If students re-imagined school, this is what it could look like.

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Topics: Community Partnerships, Education Policy, ESSA, Future of Learning

Guest post by Mary Tighe

What could an innovative learning system look like through the eyes of 20 current high school students?

Yesterday, KnowledgeWorks hosted a career camp with the INTERalliance of Greater Cincinnati, an organization dedicated to providing students with knowledge and opportunities needed to enter the technology field and become a part of Cincinnati’s IT workforce. Throughout the week-long camp, 20 local high school students visit businesses and compete in problem-solving challenges that leverage technology solutions.

Of course, because of our work, we created a design challenge around 21st-century learning.

The Problem: KnowledgeWorks supports personalized learning that enables every student to thrive in college, career and civic life. How might Cincinnati change the world by becoming a learning destination through the evolution of innovative learning structures within its schools to ensure personalized learning for every child?

The Challenge: Your team is given $15k per student to create a learning structure to empower and motivate students in ways that are meaningful to each student. How would you utilize this money to design your ideal learning environment?

Things to Consider: You are working with a population of 29,000 students, grades K-12. Half your money will go to administrative costs, leaving you with about $8k per student. ALL students must reach their learning goals, and students must be accounted for at all times.

Four teams presented their solutions to a panel of KnowledgeWorks employees, offering ideas from online platforms to track learning progress to community-wide educational opportunities.

While the ideas were creative and insightful, the most inspiring part of the day was listening to students re-imagine the very system in which they currently learn.

Here are some of our favorite insights into their newly reimagined learning structures:

  1. Cater to all types of learning. INTERalliance students recognized that not all of them learn in the same way. If they were to create a new system, they would consider all learning needs so everyone can thrive.
  2. Measure mastery in other ways, besides high-stakes testing. Team members wanted choice in proving their mastery. Rather than only testing, their systems would give learners the chance to show mastery through presentations, portfolios, essays or projects.
  3. Expose students to career opportunities. By creating partnerships with professionals from Silicon Valley to New York City, team members wondered if they could schedule video calls to allow learners to explore different fields and think more about future professional careers.
  4. Put students in charge of their own learning. While the teams recognized the importance of teachers, guidance counselors, parents and guardians, they wanted to offer learners more control over their education experience. In their new systems, learners would have the opportunity to build individual schedules and explore interests.
  5. Use technology as a tool to enhance learning. The teams suggested technological ideas beyond individual devices. They suggested using video calls to talk with students in other countries to learn about different cultures or study languages. They talked about an online platform to track subjects mastered, learn ways to improve learning, and choose classes.
  6. Allow for learning throughout the community. Considering outside-the-classroom learning opportunities, teams wondered how to build community-wide educational opportunities. One team imagined a system that would allow learners to shuttle throughout the city to different learning venues, ‘checking in’ to each location through an ID card that links to their online profile.
  7. Build personalized learning for all students, regardless of zip code or ability. During the design challenge, teams were particularly concerned that their new learning structures consider all students, especially those who are first-generation or low-income, as well as those who have special needs.
  8. Create different levels of mastery for each subject. Team members wanted to offer the opportunity to “level up” in subjects based on learning pace. Learners could be at “Level 5” in math, “Level 7” in science and “Level 1” in Spanish.
  9. Get rid of traditional grades based on age. Instead, team members said they’d like to move through learning based on when students excel and master subjects. See No. 8.
  10. Teachers can help students through more than instruction. All teams included teachers in their plans, not only as instructors, but also as guides and coaches to help students throughout the system. They wanted to be in charge of their own learning, but also wanted teachers to help them with community learning opportunities, career exploration and subject mastery.
  11. Tailor learning to students’ interests. One team specifically talked about learning different subjects through their own interests. For example, if a student really likes extreme sports, such as skydiving, he could study math, physics or meteorology through those activities. This would make learning more fun and relevant in their re-imagined system.

What do you think? What would an ideal personalized education system look like to you?