Despite NCLB, ESSA, Common Core, block schedules, and whatever else has come down the pike, education in the U.S. has not changed dramatically in the last 150 years. Peek into any school in the country and you are likely to see desks in rows, with a single teacher at the front of the room dispensing information. There will be some outliers – one of my children had a 5th grade classroom with no desks at all and it was awesome – but the greater proportion of classes will follow the same model that has been in use in this country for as long as anyone can remember. And it has earned us this ringing indictment:
We move students through the system, they learn some stuff, pass some tests, and graduate with an acceptable repertoire of knowledge and skills. Acceptable. Enough to function, to continue on to college and survive, more or less. Except that lately, more and more voices are telling us that this repertoire of knowledge and skills isn’t quite cutting it. They aren’t quite as adept at problem-solving and collaboration and inquiry as they need to be for the 21st century.
Why don’t we change? Just overhaul the system and do something different already? Perhaps because we don’t have a very clear idea of what’s possible. Before we throw out the old template, we need a model for how school could look. Enter the Apollo School.
In episode 62 of The Cult of Pedagogy Podcast, Jennifer Gonzalez interviews a team of high school teachers from the Apollo School, who have completely chucked out the old template of “School” in favor of something very different: a collaboration between English, Social Studies and Art that rests on student-driven, project-based, inquiry learning, incorporates all three disciplines, and is tied to state and national standards. It’s a fascinating look at what school can be; especially their practice of handing the standards over to the kids to determine which ones they will fulfill. They work on “soft skills” like communication and time management, and offer optional mini lessons on topics that kids can decide to attend (or not) depending on how it fits with their project. Or kids can propose mini lessons, or even give mini lessons themselves. And they schedule one-on-one time with their teachers as needed. And just in case you are already dismissing this as something they did with “advanced” learners and assuming it would never work with “regular” kids, turns out the advanced kids actually struggled with this model more than the regular kids. You’ll have to listen to find out why.
The Cult of Pedagogy Podcast can be found online at the link above or on your smart phone via iTunes or another podcast app like Stitcher or Podbean.
photograph compliments of Cult of Pedagogy Podcast