Student Agency

My new favorite video:


Todd Lash (leading Computational Thinking/Educational technology at Kenwood) has been tweeting some great stuff this past week, and the concepts embedded in his short updates have really excited me about the possibilities of education, even here in Champaign. One retweet highlights an article that explores a pilot project out in Massachusetts where 8 students independently “did” their own school, called “This Is What a Student-Designed School Looks Like“.


It is fascinating that we are spending so much time and energy talking about how to spend $100+ million for new/upgraded buildings, but so little effort spent on figuring out what is really best for students.


More to come.

5 Responses to “Student Agency”

  1. Karen Says:

    With the student-designed learning, who determines what constitutes pass/fail? That matters (IMO). Not all information is equal, so to speak, and one of the most valuable things a student can learn (IMO) is how to critically evaluate sources of information. I hope the pilot program, in their pass/fail assessment, included some sort of evaluation of how well (credibility-wise) students sourced their area of study. It is of limited use to become an ‘expert’ on knowledge that is low on the credibility scale. No audio on my computer, so I can’t watch the video. What’s best for students…IEPs for all in a perfect world 🙂 . I dislike when I hear ‘students who do well are going to do well anyway.’ While that’s probably true, generally, that doesn’t mean a *better* educational experience for them can’t be had through highly individualized plans of instruction [not always of their choosing–I hope there is still room to consider what it means to be ‘educated’ vs. limiting instruction strictly to students’ (who lack insight and life experience relative to adults) current interests, passions, etc.–there’s room for all of it IMO]. Same thing with ‘self-sufficient learner.’ Resources and attention need to swing their way too (IMO).

    • charlesdschultz Says:

      Karen, I cannot answer your responses authoritatively, since really you are asking questions of the staff in Massachusetts. 🙂 But I’ll take a stab to see if it helps. I do wish they had a transcript of the video – would be very handy for those that cannot/will not watch the video.

      Basically, the 8 students that comprised the pilot program represented quite a diversity of academic achievement – it was not only those who were succeeding already. The cool part is that they formed an environment where each student could help the others. Your question about “pass/fail” I think is very interesting. I myself have said I want school to equip students to succeed at life, but what does that really mean? For me, everyone either makes our world better, in which case they “pass”, or they make it worse, in which case they “fail”. And the smart person will realize we all do bits and pieces of both. 🙂 As to these students, they have a number of adult supervisors, and they have a daily check-in with one of the administrators. My impression is that they “grade” progress by whether or not the students achieve the goals they give to themselves. The only loose requirements from the program itself is that they have to set several goals in various contexts. For example, a personal goal and a group project goal.

      I think the point is to unshackle human creativity. Chuck Jackson and I are big fans of Sir Ken Robinson’s portrayal of the current educational system as an assembly line, slowly crushing out any sense of creativity in our children. The way I see it, the passions of one’s heart will drive them to pursue a line of research/learning. In the video, the students talk about how hard math was to tackle, since they all pretty much despised it. But after a time (unspecified), they slowly developed an avenue of enquiry that aroused their interests and allowed them finally get excited about math concepts.

      I think they point you are trying to make about learning from an expert, someone who has been there and done that, is a valid one to a degree, and one certainly held by a vast majority of people today (by way of analogy, look at all the people who go to church to listen to an “expert”). I am a firm believer in organic moderation – we cannot swing all in one direction or the other, both are unhealthy extremes, like having too much water or too much oxygen. I am also a firm believer in the diversity of life, and how maybe for one person sitting in a lecture with a prominent and renowned expert is the best way for that one to learn, while it may be the absolute worst learning environment for his neighbor. There is no “one-size-fits-all”. We must be agile and flexible, adaptive and able to respond to a myriad of variables. This is learning.

  2. Karen Says:

    I don’t mean an expert so much as the fact that you can get a kid to go research something and they might come up with tons of info and be excited about it, etc., but, what if it’s grossly inaccurate(?) There’s got to be more to it than being excited about it, so to speak. I have some Life magazine I think that has an article about a different type of school that was piloted in a US city in the 60s? 70s? This could be a Plan C for Unit 4, as there was no school building! The ‘real world’ was the classroom.

    • charlesdschultz Says:

      If you can get specifics on that Life magazine article, that would help. It wouldn’t happen to be the Highlander schools, would it? 🙂 Myles Horton?

      I am going to play Devil’s advocate a little more. How do you determine what is accurate? Once, people swore the earth was flat. If we had an internet back then, think of all the fools who thought they had an “accurate” representation of earth and shared their knowledge, while a few subversive, independent folks proclaimed that the earth was actually round. Or the center of the solar system? What about nicotine? How about atoms being the smallest particle in existence? Or the maximum number of transistors on a piece of silicon? My point is that we are always finding out that we are wrong about what we once “knew”. This, too, is learning.

      Sure, maybe 8 students go and “research” something on Wikipedia which just happens to be a cynical parody of real research and intentionally misleading, and they present their findings as fact. Who corrects them? As with anything else, either an external authority has to guide them to truth, or they have to stumble upon it themselves. This is true for all of us, is it not? Is this not also learning?

  3. Karen Says:

    Accurate in terms of current state of knowledge. What do we really know, ever, from an epistemological perspective? So, putting that aside 🙂 , what I mean by accurate is what is the current state of knowledge based upon varied credible sources. In science that might mean empirical findings that can be relplicated enough times by independent sources. The skepticicity of science as a discipline, however, doesn’t close itself off to new information. That something were replicated and provided support of a given theory all the scientists has in common, does not always mean the theory/the elements attributed to the successful replications were right. Some factor X might exist in the mix that, as knowledge evolves over time, better explains what is going on and theories are revised and research set off in new directions. There are some basic ‘templates,’ though (IMO), that can be learned and applied against ever evolving knowledge to deetrmine ‘accuracy’/veracity/credibility. To understand and be able to use such tools is IMO a really important life skill for anyone and everybody.

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