What if you were picked up and out of your current teaching assignment, given an empty school and 20 students, ages 9-14, of all abilities/demographics and were told to create a learning environment for them. You're told that you may have whatever tech tools/furniture, etc you'd like. Money is not an issue here! Your job is to set up the school for 20 students total.

However, and here's the kicker, you're not to have individual classes, as we currently think of them. No Science, no social studies, no language arts, no PE, no art, NOTHING. You are to integrate all student learning under "global learning concepts." You can create as many periods a day as you want, in order to put structure to the time, but there are to be no traditional classes and no age-based grade levels.

Where do you begin? What are the essentials that need to be in place to not only address curriculum standards, but also to prepare students for their lives in and beyond University?

Take this as far as you'd like! Who knows...maybe this situation actually exists!

Tags: challenge, innovation, integrated

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Wow--set up a dream! I see it as a lab school, with echoes of Dewey. The community flows into the school; the school flows out into the community. Experts from the local business sector and the university come share their knowledge. Farmers and naturalists share their stuff. Chefs, writers, athletes, artists--all come to make presentations and tell about what they're learned and how.

Field trips are a regular part of the week: Ms. Frizzle comes to mind here, with The Magic School Bus. I can't help myself; it would be so ideal. Some field trips are for the whole mixed-age group, some are for just the kids interested in that particular trip. Visit the museums, businesses in action, libraries, wild lands, the university.

Students get apprenticed to people of their choice during part of some days. Other parts of the day, they are immersed in individual research and happily participating with their "classroom family" in games and projects. Students write about their work; they create multimedia presentations.

Service work is a requirement as part of schooling. The opportunities for this are boundless. Students could help animals, environments, elders, kids with needs, people of poverty, the homeless. A student or group of students would have an ongoing commitment to a chosen project over time. Research about the chosen service work would be ongoing, as would presentations about the work.

The "classroom family" establishes ties or partnerships with other "classroom families" in other parts of the world to share experiences and get new ideas. Movies, podcasts, writings, wikis, websites and conversation get shared, far and wide, but still in a closely-connected and heartfelt manner.

There's lots of playtime, lots of work. Students participate in the design of the days.

Support and guidance are generously given out by teachers who function like "coaches" and who hold very high expectations for their students. Students know the curriculum is not just for learning--it is for learning about learning. There's a constant emphasis on thinking skills, participation, and experimentation. The school is not just for current students, but for people of all sorts, with the predominant and over-riding theme of lifelong learning.

One more thing: regular contact with nature is a must, whether for science, art, or relaxation. A wild natural environment nearby would be perfect--a place to get to know. Knowledge about nature has profound implications for the future, both individuals' futures (mental and physical health) and the world's future (because people who know nature are likely to work to preserve it).

I could go on and on. Thank you so much for asking this question. Can't wait to hear others' ideas!
Connie--I can hear your creative juices flowing all the way to Kansas! :) These are broad, exciting and wonderful ideas, of course!

Where would you start? If you were the only teacher, where would you begin, because these ideas are big and take a lot of time to set up and plan. Would you start by getting parent committees together to assist the teacher? **Did I mention that the parents have made a committment to spending a certain amount of time in service for the school?** Or would you start somewhere else? How do you show that the kids are learning and not just having a great time? Could the students still pass those dad-gummed state assessments?
Hi Ginger,

Ok, you're making it sound real, as if you have at least a beginning--I so hope this is true for you. Do you have students recruited? Do you have a group of parents who know how you work, and value your methods? I would not start with the parents' time yet, unless you have a specific physical set up you'd like them to get operational. It's time for you to write a classroom (school?) mission statement, and then a one-page philosophy. That would be my advice. And run those statements by some educators whose opinions you value, for critical feedback.
Why did you place parameters on the startup? Is the global learning theme yours, and one you are completely behind? Is the structure of the day basically that way because there's only one teacher, no "specials classes"?
Actually, this sounds a lot like the Farm Camp I run during the summer. The age-range is the same, and it's all mixed-age activities. I have some ideas for you about time-structuring that makes kids comfortable and productive.
Is this a public, independent, or charter school?
I looked through your state standards for social studies, grade four, just to get a handle on how bogged-down you would be. Actually, I think it's quite workable to satisfy the standards AND have meaningful education for your students. The challenge in the mixed-age group is being able to meet a whole variety of requirements for different ages. As I recall, Kansas is not too wigged-out with "OCD" about the list of "should-haves". What do you think? (And when, oh when, is the pendulum going to swing away from this dreary age of standards? Will the policy makers soon realize that a giant list of standards is actually an impediment to learning?)
You, of all people, will not have a problem showing that the kids are learning and not just having fun. The students will work so hard under your guidance. They'll come up with amazing products, and they'll be better people, better citizens of the world. Everyone will be impressed.
Ok, you caught me. We actually have completed our first year, but having put that under my belt, I have a more solid view of what I want. The first year was a terrific experiment on Project Based Learning and developing a better idea of what I want the school to be. Here, I'm fishing for ideas that I may not have thought of before, or that I've previously dismissed. I'll examine each suggestion in the context it's being proposed.

I find that during the school year, I have minimal time/energy to make radical changes, and try to make things work within the "standards system" as I do think there is SOME merit there. I want the content included (to some extent), but it's not what's front stage. I want the kids to develop the skills and habits of mind THROUGH the content. I want the content to be delivered THROUGH the tools. Each is not separate, but integral to the other, with the skills and habits of mind taking center stage.

