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Jonathan Sieg

Boy Scouts Eagle Scout

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A curriculum based around projects and collaborative efforts while deemphasizing standardized testing and homework

A curriculum based around group projects designed to challenge students, build confidence and creativity, and allow them practical hands-on learning should be implemented. The education would start at an early age, and emphasize creative learning and intellectual curiosity while still addressing fundamental reading, writing, and math. Essentially, the most important aspect of early education is stimulating a curiosity about the world to prepare students to be life-long, excited learners. Furthermore, socializing should be strongly encouraged, along with interesting group problem solving to inspire confidence and facilitate strong communication skills.
Analysis of student ability will be conducted by school counselors who work closely with students. The counselors serve mainly two purposes: ensure the emotional well-being of students is secure not only in the school environment but also at home and serve to develop new projects and group students for those projects together in the most effective way.
As students reach a point of maturity and ability to handle a more self-directed project based curriculum, counselors will essentially then take the place of teachers. Hopefully by the time students reach teenage years, they will become generally self-directed in learning. Counselors will then assess students through individual relationships and past projects to group students to create the most effective learning environment possible. The counselors will also decide on projects and challenges to assign the group. Ideally, these projects will encompass a wide variety of disciplines and be a goal that is plausible for the group, but still provides an interesting, relevant challenge. Students may have as few or as many projects as they can handle and which will provide the most profitable experience for learning.
When these students are assigned projects, the school will make many resources available for them. Counselors will then hold students accountable and focused.

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    Jan 5 2014: You might be interested in this model:
    http://www.uncollege.org/program/

    Here's the green version of that
    http://www.swarajuniversity.org/year-wise-flow.html

    This program impressed me very much as it ties in the usage of real world resources, stresses the importance of networking and collaboration, and directly impacts the real world. It also stresses continuity in that the projects are in many cases actual businesses that continue after the end of the program, or the seeds of a future business is planted.

    I like the idea of education involving counselors because the ages from 14 to 25 are especially angsty and how you deal with it is what makes the difference between "success" or not. I also think that having teachers and counselors collaborate is a wonderful thing as their specialties are very different but complementary in a school setting.

    The numbers I think in reality would be slightly different in that you'd have more teachers than counselors. You shouldn't dismiss the teaching profession outright, teachers it seems are the chew toys of ted conversations and speakers lately, but society didn't devolve under their watch although constant improvement and new ideas are always welcome.

    I assume the reason for project based learning is to give concrete examples and experience to learn abstract concepts. This is excellent and the Montessori and just about every other teaching method tackles the concrete vs abstract question in different ways. It hasn't been implemented enough especially at the middle school level and above and requires expansion.

    Self direction has also not been implemented enough in current systems, but certainly an important consideration because there is a tremendous variety of subjects that are expected to be covered and interest in each may be sparked at different times for different students. It's probably the most important indicator of successful mastery.
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    Jan 4 2014: This is a great idea and a conversation I have tried to start myself with other education majors. What is interesting about this system is that many arts teachers already do this! Band has a concert 7 weeks away and we teach music through our development of this "project". There is also art projects that do the same thing. I note that this scale of project is not what you're looking for, but I believe it is notable.

    I wonder if there could be a way to create space for major long-term cross curricular projects within the school day. The issue I am seeing in my head right now is just the lack of time and all that needs to be learned in this time. To hit every subject to the breadth and depth that is required while allowing for this space would mean some things cut out of the day: band, art, home ec.

    How do you envision the "wants" and "needs" being balanced? It seems that I like your concept (allowing kids real, creative, open ended, and diverse projects to propel a love of learning), but I am drawn short on how this will meet measures of success each year in each field of study.

    Thoughts?
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      Jan 5 2014: Hey Nicholas, thanks for the comment,

      One of the core features of the projects is a cross-curriculum focus. Ideally, every project will incorporate past concepts from multiple subjects while introducing new concepts from multiple subjects in an interesting and challenging way.

      As far as evaluating knowledge and ability goes, much of that is left up to the panel of counselors who critique the projects.Since every project builds on the last, then a student must be considered proficient in his abilities (as evaluated by the panel) before he will be assigned more difficult, in-depth projects.

      As far as the time constraints are concerned, since students will learn to be self-directed, they can set their own schedules and have longer or shorter days depending on the need for the project (probably only applicable to older, mature students). This flexibility of scheduling will also allow students to work at times that are conducive to band rehearsals. Ideally art would be incorporated into the projects. Also, homework, in the traditional sense, won't be a part of a student's life, so much time is opened up from that.

