Monday, September 3, 2018
Apr 19, 2018Lastly, for those worried about the need for partnerships in order to reach scale, Modularity Theory also offers hope. The theory predicts that modular, partnership-based solutions can eventually work—and may well dominate—once the integrated innovators pave the way. For example, Android and Windows tablets—whose components come from multiple suppliers—have gained substantial shares of the mobile device market today; they just needed Apple to first show the world how a good tablet should be made.
Last week I had the pleasure of visiting Champlain Valley Union (CVU) High School in Hinesburg, Vermont, just outside of Burlington. CVU serves five feeder districts, each with their own middle school. It's a big school for Vermont with 1200+ kids, but midsize for other states. The student population is economically mixed and racially homogeneous.
Nothing in the outside architecture appears remarkable when entering the school. Inside, like other schools, there are adults who great guests and check on kids and a normal front office that issued guest stickers to each of us and sent us to meet our student guides who took us around the school and helped connect us with teachers and other students. What I saw was a school that has made the transition from old learning models to the new. I saw personalized, competency-based learning and deeper, applied learning
While I have met many teachers who generate those two principles into their teaching, those that teacher in district public schools are often held captive by two systems relics from the industrial past which hold most good teachers back from real reform: (1) Antiquated daily school schedule and (2) Antiquated assessments and report cards. CVU is the first high school I have visited that appears to have evolved those two relics into new systems that better support all kids and better prepare kids for their futures.
#1 System Improvement -- Schedule. How kids and teachers spend time is a primary measure of the school’s values. The CVU schedule splits 8 blocks over two alternating days. As a result, kids get more choices and longer class blocks. The school has a relaxed, not frenetic feel. The kids voted a gentle gong as their school bell to mark changes in classes.
9th graders are split into four even, heterogeneous groups of two classes each, paired with two humanities and two STEM teachers to work with each group. Teachers work collaboratively in teams, at times starting with two combined classes and then one teacher working more intensely with small pull-out groups.
Each student can select two electives which included:
- Extensive STEM and design labs
- Strong school support for internships and co-ops
- A personalized learning class called Nexus where students are supervised while they pursue independent and small-group projects
- A class called Think Tank in which kids actively studied education reform and participated directly in the school design
Some of the kid's stories:
- I talked to one girl in 10th grade, real working class, who got an internship in 9th grade to explore auto mechanics. She tried it and did not like it. That year she began to pursue animal husbandry and worked to lead a team of older students to build a movable goat house and fencing system to let goats graze the landscape.
- Another bookish girl talked about how she used Nexus to pursue independent study of the psychology that made some Germans support Nazis and some resist instead of taking 9th-grade social studies.
- A confident boy in 12th grade talked about the video production business he started that year with two friends. The school supported them with community mentors. While the other two go off to college next year, he is going to work full time on growing the business while his friends find new clients in the cities where they will attend college. He plans to join them one year later.
- A quiet girl in 12th grade who said she was always good in science but did not know she wanted to be a scientist until the school arranged for her to do a project with a local university professor. She said that she saw the professor as much more knowledgeable and experienced, but not fundamentally different from her and she now is ready to pursue science vigorously in college.
- A brainy boy shared that he had completed his 3rd year of calculus and had built his first self-learning software in the Nexus class. A testified in the Vermont legislature on legislation that is putting in place a commission to explore the ethical issues that will come from AI.
#2 System Improvement -- Assessment. The second most important system improvement I saw at CVU was teachers’ use of assessment. The school has clear, common learning targets which explicit, commonly understood and practiced expectations for what 1) begins; 2) approaches, 3) meets; 4) exceeds the target. Teacher feedback to the student in writing and in person was personalized and constructive.
Teachers use the software JumpRope to maintain progress towards learning targets.
Growth mindset. Amazingly, everyone in the school, teacher, and student spoke of “formatives” and “summatives” and understood that low performance in summative assessments would be “replaced” in the gradebook by better summative results.
While child. I heard the term “check-in” from both students and teachers for the process in which a student and a teacher would talk about their work and get guidance. “Check-ins’ appears to have an important role in the familiarity the teachers showed for whole child development.
Quality human interactions. Most importantly, the school had a culture of human interaction that seemed familial, not bureaucratic or institutional. The students in the school seemed to be genuinely known by the educators and demonstrated a mature understanding of their immediate, post-HS plans. The combination of skills, applied skills, and experiences they were getting at school is preparing them for the dynamic world they will find.