Does it scale?

There is a certain elegant chaos to the work of the Exploring Education class: We’ve reached a point where students are deep enough into their personal projects that they do much of their own planning and know roughly what they have to do each class.

As they’ve dug deeper into their topics of interest, they’ve become more engaged and self-motivated, and new opportunities continue to appear: Each time they talk to someone new, that person has shares new resources, other contacts, or a cool idea that changes the student’s thinking. This is the best kind of education: Student interest and authentic content is motivating them to learn.

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The question of scalability has some up with some of our students’ projects. In introducing more flexible learning spaces in the school, students are creating a pilot classroom that will have collaborative space for project-based learning, sit/stand desks, more comfortable seating, and adjustable lighting. Their work is going along smoothly, so we’re now asking them: How can this scale up? What steps can they take to make sure that this one cool pilot classroom doesn’t just remain one classroom?

The question is one we should ask about the Exploring Education class as well: How will we scale it up, beyond this first cohort of seven students? What does this sort of learning look like with twenty students? What about 300?

Jim Shields, a long-time teacher at South Burlington’s Big Picture Program, has a relentlessly positive outlook on the capabilities of school systems to accommodate more project-based, personalized learning. In responding to the critique that programs like Big Picture South Burlington must be small by design, Jim points to The Met High School in Providence, Rhode Island, which supports over 800 students in highly-personalized, highly-relevant learning.

Fortunately for us, our change is not nearly that big. We have a small seed in our Exploring Education class, and a first step in helping the impact grow is to support the students’ work. Seeing and hearing about their good work will draw more students into the fold.

In the same way that making one pilot classroom space is easier than transforming all the classrooms, supporting seven students in this style of learning is easier than supporting fifteen or twenty… But the goal isn’t to give the power to shape their school to just these seven students; It’s to give it to all of them.

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