180 days of learning

180 days of learning

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Learning to Grow, Growing to Learn

September 10, 2012


Last year the volleyball team at PHS had shirts that read “Growth is too slow a word”.  I liked the sense of urgency that the shirts brought to a team starting with a new coach.  However, sometimes in education I think we often take this response to our detriment.  Growth, sometimes, is both what we need to find and what we should truly be measuring.  This is not to say that how students perform on tests or what grades they get don’t matter, but rather what we all really should seek is that our students our growing each day.  That is in many ways the key to learning over a lifetime, daily growth.  Sometimes it will be measurable in leaps and bounds and at other times be measurable only in small drips from the wellspring of knowledge.  One way or another though, growth is what we should seek.

With that in mind, here is how I have seen our students at the School of Inquiry grow over our initial 3 and 1/2 weeks.  I have seen students, as freshman be able to greet visitors, introduce themselves, and shake their hand with a firm grip before describing to the person what their strengths are, how those strengths play out in their lives and interests, and what their goals for this year and future are.  I have watched students in mathematics classes work together to build a tower out of spaghetti, tape, string, and a marshmallow.  Seen those same students create plans for a wedding and then meet with a client to discuss those plans.  In Global Perspectives I have gotten to  watch students work together as they try to create a restaurant around a global impact issue.

The best growth though has come when I ask them about what they are learning.  With rare exception they look me in the eye and tell me what they are doing, and more importantly, why it is important or relevant.  They are solving problems and engaging in their lessons, not merely spouting facts they have memorized.  In a recent article in Education Week Tony Wagner, the first  Innovation Education Fellow at the Technology & Entrepreneurship Center at Harvard, wrote the following:

“No one seems to question exactly what students should be achieving beyond better test scores. What matters today, however, is not how much our students know, but what they can do with what they know.”

Growth very well may be too slow a word, but if we can continue the growth I have seen over these first few weeks, then I think we can give Mr. Wagner the type of student he is looking for.

Ken Olson is the Director at the Plymouth School of Inquiry, a New Tech Network school operating within Plymouth High School, that focuses on utilizing project based learning to create adaptive learners who have the necessary skills to thrive in an ever changing global economy in which firm ground no longer exists. The staff’s belief is that the key skills are the ability to access and process information, to think creatively and critically, and to effectively communicate and leverage the ideas of students to an ever broadening personal network.   This year, the first in its existence, the school has 102 freshman students taking course in mathematics, leadership, 21st century communication, and global perspectives (humanities).  Each year the school hopes to add 100 additional freshman until reaching a full size of 400 students by the fall of 2015.


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