Open Hour in Schools

2 Nov

photo by dachadesig at

Brilliant idea–I was reading a discussion on this forum and someone suggested a perfect school would include an “Open Hour”: one class a day where you choose what classroom to be in and what to learn, even things like archeology, blacksmithing, and martial arts.

Genius. When I was in New Zealand, the school I went to had that sort of thing, though the subjects weren’t as nontraditional. Can you imagine a school where the students choose what topics to learn and get to learn them? The potential is huge: how interesting could school be? How excited could teachers/administration make students to come to school and learn? In many cases, it’s education, not necessarily the specific topics you’re studying, that makes the biggest difference.

Of course, that’s the general idea behind Hacking High School. You can take an hour and learn whatever off-the-wall subjects you wanted. I think I’d want to learn Mandarin, sword fighting, marketing, and astronomy.

What would you learn?

Update: I just realized this concept is building steam in the business world, too. I read lots of business books (no reason, I just enjoy them) and several* have mentioned the idea of letting employees have time–a day, a week, whatever–to do whatever they want. At the end of the time, there’s a meeting and you tell everyone what you worked on. Google does this. So does Twitter. The results? More engaged employees who work harder and better.

It’s a no brainer here: work it into your school day. What if 20% of your classes, of your assignments were to just do whatever you wanted. No pressure to do anything in particular, you just report what you worked on at the end. Just as in the business world, you’d be more engaged in school and would work harder and better.

*Most notably, Dan Pink.

Hacking High School in Action: My Story

1 Nov


I loved high school my freshman year. It was new, it was exciting, it was great.

But by the time sophomore year came around, I was disillusioned. With high fences, beige lockers, and a cop out front, the school looked more like a jail than anything else. And the classes! The learning process was so boring that the only point of school was, really, socialization: teaching us how to be good little citizens, how to keep our heads down and not question authority, how to fight for meaningless popularity.

My schoolwork started to reflect how I felt about school. I could have aced Spanish without a problem, but I got a D because I quit doing homework.

Escape to New Zealand

Feeling trapped on all sides, I decided to get out–way out. Travel the world. Even though they were all impossibly expensive, I looked into study abroad programs and decided on New Zealand.

Then my grandma emailed someone she knew in New Zealand, and suddenly I had a cheap room and board set up. I applied to go to the local school and was accepted!

Hacking High School: early graduation and study abroad

Because I didn’t know what my situation would be when I returned to the states, I also took the California High School Proficiency Exam. A friend of a friend took this and graduated early. So I found out details and took the test.

You would not believe how easy the test was–way easier than the PSAT I’d already taken, easier than many regular tests at school. Seriously, if the basic math and English they were testing was really all that we were supposed to learn in high school, I could have been out of there a long time ago.

With that, at 16 years old, I spent six amazing months living in New Zealand with a great family while everyone else was stuck in the prison-like high school, fighting for the kind of popularity I got instantly by being a foreigner with a weird accent in this new school.

When I returned to the states, I went to a community college. After I had 30 units, I transferred to a university and graduated a few semesters later with a high GPA and a bachelor’s degree in English. Now I’m a published writer and am living my dream job.

Looking Back

There were so many things I didn’t know in this process: what was really required for high school? What was acceptable for college admissions?  I could have avoided the agony of sophomore year if I’d known the options. On the other hand, getting out was a close call–mere chance that I happened to hear of the early graduation exam, mere chance that my grandma happened to know someone with an extra room on the other side of the world.

The point of the Hacking High School blog is to remove that close call–to give you more information and a better chance of creating a high school education that works for you.

If I, with limited knowledge, money, and social skills, could do all that I did, think of what YOU can do.

Take on the world. You will win.

What is a hacked education?

1 Nov


Open the door to your education.

photo by saavem at

For most people, high school means going to the local school for six or seven hours, taking the classes they tell you (or choosing from a limited number of options), sitting through four years, and then getting a pretty diploma at the end.

But that’s not your only option.

Have it your way

What if you could choose your education? I’m not talking about just picking which elective class you get to take this year. I’m talking about your entire education:

  • Where you go to school
  • When you go to school
  • How many years you’re in high school
  • How many hours a day you’re in school or doing homework
  • What classes you take
  • What you learn
  • How you learn

You can hack your education like this. Yes, YOU. And it doesn’t have to cost a lot of money. In fact, many options are completely free, and more and more school districts are paying for the options that cost money.

Is it legal?

Yes, of course! IF you do it right. Dropping out of high school to follow your own hacked education plan is NOT legal, nor is it wise. But by following the procedures your state has set up for you (and every single state in the US has these procedures), you CAN hack your education.

