I am often discouraged by what I see and hear about school at all levels and what education has become in many places. I hear 8-year-olds telling me that they hate school because it is boring. (Really? Learning should never be boring.)
I talk to college students who have professors who refuse to give them any help outside of the classroom and will not do anything extra to be sure their students actually learn the material. (Wouldn't you think that a person who chose to be a professor would actually care if their students learned?)
I see teachers in schools who want to do the right thing but feel like their hands are tied as they are forced to teach to the test. (How these teachers stay and do it every day is beyond me it must be so discouraging).
I teach college juniors who can't write a complete sentence and who don't know how to think critically. (What the heck did they do for 12 years of school anyway?)
But there are some bright spots in education that I am starting to see popping up around the country. There are professors who really care about their students and whether or not they are learning in their classrooms. (I think I am one of them).
There are some teachers and schools who are committed to making learning interesting and challenging even if they do have to have their students pass the test. Luckily, I get to interact with some of these schools every week as part of my job because they are linked to the Ohio STEM Learning Network (OSLN). This network, led by Battelle, has their offices in our building at COSI and is bringing some of the most innovative high schools, teachers and administrators from Ohio together with businesses, colleges and universities, and places like COSI from around the state to improve Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) education in our state.
But these schools are doing so much more than just STEM education. They are changing the face of education in general. These schools are doing amazing work and not just with the best and brightest kids, but with everyday average kids -- some of whom were struggling in public schools.
How are they doing it? By thinking outside of the box and outside of the walls of the school. By letting the students pursue projects they are interested in for enough time to really get engaged in the work. By pairing them with mentors doing real-life work, solving real-life problems. By showing them the connections between science, technology, math and engineering, and the arts and humanities. By working with students until they really understand a concept rather than simply giving them a test and letting that be their final grade.
But perhaps most importantly, these schools treat the students like people who have brains and hearts. They ask their opinions and respect their ability to learn. Many use alternative forms of assessment rather than relying solely on paper and pencil tests that show only how much you can cram into your head and spit back out.
But I think the thing I like most about these schools is that they care, really care, about the students. They work with them until they really understand the concepts. They partner them with adults who get to really know them and who are there to help them as they navigate these tumultuous years of growth and decision making. They give them some of the power in their own learning and let them make choices about what they want to study and how they learn best.
I really believe that part of the reason these schools are successful is that they empower the students to be the best they can be, making students believe that they can do anything they want and helping them to feel good about learning and education. Some of these kids, juniors and seniors from Metro High School, come to COSI to go to school for part of their day and I love seeing them in the building, excited about learning and excited about coming to school every day.
We feel fortunate to be part of this movement across Ohio to change what is happening in schools and in the spring and summer next year, you will see us start to feature stories from these schools throughout our building so you, too, can start to see the possibilities for your child and begin conversations with your schools about how they can apply some of these ideas in their schools.
I am often discouraged about the state of education in our country, but these schools are giving me hope for the future of education. Take a look at the OSLN website (www.osln.org) and see for yourself what is happening in our state and keep watching to see what happens at these schools.
These schools are changing the equation for learning and hopefully other schools will follow. But most importantly, these schools are changing the way students see education and see themselves. And that gives me more hope for the future than anything else.