevue College. These courses earn students high school and college credit. The high school course and completion date will be placed on the Gibson Ek transcript. This option requires students to wait until the completion of their sophomore year at Gibson Ek to begin their world language. To meet the minimum college admissions requirement for 2 credits of a world language, students must take 10 college quarter credits. This would take a student two college quarters to complete (e.g. summer & fall, winter & spring, etc). This option is for students who are able to transport themselves to and from Bellevue College, have the maturity to participate in a college course that consists of students from diverse backgrounds and age ranges, and are independent learners capable of advocating for their needs with the professor/instructor who will treat them like any other college student.
- Cost: $200 - $500 in tuition, school fees and book prices may vary
- Languages: Arabic, ASL, Chinese, French, German, Italian, Japanese, Spanish
Personalized Plan: Coordinate closely with the student’s advisor to create a plan for independent study of a language.
[From our Student Handbook]