We believe problem and project based learning is the future of education. The combination of these two pedagogies, synthesized into something we call Problem Projects, allows students to do meaningful creative work that has direct application in the real world. In our model, students chose a problem which they identify in escalating scales of locality--a problem in their school, their town, their state, their country, or the world--and construct a unique project to be presented in a public setting that shows thorough research and proposes possible solutions to the problem. Problem Projects are a cornerstone of our curriculum redesign, but the Paideia Project itself is one large Problem Project that we hope demonstrates the true potential of this type of learning.
Below are just a few of the problems we identified in our education system that our work is centered around. To see how our designs address these problems, visit our Project Page.
Lack of Funding
We were inspired by the school we chose to use as our template which currently offers a horticulture program run by students and teachers that generates over $50,000 in revenue every year for the school. We took this a step further in our designs, and put an emphasis on creating space that could function as a community center run by students. We imagine the community that surrounds the school would pay some monthly membership fee, like belonging to any other community center, which would give them access to facilities in the MakerSpace (wood shop, 3D printers, laser cutters, etc.) the vertical gardens and café in the Cafeteria, and events that students throw for the community. In this way, students and teachers work together to add tangible value to the community, while generating revenue to support their projects.
Another way for the school to generate revenue could be to partner with a company that is looking for employees to fill specific roles. Tech companies often remark that there simply are not enough qualified engineers to hire. Software engineers are perpetually in high demand, for example. We believe there is an opportunity for these companies, companies like Facebook, Google, Tesla, Microsoft, etc. to partner with schools and offer specific curriculum tracks (which students could take their Junior and Senior years during their Lab block) that would prepare students for jobs at those companies. This could guarantee students a high paying job upon graduation, with the potential to lift entire families out of poverty. For companies that often spend millions on employee education after hiring, this could not only save them time and money, but it would also be great PR, and in exchange they might offer to outfit the school with their products and technology. Tesla may, for example, agree to install solar roofing and battery packs to take the school off the grid in return for funneling trained students into Tesla engineering roles.
Finally, we were fortunate enough to have the opportunity to analyze the 2019 proposed annual budget for the school we redesigned, and were shocked to learn that, out of the $20 million that was to be spent on the k-12 school district, over 85% is spent on teacher and administration salary and benefits. If anything, we believe teacher pay should be raised significantly, but we also believe anyone working at a school should be prepared to teach in some capacity. In our designs, lectures are replaced by group work and individual research. The teacher becomes the coach or advisor. In this way, business administrators can easily become advisors to Problem Projects or Narrative perspectives that involve business, for example, decreasing the 'student to teacher ratio' without necessarily hiring additional teachers. Everyone has experience and knowledge to share.
In our designs, we tried to give as much freedom as possible for students and teachers to explore their own interests, and vocalize their passions. In the Narrative block, teachers are free to elaborate on a perspective in a story that they are personally drawn to. The stories themselves may still be curated in part by the state to affirm all students are learning similar content, but this model embraces the difference in perspective students and teachers can bring to the table. By placing an emphasis on projects in all aspects of our curriculum, students can decide how they wish to demonstrate what they've learned about a certain topic, and, with guidance from a teacher or administrator advisor, can also chose what content they feel is important to learn.
In place of current standardized testing and metrics that track schools' performance, we imagine Problem Projects themselves can serve as one metric for success. Schools in a state can be compared based on the tangible impact they are having on their communities. There will still be written tests, assignments and reflections that students must complete in addition to their projects, but the emphasis will be on growth over proficiency.
The school we used as our template has floor to ceiling windows surrounding the entire school, but they are more often than not covered with retirement-home curtains. The school has large wings for different subjects, but the classrooms in the middle have no access to natural light. Though we added a glass ring on top of the school to serve as our beacon towards the future, there are many adjustments to the physical design of classrooms and schools that can help the space enormously, and yet would not cost excessive amounts. The school we chose to redesign allows students to paint massive murals on the walls of the hallways, for instance, which allow students to take ownership of their space and express themselves.
By removing the white tiles that line the ceiling in most schools around the country and exposing the HVAC and plumbing systems above, spaces can be expanded an additional 2-3 feet. This not only opens up spaces and gives them a loftier feel, but the exposed wiring and HVAC systems can be used as teaching opportunities. Replacing fluorescent tubes with RGB LED lighting, or even adding inexpensive floor lamps or covering the fluorescent tubes with colored gels can transform the feel of a classroom for low cost. These are just a few of the possibilities for transforming school spaces at a low cost. To see our full redesigns, visit our Architecture page.
In our model, students will spend a significant portion of their time working together to add value to their school or their community. Whether this is done by working at the student food trucks in the Atrium during the Community lunch block, learning about business management by taking inventory and balancing spreadsheets, or by designing benches in the Trades Lab for a Problem Project to be used outside the cafeteria, students will be able to see the immediate impact of their work, and know they are working collectively towards something larger than themselves.
Undervaluing Creativity & Entrepreneurship
Inherent in our focus on Problem Projects is a dedication to the creative process and a full embrace of entrepreneurialism. We believe schools could take this a step further, and create subsidiary investment vehicles that could offer exemplary student projects funding to continue their designs, or sell products on an open market. This could be another way for the school to generate revenue, and would help keep money circulating within communities as opposed to being shipped off to Amazon.
Everything is connected in some way. The flexibility with our curriculum allows students to combine subjects creatively, and use the skills that they may have learned in their Trades or Arts Lab blocks to further develop a Problem Project.