At times, it is fast, and exciting, almost thrilling (well, unless it’s a Camry). Jokes aside, though, the general function and intention is the same. And in competition and comparison are other brands, bringing features and characteristics that are unique but in reality, consistent with almost every other example. Perhaps it is a feature of our culture that cars have maintained this level of consistency, or that concepts are just that; concepts.
The analogy is not lost, surely. Education has been a victim of this need for consistency since its inception. Not in its entirety, for sure, but to the greater degree there are still walls, classrooms, bells and classes, stage groups and streams. Some schools do better than others, which is a consequence of so many factors it would be pointless to list them. Some thrive in adversity, and some are built on the success of the culture in which they operate. It’s a complex web of systems and approaches, none of which are specifically right or wrong, some are just more successful at reading the needs they are there to satisfy.
At some point, though, there has to be a real game changer, something that comes along and really digs in deep to consider an alternate reality.
It might not be a recipe for success, and it might not be something that will take hold in a mainstream context, but if we truly believe each student is different, with different learning needs, we need to think differently in order to maximise their learning potential, and provide options.
So, in this context, let’s consider an alternate reality. One that some schools are trying to operate in, but under great scrutiny and in a position of having to prove their success, rather than be given open licence to develop it (which education in a more general context has been given for many years).
To break it down, let’s first ask a couple of questions. Why do schools need classrooms? Classroom, building and learning space design plagued designers of schools for generations, where architecture lends itself to corridors with rooms on either side. The general look and feel of a school is predictable, and so often bland and uninteresting.
It is not hard to imagine why students get bored and distracted in these spaces; just look at the way many corporate buildings are designed! A throwback to the dreams many of these people had of their schools. In some cases, attempts have been made to ‘change’ the traditional plan, though at some level classroom spaces are retained and in many, change becomes the alternative rather than the norm.
Open plan designs have been the subject of great discussion of late too, with many schools putting up dividers due to noise. Some designs use a hybrid version of this, with glass doors or dividers that can be removed to make more space.
Breakout rooms provide another option, with regular classes run within a space (or an open plan room) and a separate, smaller room provided for students who need a space to work collaboratively. None of these are issues in their own way, but they are constrained by two fundamental issues we are still yet to overcome. In some ways, STEM has tried to overcome this, but it is still met with the same complexities.
So, how would we run classes without classrooms and provide each student with the attention they need? Underlying this is the notion that classes are necessary to run a school, or that classes are necessary to impart knowledge.
Inquiry-based learning models are designed for students to think broadly about problems and ‘dip’ into various domains of knowledge, skills and understandings so they can develop solutions. Challenge based learning takes a similar journey, with some different elements.
If classes were removed, and students attempted to cover the curriculum by working closely with their teachers to ensure inquiry and project work covered the necessary outcomes, we could open the floor up to new possibilities, such as an opportunity to re-think the way they design buildings, providing a range of spaces for students to work.
Teachers can completely re-design their thinking toward program, assessment and curriculum development, possibly running workshops and facilitating experimental sessions in different learning environments.
Excursions and incursions could be relevant to those who need it. Even providing a range of flexible attendance options for some students. This provides a platform for real change to differentiation and diversity in learning. Students with special needs can be specially catered for and staff given real time to work with students who need this level of care.
Finally, how can we possibly assess a thousand students in a school all working on different projects, assessments and tasks? It is possible schools would need to be smaller and accommodate a smaller number of students. We would have to rethink the current school day format, and provide alternatives for staff and students where access and times are negotiated, and other resources are available at times where staff might not be available. There is generous scope here for development.
This is a complex problem, and as schools we face a significant journey into the future. How do we continue to offer more personalised learning in to the future, whilst ensuring students develop the necessary core skills they need for the 21st century?
Tackling this problem is by no means an easy task, nor will it happen overnight, though on some level we need to create action around it. For many years we have talked about changing schools and offering alternatives.
The STEM initiative has taken hold in response to a shifting industry that needs more students with trans-disciplinary and technological skills. Perhaps it is time education made changes at its core to better respond to the changing needs of our world.