Ann Saponara – MLTS Reflections

This blog post is a reflection by Girls Innovate! volunteer, Ann Saponara, on the Most Likely to Succeed movie screenings that Girls Innovate! hosted in August 2015 throughout the San Francisco Bay Area.


I found the film “Most Likely to Succeed” electrifying. I thrilled at watching high school students adapt an ancient Greek play by Euripedes to modern day Pakistan for performance at “exhibition night” — where students and teachers in all subjects are judged in a public forum — and to see the astoundingly beautiful art installation of gears and linkages that represented students’ theories about why some civilizations rise and others fall. A history and a math teacher together dreamed up this challenge before school started and then supported the students in workshops where kids read history, discussed theories, learned how to use a laser cutter and figured out torque and angular velocity in making gears work.

The process looked messy & beautiful.

The play we saw being rehearsed and then performed resulted from a freshman class where foreign policy, human rights and democracy were debated in a Socratic seminar centered on 5th century Greece.

The teachers at High Tech High in San Diego have no tenure but are given a one year contract with total intellectual freedom to teach their passions and if they are invited to return, it’s still only a one year contract. They mentor students through the hard work of transforming ambiguous concepts to the concrete, facing the joy and frustration of team collaboration, and in navigating the stress of a  hard deadline as exhibition night approaches. One teacher honestly commented, “whatever culture is in the class is evident whether you want it to be or not at exhibition.”

It was a privilege to watch the teacher who rejoiced in a student finally succeeding in completing a project after the disappointment of not finishing by exhibition night. “Bam!,” he kept saying in pure excitement equal only to the student’s.

Following exhibition night, teachers engaged students in self-reflection about how to minimize struggles while honoring their vision, encouraging others to articulate what it feels like to find their own voice, and with all, just celebrating the fact of showing up and producing. I was moved by the teacher in the film who says that after teaching at High Tech High, he experienced “a very noticeable shift in my faith in positive outcomes.” Here, here!

It was wonderful to be in discussion with others in Fremont after the film. For some of us parents, the film gave name to hopes and concerns we’ve had for our kids but had never articulated: How are ‘critical thinking skills’ taught? What’s a model for ‘teacher accountability’ aside from test scores? How can we help our kids find their passions and pursue them? What does it mean to honor ‘different learning abilities’ in a classroom? How is a ‘learning growth mindset’ instilled? What if our kids loved to go to school?!

Some parents in the Fremont discussion were searching for the school that was the right fit for their child, whether public or private or homeschooling. Another parent was inspired to look for different summer opportunities for her children that mirrored those in the film, knowing she would keep them in public school during the school year. Another was inspired by the film to explore the history of education and follow up on the film’s references to Horace Mann and the 1843 transformation of our schools to prepare workers of the industrial age.  It was a great conversation.

Let’s keep it going!