This week I had the chance to visit Columbus Signature Academy in Indiana. It is part of the New Tech Network of schools which are problem based learning high schools. The first thing I noticed was the open spaces and architecture (I blogged about that here). It was designed for students to use the "hallways" as gathering/learning spaces.
|CSA "common space"|
I got to spend two days at the school and talked to many of the students. We had official student guides and student panels, but my favorite part was just talking to random students in the building. Every student I talked to confidently explained to me what they were working on and honestly answered any questions. These students have "tours" of their school all of the time and are comfortable with public speaking.
I got the same message from all of them. They enjoyed being in the school and were genuinely proud of it. The school was only three years old and the junior class had helped start it. They helped create the handbook and the expectations for each space in the school. The school has no bells or hall passes. Students are treated as professionals and not micro-managed. The students had a true sense of ownership of their school.
The students talked about the importance of having a voice, working in groups, and how they preferred PBL to traditional learning. It is important to note that these were not "special" students in any way. They were chosen by lottery and represent the demographics of their district. But you can tell that every student feels special because they are part of a school that they care about. They are invested in their school and in their own learning.
I know this school works hard to establish and grow this culture among students. It all starts by assuming students are responsible and expecting them to act that way. Instead of trying to control students, they empower students to take responsibility. Then they give students choices in meaningful projects that are shared with experts in the community. Students hold themselves accountable to do quality work to represent themselves and their school.
Yes, this school is 1-1 with laptops, but what really makes it stand out is the learning climate of trust and responsibility. Are students working and on-task every second? Of course not, and neither am I.
Do you trust your students enough to let them learn by exploring interesting problems together? Or are you too busy trying to control them to make sure they get the appropriate standardized learning experience?