Public Education – free, standardized and available to everyone was a revolutionary idea in the 19th century. Conceived during the economic time of the industrial revolution, and the intellectual time of enlightenment, it was a system that took on many assumptions that that are still present in our current school system. Assumptions that some people are “academic”, and others are not. Assumptions that students of the same age group should understand the same concepts. At the time going to school meant getting a better job, and a better job was a better life. These days we have allstar business owners like Richard Branson (dropped out at 16), and Bill Gates (dropped out at 19) who didn’t depend on the education system to get them to where they are today. That is not to say that school doesn’t matter, as it most definitely does, and did for anyone, including those fellows. It just means that modern education doesn’t stop when the bell rings at 3, and that there is a world of potential out there for students that we need to tap into. We need a new system.
While researching projects out there that were taking 21st century approaches to education I came across the famous (previously or possibly thought to be infamous) School of the Future in Phili. This project, a partnership between the City of Philidelphia and Microsoft, was a breath of fresh air for education when it was founded in 2007. Although it had rocky beginnings (some would say disastrous, and others might describe it as hitting a few bumps along the way) it seems that 2010 was it’s first year finding it’s groove. The future looks bright for the School of the Future with all 117 of it’s seniors getting accepted into post-secondary institutions (USA Today), and students boasting about life lessons learned at this far from traditional learning environment.
But lets go back to what a “traditional” learning environment is. Weren’t the first lessons we learned taught to us by our environment, whether that be our parents, the laws of nature or our society. We are taught by observing, testing, hypothesizing, and making mistakes trying to understand and know how to do things that’s driven by our own passion to learn. Nothing is categorized into subjects, or age groups, and we are most certainly not limited in how long it takes us to learn something naturally. Some children learn to walk at 9 months, and others at 16 months and thats OK. But if a child can’t learn basic chemistry by grade 10 he will never go on to become the great scientist he could become. So, if our world is the most “traditional” learning environment we have then certainly we would want to consider modeling an education paradigm around that.
And for that I have 3 words – Problem/Probject-Based Learning, or we all know it, PBL. Although it isn’t perfect, it is certainly a step in the right direction to get children to actively participate using their individual skills to contribute to a group situation. Students can explore the problem to the level they are able to grasp it at, and develop life skills while learning content. I find this exciting :
“There is a substantial body of research confirming that having a concrete problem as the focus for knowledge acquisition helps students retain their learning and comprehend it better.” – University of Adelaide
Going back to the School of the Future, all content is taught in a PBL environment with multiple subjects drawn into each problem they need to solve. There isn’t a class schedule with Math, then English. Assessments are descriptive and performance based. And there are no letter grades given at the end of the term. Students are expected to participate in the states standardized testing to ensure that all students meet the required learning for their grade level.
In reading about this project I have been inspired to explore the idea of a 21st century school even further than Microsoft has – as I don’t have the limits of pleasing the government, school boards and parents. I would like to make this a posting series exploring the teaching methods, assessments types, curriculum, teacher requirements, faculties, facilities, and everything else that would make “The 21st Century School”
If we started a new schooling system, offered to the masses publicly or privately, what are some of the elements it would include. How would it be different from our current system. What might stay the the same? And what would the benefits be?