Public education is facing enormous challenges. Take your pick: Economic stress causing pressure on education funding, more dual income families where parents can’t spend as much time with their kids, the continuing march of technology, pressure from the community State, and Federal level for achievement test progress, growing poverty, social changes related to bullying and childhood obesity, etc. The need to respond to these in a proactive way seems obvious. It is exciting to report that there are some amazing school districts that are taking up the challenge with remarkably innovative and creative approaches.
What do you think of this example – the Chafford Hundred School in Thurrock, UK. Its campus contains nursery, primary and secondary schools and houses community services in addition, with a public library on site, and accommodation for community groups (e.g. mother and toddler). The campus entrance is designed to represent a shopping mall, and in this way presents a familiar and welcoming environment to the local community. Despite the high levels of technology (each student has a personal PC enabling access to the wireless network, and learning plans and curriculum resources are stored on the school intranet), the classrooms are laid out in a traditional manner. Students are mainly home class-based, however there is a lot of individual movement between the library and resource areas. There is an emphasis on individual learning, with each student’s curriculum planned individually via learning plans and journals. Source: 21ST CENTURY SCHOOLS: LEARNING ENVIRONMENTS OF THE FUTURE.
Or, how about this one from the same report? The Australian Science and Mathematics School in Adelaide, South Australia created an environment for interaction between educators, professional scientists and mathematicians. There are no ‘subject classes’ or ‘year groups’ at all. The school is ICT-rich, and focuses on inquiry-based project work and research, within different settings, including workplace and university-based learning. The school is situated on Flinders University campus and is designed with a strong sense of identity, giving a clear ‘home base’ to the students who spend a considerable time learning elsewhere. Clear viewing angles, and a culture of ‘openness’ are embedded in the design of the school, with glass walls and open alcoves used for different functions and activities. The school clearly illustrates how radical approaches to learning organization impacts upon every detail from the architecture to the school-parent relationships.
Microsoft’s Most Innovative Schools Program asks the important question “How can we INCREASE productivity AND maximize learning? This seems an interesting call to arms in an emerging world of scarcer public funding, and questionable student achievement.
What are some of the innovations that emerge from some of the top “pathfinder” schools? Here are just some ideas that emerge:
Many of us think about innovation in the context of an R&D function in a large company or university research center. But Innovation is about implementing any idea that makes things better. What more important place is there to do this than in our schools where we are preparing our youth for the future?
You may feel your own local district is already innovative and is changing in response to the world we live in. If not, then forward this article and some of the links below to some of your neighbors, and start a conversation about what you would like your schools to be.
Microsoft Reveals the Most Innovative Schools in the U.S., from Microsoft
Innovation Schools, Massachusetts Executive Office of Education
Innovation Schools are Catching On, Boston.com
10 Major Challenges Facing Public Schools , from Public School Review