Most of the time, you’ll probably refer to yourself as a “homeschooler” for legal purposes, but don’t let that limit your options.

So what are my options?

  • Stay in a regular high school and add amazing things to your education
  • Go to a regular high school for just a couple of classes–and use the extra time to learn even more
  • Completely avoid a regular high school and learn outside the box
  • Go to virtual school part-time or full-time
  • Take community college classes
  • “Unschool” yourself
  • Use your job as a class
  • Take FREE classes online or on your iPod from Harvard, Yale, MIT, and other prestigious schools
  • Travel
  • Go on field trips: museums, historical sites, your mom’s workplace, the local sanitation department
  • Read
  • Graduate early

Okay, I could keep going, but this is just a sprinkling of ideas. The key behind a hacked education is mix and match: take the best of these and use them to learn

An example, please

Monday morning: you sleep in until 10, then go to school for third period English and fourth period Algebra. Then you head over to your local community college where you take Biology 101 and this absolutely amazing filmmaking class by a guy who grew up with Speilberg. In the evening, you go to work at the local PetSmart, which counts as your economics class, since you write a paper once a month on things like how people spend money, what the average upsell is, and how much people spend on their impulse buys of the junk sitting around the cash register. After work, you sign in to your online history class and post a comment or two on the lesson.

Tuesday: after English and Algebra (which you have every day), you do whatever you want, since you don’t have any other classes today.

So how do I get started?

First things first: you need your parents’ permission. You absolutely cannot do this legally without your parents/guardians approving. But don’t despair! If that seems impossible, I have a long post series planned on how to convince the most reluctant parents.

Second: find and fulfill the legal requirements. You’ll be searching for the requirements on homeschooling, since that’s the way the law will classify your hacked education. The Home School Legal Defense Association has a list of resources by state: The laws usually list how many days of school per year are required (if any), what subjects you are required to study (if any), compulsory attendance age (usually until 18), and the steps you need to take to start a homeschool (hacked education) program.

For example, here in Texas, all you have to do is submit a letter to your school district, signed by your parents, that states that you intend, in good faith, to follow an education plan that will teach you good citizenship, reading, spelling, grammar, and math. That’s it.

Third: make and follow a plan. What exactly do you want to get out of high school? What do your parents think you ought to learn? Find ways to learn those things. If you want to go to a regular school for a couple of classes each day, talk to your school counselor. Some schools encourage it, some… let’s just say some don’t. Really, though, it is in the school’s best interest to keep you on the attendance records at least part-time, since they get money if you attend.

The third step is, of course, enormously huge, but I have tons of posts coming that will go through the steps on how to:

  • Apply to and attend community colleges
  • Get into virtual schools
  • Create your own classroom at the library
  • Use your job as a class
  • Graduate early
  • Use iTunes U and opencourseware to learn (for free!) from the most prestigious universities in the world

Post your comments and ideas

Besides tons of posts on each topic, I’m in the process of creating a course on hacking high school. Any ideas on specific things I should be sure to cover? What is holding YOU back from hacking your education? Leave your thoughts in the comments below.

The Manifesto!

1 Nov

Dun dun dun…. here it is! The Hacking High School Manifesto!

Topics covered include:

  • What is Hacking High School?
  • Who am I?
  • Is Hacking High School for you?
  • Hacking Culture
  • History of Hacking Education
  • How to Hack Your Education
  • Challenges Education Hackers Face
  • The Business Plan

Think something else should be added? Comment below and let me know!

Hacking High School

30 Oct

photo by lusi at

Hack, v.,  to devise or modify, usually skillfully.

The dictionary definition works. Hacking high school is either devising (creating) your own high school curriculum or modifying what’s available to you at your public high school.

I’m really into this idea because education, particularly high school education, can make or break you. Get a good education, you’re set. Bad education, you’re stuck behind.

Almost everyone  assumes that the school you’ve been given–the one you happen to live within the boundaries for–is your only option. But it’s not. There are hundreds, even thousands, of alternate–and legal!–options for you.

This blog will focus on two aspects of hacking high school:

  1. Creating your own, legal education outside of public school.
  2. Modifying public school. Again, legally.

Why bother? Public high school is awful. The education is often terrible, the social expectations oppressing, and it takes up so much time that you don’t have room for anything else.

I’ve done tons of research on high school education, and the experts agree–the only thing worse than public high school is no education at all.

And yet…there’s so much potential. Your education can take you anywhere. A lack of education keeps you down. So make the most of it.