This is what “school” looks like in the future.
It is the start of a new year. What better time to think of a new approach to learning, not just for our students, but for ourselves as educators, as passers of the flame of interest and inquiry, not bits and bytes, to a next generation? In this post I summarize a fascinating exchange of ideas prompted by Bo Adams who, last week, essentially asked “What if we completely re-imagined this thing we erroneously trap in our minds as ‘homework’?” You can read this quick summary, but here is a much stronger way to leverage this kind of thought-exchange to start your year:
- Read through the rich discussion thread on Bo’s post.
- Share it with your PLN or your department or academic dean or a colleague down the hall.
- Use the comment thread as the basis for a faculty meeting discussion with small group break-outs and reporting.
- Try the exercise with your students, using an essential question of your own choice.
- Just starting to connect beyond your school? Click on the links in this post alone and you will be immediately connected to this kind of thinking. Follow their blogs and Tweets, and join the discussion.
- Above all, ask “Are we having these kind of discussions at our school? If not, why not?”
Bo proposes a 10-day scaffold of essential question, observation, questioning, experimentation, and network/association to replace repetitive homework. Chris Thinnes questions if the proposed exercises are too vague, that perhaps with some hooks into history or art the students would find a more immediate connection. Bo responds that “stimulated curiosity breeds context, which breeds content deepening.”
Jill Gough, who co-developed the Synergy class with Bo from which many of these ideas spring, wonders about enhancing the team-based collaboration elements, and the power of tagging independent thinking to subject-based classes to amplify interdisciplinary connections. “There is something for everyone in this type of homework. The opportunities for individualizing interest abound. The magic comes in connecting a diversity of ideas, interests, and passions.”
The opportunity for her students to have this freedom potentially would keep Meg Cureton up at night. “Would students go down the familiar path, and simply cut out the “subjects” that disinterest them? And is that a disservice?” Meg pictured a “Google Community-type place for students to share ideas—this would initially help those who struggle with shipping their own ideas.” Meg’s ideas prompted Tony Borash to rush to his computer, and comment back that including “networking and association” in the project springboards the students beyond the range of a simple experiment phase, “ensuring that students hear from & learn from others…an opportunity to see that variety of perspectives.”
Steve Goldberg, who has started his own school in North Carolina, saw the value of “a 10-day window—so that students can take time to let their thoughts marinate a bit—there’s precious little marinating happening when we ask students to ‘do the odd problems’”.
Dave Ostroff dug more deeply into how such work re-focuses both students and teachers on their respective roles in the learning process. He asks if a radically different form of “homework” would encourage students to become “self-directed learners, to engage their creative sense of ‘how might we’…that will resonate with students who are at different stages of recapturing ownership over their own learning.”
Alice Parker saw the opportunity for students to develop the essence of key ideas in literature through a “ladder of feedback review”. Lee-Anne Grey used the format with some 4th graders, which led to a student-designed science experiment, review of a TED talk, and a multi-media project on the nature of beauty. John Burk, simply wants to see if his students can interpret “beauty” in a math class.
None of these educators work at the same school. They are loosely connected through Twitter and the blogosphere and are powerfully connected through the sharing of ideas and thinking…which makes them an equally powerful force for their own work, every day. Chris Thinnes, Jill Gough, and Alice Parker are Fellows of The Martin Institute where we are building and nurturing this type of interaction that super-charges school innovation. Bo is leading similar collaborations at the growing Institute for Innovation at Mount Vernon Presbyterian School.
So often I hear that school leaders, from the classroom to the boardroom, want to get engaged with these brushfires of innovation that are re-imagining the foundational role of education in the 21st Century. Well, here it is. Join in. Join the cognitosphere. It is free and can take as much or as little time as you have or want. Start it at your school, in your next faculty meeting. Bust silos; develop internal and external connections.
This discussion is what “school” looks like in the future.