Since November we have been engaging with our Moonshots students on an almost weekly basis. The invitation brought students who were interested in redesigning school yet were unsure what that meant. Truth be told, we as a teacher group were a bit unsure as well. Our next step was to engage with students to provide some clarity and direction in regards to where we were going, how we were going to get there, and start putting some work in.
What has been amazing is that our students have gone far further than we could have ever mandated. As mentioned in a previous post, in our first few meetings we explored the current reality, a desired result, and a better plausible future. As a design team, this allowed helped us develop Drivers, (Choice, Autonomy, Motivating, Personalized) and Constraints (Tired, Homework, Stressed, Tests) but we needed to understand what students meant by this. In design we call this activation and validation, the process of saying to the user group, this is what we heard, did we hear correctly? Can you tell me more? What did we miss? Over the next few weeks, a series of group empathy activities took place where we prodded and probed for deeper understanding of the students experience and future desires for learning. Below are the initial findings from that series of meetings.
When we dug deeper for understanding we were very impressed with the level of sophistication to which our students could express and advocate for choice, autonomy, personalized and autonomous learning. We couldn't have scripted better responses if we tried. For example, “ we’re learning at a superficial depth in courses and there are topics which I would like to spend a significant amount of time on because I am interested and this would further develop my general understanding in the course or topic.” For personalized learning students would express that , “in a class of 20+ students I am always held up or holding up other students as we go through the content. This always results in non-optimal learning for everyone.” These are not students who are trying to escape from learning, they are trying to escape from learning which does not respond to their needs and enhance their talents and passions nor is the learning applicable in the “real world”.
When it comes to understanding constraints we had to really understand what they are enduring and what obstacles to learning exist. I used to think that students were playing a collective con on teachers by claiming they were “tired”. By far when we have asked students how they feel when they are at school this has been the most frequent response. It’s impossible that they coordinated at this level. We had to dig deeper.
Something we mention to students as we are going through this process as “Designers” is that everyday they are victims of design and I can think of no better example of students being a victim of someone else's prototype which is entrenched in tradition and ignores the needs of a user group than the “school schedule”. The user group it does respond to is parents, business, and adults in general but with what we now know about brain research ,sleep patterns and the needs for youth now, how is it that we we have not dramatically altered how we schedule school? This seems to be a major obstacle to optimal learning for this student group and greatly contributes to their stress levels and anxiety. Second to this is the general nature of assessment they are experiencing, mainly homework and tests. They are not seeking to absolve themselves from work but rather work which they see useless, irrelevant and uniformed.
An example of their passion for learning and willingness to work, is the behind the scenes, out of the sight of us, creation of an ASFM Moonshots Project website. While we were working on facilitating this process and meeting with them once a week during their Access period, they were continuing the conversation and exploration among each other and with other students, even elementary students, on topics they felt were work challenging. Such as, schedules, sleep patterns, extra-curricular activities, teacher’s mindsets, and the overall purpose of school.
Again you couldn’t have scripted this and we cannot be thankful enough. We just have to be the best we can be to listen to understand and guide the process with as little bias as possible. The challenge and opportunity continues.