How often do you get awestruck at your job? Today I had one of those moments, and I have come to realize I need to share those moments when they happen.
My school, the Downingtown STEM Academy, operates on a modified block schedule. One day we have 50-minute traditional periods and the next we have 90-minute block periods. This schedule, while difficult at first to manage, has become very liberating. My students engage in content through problem-based, or inquiry, learning. During a project, students are allowed to work throughout the building. My school has collaboration rooms and a large Knowledge Commons, what you might call a library. Students work in these areas all the time. We use Google Chat to manage our students when they are away from the classroom, and I continuously walk around the building with Google Chat on my iPad to monitor their progress.
Today I was so impressed that everywhere I went students were working. Students were working in the hallways without supervision. Students were being taught mini-lessons by their English teacher in the Knowledge Commons while other students were working in small groups on French or Math Analysis projects. Physics students were studying vectors in the hallways. All the while, teachers maintained contact with students electronically and met in small groups throughout the building. Learning in my school takes place beyond the classroom.
Our school operates without bells, desks are not in rows, and our classroom walls do not prohibit the learning. Students actively engage with teachers from every subject. While my students were learning about Federalist 70, I also checked in on students comparing the Mongol and Roman civilizations, students preparing for a debate in French about social life in high school, students understanding parabolas with super balls in the hallways, and students preparing short presentations on the Odyssey. Everywhere I went students were engaged.
Give students freedom and responsibility and you may be surprised how attentive they are to their work. Keep the academic expectations HIGH and students will achieve them. All the while, students may actually enjoy school.
I do not profess that my high school does everything correctly, but we are working quickly on a path to education reform (dare I say revolution) that others need to follow. My school needs to be challenge to improve our practices, and this will only occur as other schools begin reforming and pushing traditional education aside.
For the critics that will argue all this non-traditional learning is fine, but students may not perform as well, I will heartily disagree. My school, next year when fully enrolled, will be the largest International Baccalaureate school in the western hemisphere. The only course of study for our juniors and seniors is a full slate (six) IB classes. There is no other option, and students like the challenge. Very few (dare I say no) other schools in the nation have approached public education this way.
Every single day I am impressed with what I see around me. I cannot shake the feeling that this is what public education should look like.