      As far as the "wants" and "needs" goes, ideally both will be covered at the same time. By teaching students that learning is fun, exciting, and challenging, and by assigning projects that are relevant and interesting to the students, students will want to learn the necessary subjects to complete the projects because they will want to complete the subjects.

      In my opinion, I believe everybody wants to learn, but usually material in school is presented in such a boring, dull way that there is little motivation to learn. Most students only do enough to get a grade. I envision a system where students go above and beyond not to get an A, but to because what they are doing is unique, interesting, and something they can be proud of.
  • Jan 2 2014: Hi Jonathan,
    Your idea is an interesting one. I would love to read more. I'm in the process of designing a charter school now that will be mastery and project based. From what you are describing, counselors would essentially be teachers with a different title. I think that in a large district having a core set of content experts that rotate would be challenging and I think that as with many other things, good teaching is about the relationships that teachers have with students. Subject matter knowledge is only one component. The other is the connection between teacher and student and the knowledge that the teacher has of the individual students needs and learning styles. Teachers use that knowledge to adjust their teaching methods and lesson content. The core idea is a great one! It could work with a core of content experts per school that served both as lesson designers and team leads between counselors, students, and community experts. In that role those leads could coordinate all curriculum design and pull in community experts digitally and in person as necessary while adjusting instruction for students and communicating with counselors about potential next steps for student growth.
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      Jan 3 2014: That's awesome that you're designing a charter school! Must be quite an arduous process but also very rewarding I'd imagine. I would like to open one myself in the future (still in college right now). The main difference between current teacher's and this system's counselor is the counselor do little to convey specific knowledge. Rather they work closely with students to prepare them to take full advantage of resources, which includes a core set of teachers. However, I absolutely agree that there should be a connection between educators and students, and counselors would be highly encouraged to pursue those connections. The rotating set of teachers would probably have connections to students as well, but that would not be as much of a priority as with the counselors. Btw, I would love to read your your charter school's curriculum sometime
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    Jan 2 2014: Evergreen State College started this in the early 70's and it has been quite successful. Class attendance was optional and there were only two grades, pass or fail. You started a project and could get your education anywhere you wanted, you where only graded on your project. There were professors and classes but if you decided you could do better working or at home then that was fine with them.
  • Dec 31 2013: There are actually schools and districts across the country that are working hard to move in this direction. Check out nextgenerationlearning.org for some examples. It is doable, and as folks realize that our current system isn't working for most students they are looking for ways to make a shift.
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      Jan 1 2014: You are right that this has been going on for a long time, with the one exception of not typically featuring such a large assessment role for school counselors.. It should be easy to research models in practice at thousands of schools over the last twenty years.
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        Jan 6 2014: Another example of continuous study and improvement in education, although again, no emphasis on emotional well being

        http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Evidence-based_education#Meta-studies_of_classroom-based_experiments

        Hi Fritzie,

        The last conversation closed before I could respond to you about frameworks, but I think It's relevant here as well. I had meant to make two comments, the first as a student, and the second as a teacher.

        The first year I was the arts and crafts teacher, (and having zero artistic talent) I had the students pick a theme for each class, so 4th grade had butterflies, 5th had fish, 7th had musical instruments, etc and we made cutouts of about 4 inches each and spaced them out all over the classroom.

        After that, it was all finding possible charts and graphs and pictorial ways of complementing the other classes. At the end of the year, I made a timeline of 7000 years and put it at the bottom of the hallway wall (22 feet between classroom doors). The rest of the wall was filled with the various posters arranged according to when it happened or referred to. Turned out that just about all topics can find a place on the timeline. Some models were also made that were hung on a wire along the edge of the wall.

        This particular one consisted of all the grades, and was an excellent framework for all the grades. It was a really good visual reminder of what they already studied and served to arouse curiosity in what they had not yet studied.

        The next year, I started a timeline of geologic time and they proceeded to fill that wall up too. Enthusiastically! (I copied techtonic maps from the paleomap project and laid them out along that timeline too)

        I took another wall to make a flow chart of english grammar.

        Between all of those, we managed to touch on every subject and most levels. You should have seen how proudly they'd bring their work and hang it up as a permanent display for the whole school to see.
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          Jan 6 2014: Yes, I am familiar with these results, except that my understanding is that teacher's content knowledge is important in student learning, all other things equal. I could not teach Chinese effectively for example, and teachers whose math understanding is poor often set their students off course early in that subject.
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        Jan 6 2014: I agree, and the link was just to show that research is a continuous endeavor. as far as teacher knowledge, I believe that came from assessments of existing teachers who had some knowledge and the differentiation was about teachers having more than the required knowledge such as having a phd. (specialists do not get better results on average)

        To support your point, an english teacher here taught her students to pronounce spinach as spy-nak.
        "what she said?"
        all tag questions were "isn't it?" eg the dog can bite isn't it? instead of "can't it?"
        and apparently "whether you will come to the meeting" is a question...

