Community leaders, educators consider ways to redesign public education

By Erin Albanese - October 29, 2019 (Courtesy of School News Network) 

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Grand Rapids Public Museum School students, from left, Sam Ostrow, Alex Cooper, Terra Workman and Aurora Kunze-Fox answer questions from author and researcher Kathy Hirsh-Pasek on their school experiences

Educators and business representatives considered the task before them: Design a dream school with Legos.

In small groups inside Grand Rapids Public Museum, they assembled miniature blocks into structures while discussing what would make a school great. Color. Greenspace. Bridges symbolizing connections with the community and area businesses. They talked about how students thrive by learning through movement, design and creativity.

The groups presented their schools to each other, describing joyful places with equitable opportunities for all, where students feel safe and focused. They wanted high academic expectations for all learners.

The breakout session was part of a daylong conference, “Outsmarting the Robots: Redesigning Education from the Classroom to the Halls of Lansing.” Fifty educators and community stakeholders participated in investigative activities designed as immersive learning experiences. The goal was to bring people from various sectors of the community together to influence education so it aligns with what is needed in the economy, society and world.

The event was co-hosted by Grand Rapids Public Museum, Godfrey-Lee Public Schools, Kent ISD, Kendall College of Art and Design, Institute for Excellence in Education and Michigan Future Inc.

Guillermo Cisneros, executive director of the West Michigan Hispanic Chamber or Commerce, described his group’s Lego school as diverse and globally minded and connected to the private sector, government and community. “In order for our communities to be thriving, we need good schools,” he said.

‘An Unfair Way to Judge Our Schools’

But then participants had another task: Grade your school using a rubric that is weighted heavily on student growth and student proficiency according to standardized test scores.

Annie Ratke, a fourth grade teacher in Grand Haven Public Schools, cried foul after studying the rubric passed out to groups.

“The four of us were looking at this and said, ‘This doesn’t match anything we just created,’” Ratke said. “It’s really unfair for us to design the school of our dreams when we are going to fail no matter what because the student growth and student proficiency is M-STEP, or whatever.

“That doesn’t necessarily measure the way students interact with others,” she added. “It doesn’t measure their curiousity or the way they ask questions or the way they gain empathy for their communities. It’s an unfair way to judge our schools.”

The meaning behind the activity was clear. For teachers and students to be creative and innovative, the old way of “doing school” — and the current way of measuring success — aren’t working.

Read more on School News Network.