Friday, June 16, 2017

Principles in Practice - Observations from Sabbatical

In this post I try to capture how each school brought to life the principles of personalisation, authenticity and connectedness. I conclude with an elevator statement that captures what is common across the schools.

How Do These Principles Play Out In Practice?
All schools saw a type of project-based learning, with learning connected across a high interest project, as the best vehicle to bring all of their learning design principles to fruition. All believed this led to more engagement and deeper learning.

A range of practices that were driven by personalisation was evident across all schools. The most common approach was to give students choice. At DesignTech High School 2 full days were dedicated to students selecting appropriate Labs. Teachers could use the LMS to direct students to compulsory Labs or students could select the Design Garage (Maker Space), Office Hours (individual or small group access to a teacher, independent work or Fitness.

At NYC iSchool students from all grade levels can take whatever ‘Elective’ which was appropriate to their interest, resulting in Grade 9 - 12 students in the same class.

All schools gave opportunities for students to use multiple ways to evidence learning. There were very few times when all students in a programme had to produce the exact same assessment.
Authenticity was achieved in each school in similar ways. They all ran programmes that were centred around high-interest projects and involved learning by doing. Students work on real-world problems and pose and/or tackle big questions. All schools required students to have some form of public presentation of much of their work and most schools ran an internship programme with whole school or certain year levels out of school.

The connectedness nature of learning was apparent in a number of ways. At High Tech High because the same group of students had the same teachers for all of their subjects the teachers would collaborate and support students to complete their projects across two subjects. Examples are described in this blog post.

At DesignTech they suspend their timetable for two weeks 4 times per year. During this time, known as d.lab, students opt to work on a solution to a real world problem, drawing on a range of subject disciplines.

During 2 days a week at Nueva High School students opt into a range of labs where they have opportunities to pursue their passions in a multi-disciplinary project.

The common feature across all schools was that student inquiry and a rigorous process of project-based learning underpinned the learning model.

  • At NYC iSchool their Challenge-based Modules (1 per term) had students focusing on real world challenges so they could build their understanding of big ideas and broad global concepts. It was their view that this allowed for the development and application of 21st century skills.
  • At the Science Leadership Academy all courses had students involved in inquiry learning and completing projects that they co-construct with each other and their teachers. This school followed Wiggins Model of Understanding by Design.
  • At High Tech High project-based learning was at the core of all learning programmes. Here they followed the Stanford model (Empathise, Define, Ideate, Test).
  • Inquiry-based and project-based learning was also at the centre at Nueva High School. Following rigorous design thinking processes students become active participants in learning, identifying solutions where they can make changes for the better while developing the personal and collaborative tools to take action.
  • At DesignTech students used a project-based  learning approach, supported by design thinking, to work on local and global challenges, research real problems and develop authentic solutions.

My Elevator Statement

If we want learning to be personalised, authentic, and connected and to be preparing students for their lives in the 21st century, learning must be centred on high-interest projects, drawing on a range of specialist subjects, with opportunities for hands-on application and partnering with the community. There should be a genuine outcome from the learning and students must be partners in designing the learning.

Other Observations (some still to be explored)

  • A clear set of principles needs to drive learning design and learning decisions.
  • Maker Spaces are key spaces in schools
  • Build in time in weekly schedule where students have responsibility to make good decisions and self-regulate. Do not water this down to the lowest common denominator as the majority of students will miss out because of the few who cannot self-regulate.
  • A learning design model is vital in providing frameworks and rigour, but students (and staff) must be scaffolded through to be comfortable within that framework.
  • Students don’t need an adult in front of them supervising their learning at all times. Some learning can be a blend of teacher and on-line learning (Language learning at NYC iSchool) or of teacher and un-supervised sessions.
  • Restorative practices that develop trust and responsibility and require empathy and self-regulation support the development of vital 21st century dispositions.
  • Internships and externships provide wonderful opportunities for authenticity in student learning.

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