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Let’s Make It Count: Competency Education According to Students

Topics: Education Policy, ESSA

When four groups of high school students were challenged to create an application built on the tenets of competency-based education to greater personalize learning in mathematics, they brought their A game.

Or maybe their x game? I’m sure there’s a math metaphor here I’m not taking advantage of. But math, not surprisingly, was not my best subject.

Students participating in the INTERalliance of Greater Cincinnati summer camp had the morning at KnowledgeWorks to build out their proposals. They had to consider not only how the software would function and how it might be widely adapted in schools, but also how it might change the experience for teachers, and whether they, as students, would use it for themselves.

During their presentations before a panel of KnowledgeWorks’ judges, students got personal about their struggles in the classroom. One group began their presentation describing what it was like to fail to grasp a concept when the rest of your class is moving on: you’re “freaked out,” and the notion of raising your hand and admitting you need a little extra help is mortifying. Conversely, they described feeling stuck when you’re ready to move on, growing bored and tuning out when you’ve already mastered the content your teacher is covering. And, according to one group, the worst part about all of this is that teachers might not know who’s who until after they’ve graded the test.

The mobile apps – and cross-platform accommodating websites – that all of the student groups created tried to get at the heart of the competency-based education model: offering personalized learning supports to accommodate many different learning styles and challenges, and creating the transparency necessary for students to take ownership of their learning, see the progress they’re making, and know what’s next. Nearly all of their creations began with an assessment that isolated how individual users best learned. They also offered students and teachers the opportunity to collaborate. There were video lessons, dynamic questions that were generated based on your performance and learning style, and opportunities to take the learning outside of the classroom. Educators would have access to their students’ progress and performance throughout the semester, rather than just on test day.

Open assessments allowed students to demonstrate mastery in a variety of ways, prompted creative thinking, and created a forum for real-world applications of the concepts students were learning. When I asked what this might look like, one of the participants suggested that students studying perfect squares would have the opportunity to use the mobile app to capture examples of perfect squares in nature. This sounds about a thousand times more fun than any math assignment I can remember.

Student presenters affirmed that their products would “put the learning into the hands of students,” insisting that “your education is the one thing that will stay with you for the rest of your life. Let’s make it count.”

Yes, let’s.