        Sothat was someone who does not know english, then a qualified person would know english, but not necessarily need to have a masters in medieval english poetry
  • Dec 31 2013: I think that a project based curriculum is great, particularly when it is self passed and mastery based. Students should absolutely work with counselors to identify interests and craft their program. I don't think that you should ever replace teachers with counselors though. Their roles are different. Teachers in this scenario would serve as coaches, facilitators, and subject matter experts that support students throughout their learning processes. Teachers, counselors and students should work together as a team along with parents and, where appropriate, community members.
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      Jan 2 2014: hey natasha thanks for the comment,
      I actually have a more comprehensive synopsis of this curriculum that was too long for one post, so I had to do some major truncating, but in it I have the roles of teachers and counselors outlined a little bit better. My idea was that each school district would have one set of core teachers that would rotate from school to school offering help (and possibly lectures) over their respective subject. Counselors on the other (completely different from today's school counselors) would stay permanently at the school. The counselors would be the facilitators and coaches, and have strong relationships with the students. This would offer the ability to administer help for emotional or home problems and also develop better groups. In addition, counselors would also be expected to make available community and professional resources (contacts in the professional world to talk to via webcam, materials for projects, textbooks, tools, ect.) Without having tests and homework to constantly grade, the workload should not only be interesting but also reasonable. However, you are right in saying that everyone needs to work together to provide the best possible environment for learning.
  • Jan 11 2014: I am for a project oriented approach. I have seen several teachers do it very successfully. Unfortunately, I have seen other teachers fail very badly. It is interesting that the successful teachers tend to be always successful. The use of the counselors is interesting. My experience with counselors has not been great and would wonder about their training. In many schools, the best students only see the counselor once or at most twice and usually get very bad advice. The counselors are working hard on the "problem" students.
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    Jan 6 2014: After the PISA results were published I attempted to evaluate the merits of the Singapore system. One of the things that is included is a practicum ... Practicum objectives and learning goals are to help students translate into practice in a particular setting the concepts and principles taught in the classroom.

    We, in the USA, do not require application. I think that to be an error. I can express how to change a tire or bake a cake and not have ever done either and get an A on a test. I think it important that we actually bake and change and then receive a grade on the outcome. But then I do no believe in a grade either ... I think you are either competent in the task or incompetent pending review, assistance, and retesting.

    We agree that high stakes testing is the worst of systems and only justifies the text publishers and test writers but does not accurately measure the student or prove that "learning" takes place.

    We are only discussing opportunities to improve the system.

    When earning your Eagle badge ... all along the way you were challenged and required to demonstrate your understanding of a area by application ... such as swimming, first aide, hiking, etc .... they demanded you be competent in the task to advance. Should we not expect the same in Education?

    Be well. Bob.
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    Jan 6 2014: I would incorporate lifelong continuity as a goal. What you accomplish in 4 years should not be the basis of opportunities you get for the rest of your life.

    At the college level in the US, we're usually given a list of classes required for a particular degree as well as some choices. This means each is a module that groups with others for a particular title. I'd suggest breaking that down a bit further and making one or two week or one month modules with a prerequisite map, available during the day for full time students as well as in the evening or weekends for part timers, then deemphasize the stopping point.

    What I mean is to get into the habit of listing each module you've taken in your transcript with a list of possible jobs that they qualify you for rather than a specified degree; I haven't worked this out completely.

    I'd make them interchangeable with other schools and universities, standardised so if you change locations, the credits don't go to waste. Available throughout the year.

    It's been noticed that people change careers approximately once every 5 years. What if it became part of the culture that after high school, we split our time between school and work? We would continue improving our qualifications throughout life and adapting to whatever changes society and/or technology throws at us. Yes I know about MOOCs, but hands on. This would really encourage self directed learning.
  • Jan 5 2014: Hi the idea is very good,It is the ideal education we are looking forward to.
  • Jan 4 2014: Your proposed plan seems like the plan I went through in my graduate degree programs. When my academic advisers were the counselors and we supplemented our learning with additional seminars and discussion sessions with my fellow students. I believe that it could be done with high school study too. But this kind of program would definitely be hindered under the public educ system here. See reference below.

