Let's stop talking about "preparing" students for the next level of schooling and instead focus on LEARNING and DOING and CONTRIBUTING to society and SOLVING real-world problems. Our students can and should be doing that now. It doesn't take a degree from college to signify readiness. It takes empowering our students and convincing them that they can.
What if we stopped looking to the textbooks, novels and practice problem sets as our primary means of educating our youth? What if we considered looking to the community for problems and topics for debate in our classes? What if we admitted that the current structure most commonly adopted by schools is, in fact, outdated and ill-suited for the kinds of problems and challenges our students will most likely face? What if, instead of putting a bandaid on the problems in education, we completely did away with the industrial era system and replaced it with a new, dynamic, responsive and relevant ecosystem, that not only prepares our students for after graduation, but also asks them to become empowered change makers and problem solvers now?
Initially I proposed an idea to use the community as a way to generate projects as a means of curriculum in the classroom. Some comments and questions I have had revolved around time - teachers don’t feel like they can take on a project that might last three months. HERE is an evolution of the three week long project that has a teacher only carving out 90 minutes of a class period. Click on the above Google Doc if that sounds doable to you!
What if projects weren't designed by teachers but instead teachers acted as liaisons between the community and the school to solicit design briefs that would become projects. The design briefs would come to the students as messy, thorny problems or opportunities that aren't packaged neatly by a teacher. The teacher can then become a learner alongside his/her students, modeling for the students what it means to be a life-long learner who is willing to fail and try new things. Through this design, the students become true project managers who have to keep up with client expectations and deadlines. They have to understand what the demands of the real world are, and how real projects require an intense amount of experimentation, grit and collaboration. Currently, through our Innovation Diploma program, we are entertaining our first full-scale design brief for a lead architectural developer. The students muddled through the project initially and presented their client with something that might be appropriate for school project work, but clearly disappointed their client. Through coaching, the students were able to turn their initial failure into a learning moment that helped them realize the shift in posture and effort that they would need to make in order to deliver high quality work. Just today, our kids did that. They delivered an incredible prototype that wowed their client. This design brief work forced them to learn skills that are traditionally not assessed in a meaningful way in schools, and the project work they created was not a cute powerpoint or a poster board that a teacher may or may not save. Their designs and SketchUp models are actually going to be used by a local city. They will see an outcome greater than a grade; they will see how their work can manifest far beyond the walls of their classroom to impact a larger community. Through this process, they researched, networked, observed, used critical thinking, creativity, collaboration and communication. They proudly presented their work to someone other than their classmates and their teacher - and they got a taste of what both failure and success feels like in the real world. What if that were high school for all students? How much more prepared would our students be if they had a clear window into the character traits needed to be successful in life beyond high school?