It’s been about a year since U.school was founded. What’s something you’ve learned?
We’ve been surprised with the need to re-teach students to be curious and open to new ideas. They haven’t always been asked their opinion on what’s valuable for them to learn.
It’s been a process of re-engaging with students and giving them permission to be curious about what they’re curious about.
In what ways are you re-engaging them?
In the morning, we have a “Meta” session. We do fun creativity exercises – sometimes we just talk about projects that are going on and allow students to present things they have been working on. It’s called Meta because it’s not meant to be on any topic – it’s meant to be metacognitive and that gives us the opportunity to explain what we mean by being self directed. It allows them to open up their thinking of what it means to learn. We really want them to work at a deeper level in terms of thinking about their education.
There is a current push for training students in science, technology, engineering and math careers. How is U.school preparing students for careers?
We really want to meet the student where they’re at. We want to expose them to a lot of different things – getting them in the mode of curiosity to try things out without worrying about following the formula. A lot of what STEM can be at its best is saying technology has solutions to problems, but it’s a tool. We’re giving them the opportunity to think through problems. For instance, we just recently purchased a 3-D printer. A student presented he would like to have one, gave the reason, budget and offered to train people.
How have students responded to this model of education?
We’ve seen them move from “what are you gong to teach me?” to “this is what I want to work on.” They voice their opinion. We had to move them away from thinking of all learning being a teacher-led class. We’re together as a community on purpose.
The reason to meet as a group is to learn from each other. You’ll see your own strengths differently when you work with others. Those with us for a year, they have that shift of mindset. They have permission to pursue what they want to and to ask others to come with them.
Do you think education as a whole is shifting toward individualized learning?
I think so. I think a lot of teachers recognize the value in giving students a voice. The hardest part is how you set it up. It’s one thing for us to do it in a school with a maximum of 40 students. A school district of 20,000 students, that’s a different venture.
I’m pretty sure education is going to move in a more a la carte direction. I think there will be a lot of alternatives out there. It may take a long time to get there, and I think you see it now in the rise of things like charter and voucher programs. But there is a lot of danger in there from a political point of view. Some of what we do is quite like home-schooling and unschooling, and I think that has been huge in the last couple of decades – just the idea that there is more than one way to educate students.
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