Schools have changed over the years, but in many ways, things have stayed the same. Yet, there's a school that's been around for more than 40 years that's really still considered radical to this day. It's the Sudbury Valley School in Massachusetts, created by Daniel Greenberg, a former professor in physics and history at Columbia University, back in 1968. It is founded on the principles of democracy, to the fullest extent.
The educational philosphy is that each person is responsible for his or her own education. The students govern and learn themselves. They are able to do what they want, where they want, when they want--within safety guidelines. There is no curriculum, no tests, or any other evaluation. The only "evaluation" comes when they need to use expensive or dangerous equipment, and when they want a diploma, they must prepare and defend a thesis.
So, instead of structured classes of students learning a single subject matter, such as math or English, you will instead see students engaging in a variety of activities: playing, talking, hanging out, eating lunch, climbing trees, riding bikes, cooking, playing card, programming, playing instruments, discussing a movie or novel, reading a book, painting, and much more.
The biggest question on people's minds is probably this: What can they do after they "graduate"? Perhaps surprisingly, those who wanted to go to post-secondary had little difficulty getting in and doing well. Some went to prestigious universities, and most went on to successful occupations in all fields, including business, arts, science, medicine, among others.
Despite not taking structured classes, they succeed in a more structured learning environment. The benefits of their schooling fell into four categories:
1) They were responsible and self-directed. They learned to use their time wisely and had to solve problems democratically.
2) They were highly motivated. They participated in activities they wanted to do, so learning was fun and interesting to them. Their future careers were often a natural progression of what they found enjoyable at an earlier age.
3) They had specific skills and knowledge. Because they were interested in certain areas and topics, they became "experts" in those fields, and gained deep understanding that would help them in their future careers.
4) They lacked fear of authority figures. Because of the democratic environment they grew up in, where peers and teachers were on an even level, the graduates were not intimidated with their professors, and would establish good working relationships with them.
How is this all possible? Is natural, self-directed learning a reality? Perhaps it lies in the environment of a hunter-gatherer band. Here are some features of such a group.
1) Time and Space to Play and Explore: Self-education requires much free and unscheduled time. It gives a wide berth of physical space and time to explore, find passions, be curious, discover new things, learn from one's mistakes.
2) Multi-age learning: Younger children learned skills and knowledge from older ones, while the older ones learned to be leaders and teachers and guardians.
3) Access to Adult Knowledge: The teachers and staff were all caring and knowledgeable, and would help whenever the kids needed help. They were more like aunts and uncles than authority figures.
4) Access to Equipment and Freedom to Play with it: The students could use a variety of equipment, including computers, woodworking, art, sporting, books, and more.
5) Free Exchange of Ideas: They could talk, read, listen, discuss on any range of issues that interested them.
6) Freedom from Bullying: A crucial part where everyone feels safe from physical and emotional harm.
7) Democratic Community: A place where everyone vote and voice counts is a place where people feel they belong and have a say in what happens.
That's what happens at Sudbury Valley School. I. wonder how much of that happens in our schools? Time will tell if educational philosophies and practices shift into this direction. I think with the new curriculum, portfolio assessment, Genius Hour, Maker Space, differentiated learning, technology, and 21st-century learning, the educational thinking may be shifting into that direction as we speak.
(Source: Free to Learn, Peter Gray)
1) Drink plenty of water! Your brain--made up with 73% water--can can dehydrated, just like the rest of your body. Nighttime is when much of your water is lost, so replenish it.
2) Exercise. Exercising releases hormones and brain chemicals that make you feel good. As well, it makes more brain cells at a faster rate in the Hippocampus, which plays a strong role in memory and emotions. Most importantly, if you want to keep your brain functioning well in your later years--exercise!
3) Manage your stress. Everyday stress if fine and normal, as the hormone cortisol helps release metabolism so more energy can deal with your problem. The main problem is chronic stress, which makes this cortisol suppress the immune system, making you susceptible to all kinds of illnesses.
4) Enjoy the sun. The UV light from the sun makes vitamin D, which makes an important brain chemical called serotonin. Essentially it keeps you in a good mood. Get out in even cloudy days, as there's still plenty of UV in the sky.
5) Drink caffeine. Believe it or not, caffeine is correlated to a number of health benefits, including reducing some types of cancers, diabetes, Parkinson's disease, cardiovascular disease and stroke. Before you think this is a miracle drug, remember these are all correlational studies. Still, if you're drinking a few cups of java, you can now probably drink without having any feelings of guilt.
What does this mean for our students? I think that having access to a water bottle or drinking fountain is important. As well, DPA (daily physical activity), especially outside, will help with exercise, memory and being in a good mood. To help manage stress, each day should have a balance of more challenging work, easier work, some "play time," quiet time, and fun activities. Too much focus on simply academic work could lead to greater stress. Also, differentiating the activities will help those students who do feel stress, and allow for all to achieve success. As for caffeine, let's wait until they're much older to worry to get into that habit.
(Source: Sort Your Brain Out; Lewis and Webster; MediLexicon International Ltd, Bexhill-on-Sea, UK)
We hear of talk of 21st century learning, and skills and jobs that are completely new. Sometimes it feels like just talk; but then again, there are companies that actually have these kinds of jobs.
Ziba Design, a top innovation and design consulting firm in Portland, has employees speaking 25 languages and 62 areas of expertise, including Color Specialists, Environmental Designers, Information Architects, and Cognitive Scientists. They find interesting patterns and synthesize tons of information. Pretty cool, eh?
So we do need to make certain that our students are ready for these jobs and these fascinating times.
If you follow any kind of sport--be it football, basketball, hockey or tennis--analytics or data analysis or data mining has become an integral part, especially in how to make better players, make the sport more exciting, or how to attract more customers to watch the games. If you can believe that today's smartphones have more computing power than Apollo 11, the rocket that went to the moon, then you can see how today's computers can crunch and analyze mountains of data, and synthesize and spit out much smaller piles of useful information. Of course, large corporations, such as Google and IBM, have probably been using analytics for quite some time now.
I was wondering if the same can be applied in the educational/teaching field. I think if we equate analytics with testing or evaluation, then I think there's a lot going on, but in a variety of methods. As a teacher, I do accumulate quite a bit of data on each of my students, including their behaviors, attitudes, and, of course, marks and grades on a variety of assignments and projects. What I don't see is having huge databases that can take all that data, compile it, and then use it to analyze trends and, more importantly, have predictive ability--to know where they might struggle or have success. On a smaller scale, yes; but, on a larger scale, not so much. I think some programs or apps, such as FreshGrade and others, do try to capture data, and do so with different measures of success and for different purposes, such as communicating ongoing learning with parents and students. Others might give more statistical analysis on specific skill breakdowns.
I think analytics is growing approach in many fields, and it's one that may carry more weight in the educational field in the future. The only concern is we need to be careful not to turn our unique individuals into simply 0s and 1s in a computer.
Daniel H. Lee
This blog will be dedicated to sharing in three areas: happenings in my classroom and school; analysis and distillation of other educators' wealth of knowledge in various texts; insights from other disciplines and areas of expertise that relate and connect with educational practices.