School Design

This post is made in conjunction with Dr. Rick West’s Foundations of Instructional Design course at Brigham Young University.

For class, this week we have been reading about systemic change in education.  For our assignment, we were tasked with creating a charter school based on beliefs about effective learning models.  After some thought, I think that the guiding principles for my school are: personalization, innovation, and the fostering of 21st century skills.

Personalization

For each student a personalized education would be tantamount.  In my school, I see personalization manifesting itself in two ways:  First, I would like to utilize adaptive and personalized learning systems.  As an instructor, I spent a lot of time trying to fit my content to all the of prerequisite knowledge/learning levels of my students.  By utilizing an adaptive tool in our classroom, we could let the technology work with the student individually and bring them to a level of mastery (an emphasis on mastery of competencies would be important in the school, rather than an arbitrary time schedule — I agree with Reigeluth, that this is a systemic problem that our schools face).  These personalized engines can create a virtual “zone of proximal development” and pull a student along in the learning process.  My idea is to use adaptive learning technologies to help students establish baseline knowledge in much of the same way a textbook is supposed to work.  There would still be planned teacher activities, but hopefully the adaptive systems would help the student gain mastery in a given topic more efficiently.

The other aspect of personalization is that the design of the school would allow students the freedom to pursue a course of study that is interesting to them.  This personalization could be accomplished in a few possible ways.  One way is that while, students across a class would likely be learning the same base level of content in general areas (Mathematics, Language), the structure would allow students to apply their knowledge to areas that interest them.  This would hopefully allow their learning in those broader subject areas to be quickly tied into their area of interest.

Another possible method of personalization could be done through self-directed learning. While self-directed study would only take up a portion of the day, it would be a good opportunity for students to work on planning, goal setting, and meta-cognitive strategies. This would hopefully also promote learner autonomy in the students, and would help them foster abilities for lifelong learning.  Students could take a general class that interested them (for instance: electronics), but they would draw up contracts with their instructors to create a path to their selected goal.

Innovation

In my experience trying to place students in job, I’ve seen the need for more and more innovative, strategic thinking. This is especially important as our country moves away from a manufacturing economy into a more knowledge-based economy. Teachers can no longer be content just helping their students gain baseline levels of knowledge, they need to help them use the knowledge that they gain in new and innovative ways.   In my school, time would be set aside for interdisciplinary, creative collaboration.   Partnerships would be formed with community members through the form of mentoring opportunities and community-based projects.  The focus of these projects would be to get students to experience real projects with concrete outcomes.  These problems would also be helpful in increasing just-in-time learning as students would need to direct learning in order to overcome certain gaps in their knowledge.  The mentors from the community would also be able to help the students identify resources that they might be able to use to accomplish those projects.

I don’t want the focus of innovative activities to be all about entrepreneurship and making money (although I wouldn’t say that was a bad thing), rather I want it to be about the process of knowledge creation.  Rather than having students sit on the learning that they’ve accumulated, I want to foster higher levels of cognitive abilities by having students utilize their knowledge in meaningful ways.

21st Century Skills

One important emphasis that I want to have in my school is a focus on 21st century skills. The most important of these I feel is learning to code and to curate of one’s digital identity.  I’ve been closely following the push for coding classes in school and I don’t feel that I’ve seen a lot of progress in its implementation.  I think that we should teach code in the same way that we immerse students in language.  Not only are we seeing more and more jobs in the software development arena, but I think that learning to code will become a new type of literacy.  Not in the way that we will need to know how to do it to interact with culture, but rather by being able to do it our students will be in control of so much more in their life.  Rather than being just consumers of the internet, they can understand the language of the internet, even speak the language of the internet.  I think that one of the most difficult challenges to this portion however, will be to get instructors who can teach the content.  Software Developers get paid a lot more than teachers, and software developers probably aren’t the best instructors of K-12 students, so we would need to come up with some creative solutions to overcome that gap, but I think by having this immersion, our school would be able to do some extremely innovative things.

In conjunction with this, I would also like to take some time helping students curate their own digital identity.  Every student would be issued a domain and hosting.  This would be their own sandbox to which they could write code, host a website, keep a blog, etc.  This would be based on the ideas of the “Domain of One’s Own” project out of the University of Mary Washington.  I feel that by having students curate their own corner of the internet, we will be able to empower them to do some really innovative things.

Getting Buy-in from the Stakeholders

I feel that getting support from the stakeholders on this project would be a challenge at first, but it would be something that I would be able to overcome.  I feel that this model is not trying to overthrow the current model of education, but rather it is trying to reframe it a bit. In my school, we would still be covering the content that was previously covered, however, now we would be utilizing personalized and adaptive technologies to make the learning of this content more efficient. That efficiency, would hopefully pay off in greater ability to create more learner-directed study paths.  By allowing student to pursue areas that interest them, while at the same time providing sufficient scaffolding through teacher and mentor interaction, I think that we would have a model that would be appealing to both students and their parents.  We would most likely have to provide evidence that this model was still paying off in high test scores for the students, but I think we would see them because students would be more intrinsically motivated to learn the content.

As for learning 21st century skills, I think we would have a fairly easy sell there.  Even looking at the video available on code.org is a good sell for anyone to have their children learn to code. Learning the language of development can open up new worlds to our students — I think this would translate into increased student success, as in many ways learning code can help increase the problem-solving abilities of students.

While these components that I have discussed in regards to my school are just a few of the components of my potential school, I really feel that they set the tone for the environment that I want to cultivate.  What do you think?  Do you think it would work?  Do you think there are any areas that I would get major push back?  Do you think that coding or digital identities are important 21st century skills?