#NextGenHS Courses — For Far Less Than $5 Million Each

Five years ago, I’d totally have echoed Alex Hernandez’ sentiments in “The Big, Big Problem with Current K-12 Investing”. We can and ought focus huge funding (up to $12 billion a year) on K-12 R&D.

Particularly re high school, Alex suggests:

“K-12 could easily invest $100 million developing a world-class high school curriculum.** If we want a choice in course providers — three choices per course seems reasonable — or even higher-quality content, the price tag could easily reach $500 million.

Why wouldn’t we do this? My 2009 self would note we’d spent $10B on video games and $600 Billion on K12 learning.

Investing $500 million for new HS courses — perhaps with gameplay, great actors, writers, directors — would seem as a mere farthing. (Heck, we’d sunk that much into cancelled Future Combat Systems work for the Army. We spend many times that on just teachers’ pension management fees.) A no-brainer.

Such was my thinking five years — and an intellectual lifetime — ago.

Today? I’d put innovation into the hands of teens.

Go to a dozen EdCamps, and you’ll begin to see things differently, too.

At EdCamp, working teachers — taking a Saturday off — plan and spend 4–5 sessions discussing whatever they want to discuss. The topics vary greatly, from the pros and cons of certain apps to grand themes of assessment, state policies, and the future of learning. It’s sometimes a wild ride. Yet some common themes emerge.

No teacher has ever asked for a better ‘course’.

What they ask me and others is,

  • “How do I engage my toughest students?”
  • “How do I get my ‘best’ students to move outside the standard question-answer thinking box?

Sometimes the answers are tactical — gameware, physical spaces, classroom pedagogy. We talk of doing away with grades.

Often the most promising answer is a more strategic one: ‘Genius Hour’. It’s a good solution, one that learns from generations of constructivist education. It works well for some of the most disengaged of learners.

In nearly all of these sessions, teachers want for their students much more creating, building, and less focus on ‘content’. It’s tempting to leave feeling “courses” are an antiquated relic

For all that, I consider myself more broadly educated than most teachers get the chance to be. I’ve worked with the highest of tech, and the most mundane of service jobs. My friends drive truck, answer police, fire, and vehicle emergencies, cook, clean, weld pipelines. I know something of employing creativity in the face of human and physical challenges; and thought much about Civic participation. All, to me, often rely on stores of knowledge not just practice creating. In short, I support core knowledge, traditional coursework, and lots of factual learning.

In other words,

in the face of exploding human knowledge, we really do need redesigned, more intense, more modern high school courses.

How do we get there? Satisfy the teachers, redesign coursework, engage students, and…pay for it?

Here’s where the really great news arrives: we need to have government invest…nearly nothing.

Let’s look at an example to see why and how.

One — $5000 — Seed Course

What would a next generation high school course look like?

Perhaps this: Web Programming with Ruby on RAILS

Instead of me explaining why, take a good look at it. See if it encompasses what you know of innovation, modern edtech, and advanced teaching and learning practice.

I hope you’ll engage me and others with how this could be a very cheap seed for the next generation of high school curriculum.