a future model for current education
Education is changing, whether you like it or not, traditional rote memorization, quiteness in class rooms and standardized assesments are crumbling to pieces, and in their places a newer, stronger, even more advanced education model is growing.
The problem is, it’s like we keep cutting off the head of a hydra, and now we have a vast array of differing methods in education, many of which fail, and take others down with them.
At my school, a program that was designed from the ground up to be an innovative, multidisciplinary program, has fallen short as they’ve realized they really only want to focus on the humanities, while leaving some of the most important STEM topics out. Another program a few towns over, that draws students from the area towns, is falling short on the other half, their model is progressing what it means to be an innovator, a creator and a designer, but they leave humanities out entirely.
Yes, we are at the early years of a growing movement, programs haven’t had the chance to flesh out their problems, but seemingly everwhere you look programs have glaring short comings, which need to be addressed now, not later. When you don’t address problems that prevent a program from covering everything it needs to, the entire movement suffers as it not only delays the time line, but brings bad rep to all of us.
Address the shortcomings and push education forward.
My model primarily sits along the lines of ‘something new, something old’ — I focus on the four core classes, though it’s easy to weave anything else in.
The most basic idea in my model is that it’s a hybrid method, it uses semi-traditional english and history classes mixed with project based STEAM long blocks. History and english, or the humanities, appear in a 2 hour long block which allows the collaboration of literature to work with the history to build better understanding of the topics. The STEAM block is longer, a 4 hour span, though in my proposed schedule it manifests itself as two 2 hour long blocks cut by lunch.
The humanities have been around for so long, they’ve been taught and retaught for centuries, they are what classically have been considered the backbone of educated society, what seperates us from the barbarians. And in being considered so integral, they’ve felt the largest push of innovation, it may not seem it, but humanities education has changed greatly from a century ago, and much more from a milenium ago. Discussions and projects are often core pillars of humanities education, encouraging not just reading of the texts or knowledge of the facts, but an ability to express ideas and synthesize concepts into a larger product. STEAM has had no such luck in this.
STEAM has been the unlucky child, it has been the forgotten one, who is only now being recognized as the genius in the corner. For too long STEAM topics have been secondary to the humanities, they’ve been downgraded and left behind, as people believe the humanities hold more for us than STEAM. In schools the humanities are upplayed and STEM downplayed, people tell kids they are required to be good at the humanities, yet they can fail in STEM because it’s less important. The culture behind education overvalues the humanities at the harm of all of us.
Instead of claiming defeat at the hands of STEM, instead of always running back to the humanities when we don’t succeed at first in STEM topics, we need to build adequate support structures to teach people STEM. That means allowing the humanities to do their thing, and completely revamping STEM. By teaching STEM through projects (judged not on outcome but on thought and designed not for skill but for product) students can achieve at the same level in STEM topics as they do in the humanities, inspiring a new group of STEM oriented students.
Many of my friends write essays, analysis historical events and literature and do well in the humanities, but when asked to explain energy levels in an atom, at the sight of a complex math problem or an orbital physics question they run in fear. Our current method of teaching and learning STEM isn’t successful, many students don’t do well, and many more could be doing much better than they already are. The standard practice of explaining math as a rigid construction of single methodologies to solve equations or reading and testing in labs for science doesn’t show the true nature of STEM. Both math and science relate to each other, as well as technology and engineering, they fit together to help explain and build on each other. By structuring STEM classes to point students to the connection points between the different disciplines, done by using projects, we can understand topics better. Physics theory doesn’t exist in a vacuum, it relies heavily on math, engineering relies heavily on math, physics, chemistry, technology systems, and more and more biological concepts. Project based STEM learning combines different disciplines together to allow students to grasp concepts easier.
Ultimately, a new group of STEM oriented students is what the world needs. Innovation and new technologies have been exploding over the past decade, but we still fall short of what we could achieve. Large tech companies like Google and Facebook have attempted to help push the boundry of innovation by encouraging start-ups within their companies, but the largest part which the world lacks is students who are told from the beginning of their education that they can engineer anything. Giving students access to rapid prototyping tools, materials and educators who have a deep understanding of STEM will allow students to surpass any previous expectations by teachers.
At least in my model, classrooms are much larger, much more hectic and much more engineered than many currently. My thought is that large, open classrooms, fitting up to 50 students in each classroom are best. With tables and stools to encourage students to move and not just sit. The perimeter of the classroom would be where many of the tools for STEM would reside, lasercuters, 3d printer arrays, cnc machines, chop and band saws. The front of the class room would have a smart board, and two other walls would have projectors, while every student would have a laptop. Not just the STEM class would make use of the technology, as I’ve shown to many of my teachers and fellow students, a laptop for the humanities helps me work more efficiently, as I can use search to find the quote I want to talk about, take quicker notes and research things as we discuss them, locations, buildings, people, anything that helps aid our discussion of the material. Of course, the STEM class would make even more extensive use of the technology, which every student would be trained in either in middle school or as a freshman.
My model sits between the extremes, it values the advancements that teachers have made for years in how to teach the humanities, but acknowledges the shortcomings of STEM education. By using a joint humanities class to facilitate cross over between the two classes, history and english remain largely the same, based in discussions and projects, with occasional essays. Science and math get combined into STEM, to aid extensively in building better understanding of the topics and preparing students to be innovators and creators in the world.
I hope all of us can continue to push the concept of education further, hopefully creating a new revolution in the world of education. I know many teachers who are changing how everyone, students, teachers and parents think about education, and now students are too. As part of more project based, interdisciplinary education, students need to be more engaged in their own education, and they must advocate for themselves. I’m doing this through not only encouraging the acceptance of this new philosophy in education, but by advocating for it in my own school and in my own life.
Demand better education; education that is at the corner of knowledge and life and that prepares students for the world.
Traditional projects in many classes are designed to teach a skill with the end result never being meant to be fully functioning, while the grade is often based upon the outcome, which often falls short due to the low success rate that anyone in the world has at rapidly designing things they are currently learning about. The larger focus of project based learning in my model is that the projects are based upon real world problems, and the solutions which students come up with can be real world solutions. Teenagers, though doubted by many adults, have the amazing ability to solve problems in the real world, this also means that students have a choice in how they solve the problem, allowing them to learn what they feel they need to learn, not all groups will take the same approach to a problem, and thus not everyone learns a standardized skill. They learn the skills they need to achieve in their project, be them linear physics, 3d printing, coding, photoshop or chemical bonding; students will take different paths in learning, just like we all do in life.
I’ve adapted much of my hybrid model for education from my own experiences in education, my classes, my teachers and generally my own school, Wellesley High School. Much of my understanding of alternative education is owed to my experience at programs like Parts and Crafts (Somerville, MA), talking with the teachers behind the Evolutions Program (Wellesley, MA), the Somerville STEAM Academy (Somerville, MA), and from visiting the NUVU studio (Cambridge, MA).