By: Julie Brown
We wrapped up our innovation trip with a visit to Olin College of Engineering in Massachusetts. Both of the students traveling with us marvelled at the level of engagement and the constant designing/building/solving taking place at the college level. There was nary a professor to be seen - just students fully invested in their team work and projects. Students were able to articulate how they work together, right down to the importance of “Team Health” and how to foster emotional and physical health amongst their groups. In the end, we came away with a real picture of what students who are directing their own learning can accomplish. Yes, there were course objectives, carefully crafted learning goals, grades, and due dates. But students were involved in designing the curriculum, architecture - even the furniture - themselves wherever possible.
The schools we visited were inspiring not only for what they are doing, but also because they served to remind us that we, too, are innovative. Much of the teaching we observed is only beginning to approach the quality our classes have already achieved. What made these schools truly visionary was what I can only call their “super-structures” for lack of a better word. Their overarching vision of student directed learning was matched with an overarching system of schedules that reflected their values - they put their time where their goals are. For example, no school we visited had “Study Halls” - and I did not see or hear of any homework assignments. Students collaborated, created, and actively developed talents together every minute of the school day.
There is nothing preventing us from following these schools into the student-driven model of education. Indeed, many of the educators I spoke with were envious of the academic rigor and interventions we offer our students and are themselves working towards modelling what we are doing in these areas. We already have an incredible student body, innovation-minded teachers, a driven administration, and a supportive community. We are very fortunate to have been given this opportunity to begin re-imagining “school.” It is a very exciting time to be a member of this dynamic school district!