The following represents what we think may occur in a typical student day. We hope you comment, ask questions, and give feedback. These ideas are certain to evolve over time.
Jack arrives at school and meets another student in one of the studios – more on these in a later post – but imagine a setting with tables and flexible work spaces meant for projects. The math/science teachers are available and helping various teams along. Jack’s team is working on a three-week study about modern railways and transportation logistics that falls under a larger thematic question posed to all program students: “How do size and scale impact the function of a system?” Jack prefers the number-crunching and graph-generating of online data he found about a few different cities’ train systems. They’re hoping it gets nominated as a discussion topic during one of the program’s weekly Friday presentation luncheons.
Beneath the surface for you concerned teachers:
- Social Studies: history of the regions and laws involved;
- Math: generating graphs from data, analyzing trend lines;
- Science: alternative fuels and environmental impact;
- English: writing/presentation of materials;
- Fun: all the time.
Jack and his friend are joined by their teammate Sarah after her morning Spanish class around 8:40. Sarah is the documentarian for the team and her main role in the group is to work with each team member to summarize their main themes and track progress. She isn’t responsible for the heavy math work that Jack is, but she does have to be able to understand what the results mean and explain the trends.
They run out of steam at around 10 and move on. Sarah’s seminar is at 11, so until then, she reads a book in the lounge that she and her English teacher decided on. Sarah’s English teacher walks in around 10:30 and they chat about the book for a few minutes, after which the teacher suggests ten minutes of focused writing about the character’s identity. Their subsequent discussion is tracked in a Google Doc.
Sarah is joined by Jack, Andrew, and another 20 or so students for a seminar on the program’s current central thematic question: “How big is too big? How big is too small?” Students are shown a brief video clip about mass industrialization in a particular country. The rest of the seminar mixes peer discussion, focused writing, group debate, and the formulation of a list of questions the group has that need to be answered. They’re saved for the second hour of seminar after lunch.
After returning from the student center for lunch, Andrew and a couple of his classmates pick one of the questions from the list. Theirs is “What effect does rapid growth have on people living in cities?” They spend a half hour using their laptops and whatever research they can find to attempt to answer the question. Groups report back in the last half hour of the seminar.
Andrew heads into one of the studios and is working on a project with a second teammate that ties back to the same question as Sarah and Jack: “How do size and scale impact the function of a system?” Andrew and his partner, Julia, are interested in environmental toxicology and they and their teachers developed their passion into an analysis of the impact of the Industrial Revolution on the environment, society, and public policy. They put in about an hour of work and head back to the lounge to sign up for a math module the next morning where skills not covered in their projects are explored in a more traditional way. They could opt out by learning the material independently online, but chose to go to the module instead. They leave for the day around 3:15. Julia video chats with her community mentor online that night for about 20 minutes about the project and ideas for other directions she and Andrew may go.
This narrative leaves out plenty of other things – students other than Sarah have electives, there is “open” time, teachers have planning time, etc. This isn’t meant as an exhaustive document, but a peek into what we’ve thought could happen.
We welcome your thoughts below!
I think it’s really important to mention something here – in compiling this narrative based on our former students, we imagine a wide spectrum of students could benefit from this. Whether the student would have been in honors, grade-level, or remedial level classes, they have a place and a role.
There may be times when students group themselves or we group them based on ability, but the student Sarah in this piece is modeled after a remedial level math student with a passion for her English classes. The student’s role in the group, their individual level of work and performance on standards, and their demonstration of knowledge are what will define the level of achievement.
How do we measure this? There’s a mindset that says the project that Jack is working on and his level of engagement with math, as it’s much more in-depth than Sarah’s, deserves to be recognized. Perhaps it means tracking back his work to standards and giving ratings based on that (standards based grading)? There are schools out there whose transcripts are a comprehensive list of standards and skills, as well as a summary, that give a much better picture of the achievement level of a student than a traditional list of classes and letter grades.
Perhaps there is a more holistic approach? Maybe none of this is the right way to do it? We’re working on it and would love suggestions and examples from other places.
(Thanks for understanding that this is a work in progress.)