But I know there is and needs to be so much more to education for my students. Right now, the hazy picture of what I want is coming more into focus, but as I say, I'm dropping my fishing line in here for more possibilities, as this is THE community to ask for ground-breaking thought processes! :)

Thanks for your help and feel free to holler at me anytime with more "ah-ha" causing ideas! I do value what you have to say!
A smart board, a lap top cart with 21 computers and batteries. An internet connection and firewall is key, as well as a class website and individual e-mail accounts. I would also like to access the following online programs: brainpop.com, unitedstreaming.com, powermedia.com, and classblogmeister.com. I think I would also grant individual student delicious accounts.

Now, because of the experience I had yesterday with skyping, I would request that each lap top have a built in camera and that we have a classroom camera for skype connections. *That was so cool yesterday. Doing this, we would have access to people all over the world. :)
You know, I've poo-poo'ed the idea of a smart board before, but I hear so many people going on about them. I think I'll have to take a second or third look at their merits for delivering ideas. It just seems to me to be so "front of the room" focused, and that's not where I want the focus to be.

Anyone who loves smart boards, feel free to change my mind!
Look at the Coalition of Essential Schools and The Big Picture for some really excellent models. One of the things they do well is help explain these things to parents. Also, here's a proposal by Roger Shank that has some of the big ideas you may be looking for. His company, Socratic Arts, is developing a "story-based" curriculum that puts students in the center of solving problems, sort of a game-like approach.

PS Stick to your guns on whiteboards: Classroom Vice
Great references, Sylvia. Coalition of Essential Schools has been an important leader during this age of constricted creativity and sometimes dehumanized learning climates.

Regarding SmartBoards, I love mine, and find it a very powerful learning tool. My SmartBoard is a hearth in the classroom.

From the Gary Stager "Classroom Vice" article:
"My greatest concern about conflating "interactive" whiteboards with modernity is that this new technology creates a fossil record of ancient pedagogical practices. The whiteboards represent a pre- Gutenberg technology that reinforce the dominance of the front of the room. The priest chants from the "interactive" whiteboard while the monks take dictation on their tablet PCs."

Ugh! That would be an awful way to use these things. What I love is having the kids "own" the SmartBoard; they use it as a learning tool anytime during the day. Ours is always on. What's nice about it is that it's big--everyone can see it, and it's touchable, so kids show what they're doing and there's some physical involvement, a human presentation component. The best thing of all is having a child demonstrate how s/he thinks about things during information hunts or strategic gaming in learning skills.

Oh wait--there's another best thing: we all sit together (on a big rug) before the "hearth" (it really does have the desktop picture of a giant fireplace) and play the "ask any question" game. We see how quickly we all can think together to get to a reliable answer to anyone's question, defining and refining key search words. Groupthink! This is not "front of the room" focused. No one plays priest, no one take's dictation. Sure, it could maybe be an LCD projector, but you can't physically work with them by touching a giant screen, which seems to please and involve the children.

Can't stop yet: There's the joy in getting up TED.com, Nova, Nature, Discovery, United Streaming, all those wonderfully rich sites. There's the delight of putting on class work-time music (the speakers are magnificent, something I didn't expect), or dance music just for fun during a free time.

If you have the freedom to use a SmartBoard as you like, it's a magnificent learning tool.
Connie,
Your use of the whiteboard sounds terrific and really student-centered. Having read a couple of your posts and comments, I wouldn't have expected anything less.

However, I think this is more a reflection of you and your philosophy of education, than about the whiteboard. I bet you could turn a bag of pipe cleaners and paper clips into a fun afternoon.

It's unfortunate, however, that many, many districts purchase active whiteboards and then declare the educational technology battle over. I can't tell you the number of calls I get from schools that go something like, "we bought active whiteboards and none of our teachers use them, can you help us?" It was a waste of money in their case, but it served to make a nice photo op.
Thanks for the ideas! Luckily, the parents who come to the school are electing to come on their own, so I think, for the most part from the discussions we've had this year, that they're on board with me. The Story-based curriculum is similar to what I'm doing with Project/Problem Based Learning, so I'm right with you on that one!

Also, thanks for the info on whiteboards...I think it does depend on how it's utilized--just like any other tech tool. I appreciate your input!
With all this chatter, we should probably start a new post just on the way we use Interactive WhiteBoards and another post on the controversy that surrounds them.

The majority of our Smart Board lessons have interactive properties. Lisa & I are looking forward to next year, b/c we'll have access to the Senteo interactive response system to use with all of our students. We're also considering ways for the students to be using the SMART’s AirLiner wireless slate more during lessons.

On another note, our students have access to the SmartBoard Notebook software and this year THEY created both individual and group projects for presentations at home and at school. They turned out FABULOUS!

As teachers, we've learned how to save our SmartBoard presentations as PDFs to upload to the web for students to access at home. And next year, we're hoping to utilize the recorder to record our lessons to differentiate for students who have difficulty remembering the steps of a specific operation in math.

I concur with Connie, "If you have the freedom to use a SmartBoard as you like, it's a magnificent learning tool."
Ginger,
Even better than the smart-board (if you don't like the front focus) is to use a projector with your computer and connect a wireless tablet that runs the computer. (Like the one in DaVinci code, if you saw that movie). You can run the computer from anywhere in the room but the image is always in the front of the room. This allows you to sit with your kids while you teach them, and allows them to teach you!
The ones that my teachers like are InterWrite School Pads. (And I'm not affiliated with them)

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