    Common Core Doesn't Add Up to STEM Success.....
    By Sandra Stotsky, Wall Street Journal, Opinion Section, Jan.3, 2013
    …....
    As Stanford mathematics professor James Milgram noted in "Lowering the Bar," a report the two of us co-wrote for the Pioneer Institute in September, the Common Core deliberately leaves out "major topics in trigonometry and precalculus." Contrast that with the status quo before the Common Core, when states like Massachusetts and California provided precalculus standards for high-school students. The implications of this are dramatic. "It is extremely rare for students who begin their undergraduate years with coursework in precalculus or an even lower level of mathematical knowledge to achieve a bachelor's degree in a STEM area," Mr. Milgram added.
    Common Core's deficiencies also plague its English standards, though its proponents have been selling the opposite line. Under the Common Core, complex literary study—literature close to or at a college reading level—is reduced to about 50% of reading instructional time in high school English class. The rest of the time is to be spent on "informational" texts, and more writing than reading is required at all grade levels.
    …...
    Why leaders of these organizations would endorse standards that will not prepare students for college majors in mathematics, science, engineering and mathematics-dependent fields is a puzzle. But no educational reform that leads to fewer engineers, scientists and doctors is worthy of the name.
    (Ms. Stotsky was a member of Common Core's Validation Committee from 2009-10.)
  • Jan 2 2014: Perhaps plus rubbings. I try to find intriguing stuff (eg this topic) to 'rub' against existing student projects and such. That's easy with university engineering students and such. Here in China, they improve their english and cultural awareness while seeing their projects and interests (eg go abroad) in new lights. With younger kids we small group them and facilitate exchanges exploring their interests, while growing more interests in kind of a growing spiral. The ways look more like dogme or 'beyond methods' than a curric, partially because they are a kind of overcoat over other curric/interests/projects.
  • Jan 2 2014: Interesting thoughts......I would entertain that there is little problem at stimulating curiosity in early education. The Problem DOES involve MAINTAINING that naturally emergent curiosity as the child ages.

    Turning the Student into the Teacher as the child ages helps.....though, this is not currently the prevailing mindset.
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    Jan 2 2014: Then perhaps the politicians should be left out of the decision making and simply consigned to implementation and funding like the employees they are supposed to be. Btw, why is we cannot fire the elected putzes like any other employee?
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    Jan 2 2014: I am fully behind a knowledge dispensing and acquiring system that puts the consumer, the student, first and foremost in the process. My own early educational experience was abysmal. I suspect effective communication skills would be an essential component since there seems to be a strong group component. Of course, I probably would have been working on my own project on the side in such an environ :)

    I would also like to see the early ed students learning other languages throughout the process because every language has its own unique way of describing things and would seem invaluable in a setting where effective communication is essential.

    But it can only thrive if the student is more important than the results or the bean counters. Having said I suspect the greatest barrier will be "parents" especially the parents who are the reason the kids are having difficulties in the first place and will be extremely difficult to deal with. And the child will be caught in the middle once again.
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      Jan 2 2014: thanks for the comment,
      you're absolutely right when you say the students themselves are more important than the results. That's why I believe in putting much more emphasis on the emotional well-being of students. However, I think it would be wrong to view them as "consumers" of education, out to achieve only the most profit for themselves. If students grow up in an environment with that attitude, I believe it would lead to feelings of entitlement that could inhibit group coordination. Instead, the attitude should be that we rise together, that students in groups, and groups with other groups, help each other out, just as teachers and counselors are there for
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        Jan 2 2014: The term consumer has been perverted by capitalism, but I meant in the purest sense of taking in. When I chose to go to university simply to obtain more knowledge and not just to get a job/career I sometimes found myself in courses where I could barely contain my hunger to know more. I have witnessed children approach real life experiences such as sports, or fishing, or swimming or a new computer game or whatever they might find themselves enthralled by with a similar craving to know more. .
  • Dec 31 2013: This will never be implemented. It doesn't have convenient little "metrics" that can be used in place of actual learning. It doesn't give enough busy-work to make "teachers" look like they are actually "doing something". It requires competence of the "teachers". It will never be implemented.
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      Jan 2 2014: but would you still support it as a good idea despite the barriers you see?
      • Jan 2 2014: I would support it as a good idea. I don't see the teacher unions supporting it. If they don't, then the Democratic party won't support it. Likewise, it's too Socratic for the Republicans to support it.
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      Jan 2 2014: there are barriers to overcome and shifts in paradigms to be had, but that's the same with any kind of revolution. Many people believe it's time for a change in education, and perhaps a plan such as this could provide the direction needed to make those passions and voices an agent for such change.