Our tour bus made its way through a construction site, backing up and doing 3 point turns (pretty good bus driver) running into dead ends trying to get across to this brand new school, “Harbor School”, finished a month ago. I didn’t realize it at first but I guess our visit was a sort of inauguration for the school’s makerspace. We met the headmaster, who was really passionate about the idea of project based learning, enough to successfully argue for the funds for this really beautiful space, stocked with Raspberry Pi for all the computers, LEGO-look-alike robot kits, soldering irons and LittleBits.
The school as a whole was really impressive, like I was jealous I didn’t get to go there. They had their own dinosaur skeleton and in the common spaces by the stairwells there were TVs playing “Planet Earth” and also the biggest laser cutter I’ve seen in my life.
There were a couple of American guys that worked there that we chatted with. If I remember right, one of them was there because he had done a lot of maker education and was hired by the school, and the other guy had been hired by the government to determine a way to get maker education to fit in with the curriculum.
This is a really interesting problem in China as well as the USA: we’ve got these really rigorous point by point learning goals that at a certain age you’re supposed to have a particular skill. When you require that people meet goals, you introduce the problem of evaluating whether or not the goals are met, resulting in the tremendous problems created by standardized tests, teaching to the test, etc. But now we’ve got thousands of teachers (American and apparently Chinese, too) who see the engagement and creativity that comes out of project-based learning / maker education. If you want to see a wider adaptation of this style of learning, however, you still have to be able to evaluate it in a way that proves the standards are being met (until such a time that standards can be done away with ;).
So that’s what this guy’s job was (if you’re reading this, email me!): coming up with a way to evaluate students who have learned in a classroom that wasn’t teaching to the test: but building stuff, being creative, following their own passions. How do you prove to a bureaucracy that they’re learning better than someone who studied what would be on the test? Cool job, I hope to keep up with his progress.
I’ve got high hopes for the kids growing up here. They’re going to be building all kinds of cool stuff. Maybe futuristic trains, telescopes, rocket ships and submarines like the poster on their wall :)