4 radically different school models upending education

Goal setting and PBL serve as cornerstones for new school models. Is self-directed learning every student’s future?

These days, there are few that would disagree that education needs to start looking more like the world students will one day work and live in and less like, well, school. What that might look like in the future is anybody’s guess, but it may be safe to assume a lot more will be required of students than simple passive learning.

Four school leaders recently spoke about their innovative school models and visions for student success in an increasingly digital world during a panel hosted by Clayton Christensen Institute cofounder Michael Horn at this year’s ASU GSV Summit in San Diego. The new models overwhelmingly favor some combination of project-based learning coupled with self-directed goal-setting and skill building for students’ life after school.

Here are the four school models and their approaches to teaching and learning.

Design Tech High School, San Mateo, CA

This new charter will one day serve students in grades 9-12, but for now 280 students are currently enrolled up to tenth grade. The mission: to make the world the better place through teaching students the theory and methodology behind design thinking.

“For us, we believe design thinking is both a mindset and process to help us reach this mission,” said Ken Montgomery, the school’s founder. Part of the design thinking mindset, he said, contains a “bias toward action,” which for students means asking them to be self-directed much of the time.

On a typical day, students receive their daily schedules in the morning. Sometimes there’s a note in there — called a referral — prompting them to spend additional time on a subject or with a particular teacher, but otherwise students have a lot of flexibility in choosing how they spend their time. They can choose to catch up on coursework, try to get ahead, or work on a curiosity project, which the school is constantly pushing them to undertake.

Those projects give students a chance to put design thinking to the test and develop something they want to create. Here, the school’s recent partnership with Oracle, and its employees, can make a big difference (the school is eventually planning a move onto Oracle’s campus). One girl, who had a visually impaired grandmother, designed and created a watch that played a unique song when different denominations of paper currency were passed underneath.

“We’re really trying to operationalize that self direction,” Montgomery said. “The typical day is extreme personalization. It all starts with them learning what they need to do and building their schedule, and us providing the expertise they need to reach their goal.”

The Incubator School, Los Angeles

“Our school is an entrepreneurship themed school,” said founder Sujata Bhatt by way of introduction. In that, she means, it mimics a startup incubator, of the Y-Combinator sort, like those that have cropped up in most urban areas over the past few years.

The LAUSD pilot school has a lot of autonomy letting it function much (but not exactly) like a charter might. Most of the 200 odd middle and high school-aged students are there to learn entrepreneurial skills — everything from how to design and create technology to starting a business, pitching to investors, and diving deep into data and analytics to help run operations.

Next page: Focusing on real-world relevance for students

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