This is my third year as a GK12 fellow, and I feel very lucky to be able to keep learning and trying new things each year. This year is a very different venue for me. In my first two years, I worked with 8th grade earth science classes in two different schools in a district that is complicated (aren’t they all?). This year I’m working with high school juniors and seniors in a program from a different district that has different complications.
I’ve started working with the Environmental Science and Animal Health class at Blue Valley’s CAPS Program (Center for Advanced Professional Studies). If you’re interested, you can hear more about the CAPS program from a KCPT story here (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zNxfbjyROWk), and see the teacher’s blog here (http://www.bvcaps.org/s/1403/index.aspx?sid=1403&gid=1&pgid=565).
Now, let me say up front that this program is an exceptionally well-funded public program, and it is located in an area of the city where entrepreneurship and professional careers are present in the majority of households in the district. This was not the case in the previous district with which I have been connected.
The funding, though, is not the interesting part for me. I have tried to get past the dollar figures that people put up front and listen to the ideas that guide the program. At 2:03 and 5:18 in the video, the Executive Director of CAPS, Donna Deeds, and the Blue Valley School District Superintendent, Dr. Tom Trigg, both talk about the learning model of the future. If you skip everything else, please just watch these one minute statements to hear what they are trying to do.
I will write more about the room and the classes and the students that I have been working with at CAPS, but some of the fundamental differences from a traditional public school that I’ve seen so far are these:
1. CAPS is a program, not a school. They bring in students for two classes of about 3 hours each, every day of the week, but those students spend the rest of their time at their home high school (where all of the national assessments, sports, etc. take place).
2. These classes are implicitly project based. The students know that, the teachers know that, and the administrators know that. The courses are structured such that they do projects, and all of the content information and background instruction is framed in the context of achieving the real, immediate goals of the project.
3. There is a framework of support for project based work. The teachers have time between classes to address any issues that need to be solved for things to progress. They have ready access to resources (technology, transportation, expertise, field trips, etc.), sometimes in house, but more often than not, through partnerships with businesses, institutions, and other schools and programs. And, most importantly, the teachers are expected to do, supported in, and recognized for all of the work that they do beyond content instruction to make the projects happen, including making contacts, finding resources, etc.
4. The ties with local partners in the business community lead directly to fellowship and employment opportunities for the students. They also lead to a culture of connection, professionalism, and community service.
5. The public school district is in partnership with the program. Without the support of the district, this program would not be open to as many students as it is, and the district superintendent firmly believes that access to the program should be available to every student, saying if a student can “convince us that they are serious about this, then we want to give them an opportunity.”
Whether this model will work for the long term remains to be seen, but it is a real attempt to bring project based instruction into a sustainable framework at a school district scale.