If students designed their schools…

Mar 13, 2013
Some students at Monument Mountain Regional High School in Massachusetts created their own school for a semester, and this video interview with them, posted on Boing Boing, is a fascinating look at what it entails. Some of the surprises: no tests, no grades, no classes, few adults. But that doesn’t mean there’s no learning. Instead, the students focus on English, Math, Social Sciences, and Natural Sciences and perform small group work, give formal presentations each week (wow!), and learn and discuss everything from Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment to AIDS in Africa to philosophy. Plus, participating students also focus on an individual endeavor for half the time — an intense, ambitious, term-long project. (Some students learn an instrument and perform in a recital; others write a book; others research topics like education of the environment.) And the final three weeks of the program all students work on a collective endeavor, with a goal of producing social impact. At its core, a program like this is about self-directed learning. And it sounds like a way of accommodating different kinds of learners. But what about the teacher? In a program like this, the teacher plays the role of mentor, coach, advisor, and educator. They provide support and encourage independent thinking. As one teacher interviewed said, there’s mutual learning happening. I’m super intrigued by this idea, and all the possibilities it entails. I actually love a typical school environment, for the most part, but there’s a certain appeal to independent learning — to acknowledging that a drive for a subject, an innate curiosity, could produce better results in education education than a need to get an A on a test. Is there a difference in investment a student makes when she chooses her own learning versus having her learning chosen for her? When a student isn’t being motivated by a test, is their passion enough to educate them? If I could have designed my coursework in high school, it probably would have looked a lot like the program in this school — lots of reading, lots of debate, lots of independent thinking and then regular presentations to report on what I’d been finding. There would have been less focusing on my Calculus homework (knowing by senior year that I would not be heading into a math career!) and more on reading nonfiction and learning technologies and understanding the global world we live in. That said, teachers have changed my life, and I can’t imagine a school where I didn’t interact with them on a daily basis. Is there room for both here? What do you think?   Image via