An Agile Approach to Learning: Part 2

A New School Model: Architecture for the future of now

Last time, I spoke to the shortcomings of current education as I see them. I briefly discussed a landscape of ideas for a new system, one that changes the paradigms. Adding dimension to the learning experience through a culture of mentorship, professional practice, and agility. This time, let’s start to dig into some of the details, take a look below the surface, and begin to understand the structure of this new model. I like to refer to this model as Agile Education.

I take this name from the world of engineering, most specifically software engineering. In a nutshell, agile means just what one might think: if your work is agile it means it is well planned, but executed with flexibility. Nothing is set in stone, allowing members of team to work along a well planned track, while being well equipped to “roll with the punches,” so to speak. Agile work is done is short measured iterations, “sprints” as they are often called, allowing for a short executable plan to be taken on, quickly reviewed for success, and then adjusted for the next sprint.

Before I start to dig too deep let me quickly define a couple of ideas:

  • Systemic architecture: this is the over-body structure that defines how the school pattern works;
    • Daily schedules
    • Content blocking
    • Yearly articulation
  • Application architecture: this is the pedagogy structure that governs daily interactions
    • Mentor student interactions
    • Assessments / metrics
    • Learn / apply / retro / advance cycle

train stationBlending Modalities

Education has started to look as more intelligent designs, unfortunately in the current system these are just road patches being applied to a rusting hulk. That is not to say however that we can’t take some of those fresh ideas and bring them forward. So lets begin our discussion with blending modalities. And from this idea I would take two methods, and apply one to the system and the other to application:

Spiraling Curriculum Model (systemic architecture)

This model is based on advancing recursion. If we take the timeline of a students education and “twist it” to develop a spiral, we create a landscape that continually keeps it history within reach, ideas are continually revisited, but at a constantly developing level. In this model, students constantly look at existing knowledge, and apply it forward to building learning. It keeps concepts fresh, and inherently answers the question of “why should we learn this”.

It also forms a standard that easily allows individuals to drop down and review ideas that are challenging or points of struggle. They can do this time and again, as ideas mature, become more relevant, or even as our knowledge as a society evolves. Each learner has an intrinsic connection to their path of learning, it is not a straight line, and they are required to exercise control within it progression(s).

Where we have failed in the implementation of this model historically is that we assure each circling of the spiral should be one year in length. This means that a student potentially won’t pass through an important zone of revisitation for as long as a year. The circles need to be much much tighter: as small as two months in duration, with as many as five or six cycles per year. I will talk about a revamping of the academic calendar in more detail later, but in this moment it is important to recognize more chances to repeatedly apply skills and ideas, refine understanding, and experiment for greater success or differing outcome will always lead to depth of understanding vs. the more current reliance of persisting memory of facts in the hopes of garnering skills.

Parallel Curriculum Model (application architecture)

The old school idea of content isolation is ludicrous to say the least. Think simply of your professional life: at what point have you ever done ONLY biology, or ONLY construction? The application and development of mastery within a craft in the real world is only achieved through the amalgamation of multiple skills. Scientists have to be writers, politicians, communicators, inventors, mathematicians, and yes biologist (or other).

studentThe parallel model believes that all content has both established and un-established parallels with other content areas. It allows us to blur the lines of isolated content delivery, and introduce a system that teaches cross-content skills, application of craft specific knowledge, and whole professional mastery and acquisition. The applied practice of “teaching” is no longer about one classroom one skill set, instead it all becomes a series of exercises in doing and thinking.

Where we currently fail in the application of this model is in putting content first and finding parallels after. Trying to affix or “mine” out parallels between bodies of content that have a long standing history of isolation is an exercise in futility. If you want some first hand experience with this, stop by a school and tell a math teacher that you need them to find language arts parallels within their content that will aid students in learning the mechanics of writing, and then work to support those parallels within their daily teaching. If you really want some fireworks, follow that up by telling the whole staff that your school’s goals for the year are focussed on improving student scores in writing and that each of them will be expected to support that by seeking parallels and daily content support. The potential for explosion here will not be the teachers fault, but more the fault of the system which has required them to isolate their expertise.

lightbulbBy applying these models to the inception of the idea we are able to immediately the system. First off the whole of the system becomes aligned, at the top level we spiral in a way that has continual relevance. Telling a student that they need to learn something because they will need to apply it over and over and over in short windows of time, and furthermore that they are societally expected to get better at it each time chances the importance of the process. Blurring the lines of content removes barriers to learning, and furthermore has the critical effect of all content equal measure of importance. Lastly, it allows us to update the cognitive model; we can discard the old-school Piaget philosophy, which seems to emphasize the limitations set by cognitive staging. And instead turn more whole faced to Gardner’s ideals which look more specifically at cognitive maturation as a process of thought facilitation and complex strategy application by the learner.

“Genius is not born, it is built; through very hard practice, appropriate reinforcement, and immediate balanced feedback…” — me

Next time: breaking down the physical structure of education for the New School Model; redesigning the learning environment from the ground up.

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