Re-Imagined Education: What Next?

Feb 2022

As some may know personally my family and I have embarked on a journey traveling slowly with opportunities to engage locally when possible while maintaining continuity via my online start up: Edumenteach; my husband’s online start up: Vibo Health; and my 11 year old daughter’s online learning program: Galileo XP.

This lifestyle though desirable by many and with tremendous privilege offers an opportunity to ponder education for the future. On a personal level I appreciate most the learning experiences from when I was young that pushed my thinking, encouraged me to make connections between subjects and encouraged me to ask questions. As a mother/educator I have a sinking feeling towards current mainstream education in both systems I know- the US and the UK in that I don’t feel there is a lot of opportunity for the authentic, problem based, real life applicable learning opportunities and instead am frustrated with learning measured by exams either teacher created or nationally-controlled. There are a few ‘flower in the desert models’ that do work and I will describe these below.

With that said I have done some research as I have questions about long-term home education as a viable route. I know for us it can’t serve our daughter’s interests or needs and we would be in constant battle. In addition what she misses in our travel design are regular opportunities to connect with other kids in person. True we are traveling during COVID which complicates the matter but without choosing destinations solely on educational pop-up events she may go months without other kid interactions. So ultimately we will need to change what we do- so the questions are to what, where and how.

Prior to this journey besides being a teacher, I did have the privilege of founding two high schools in Los Angeles and served as a director for several schools part of the school district. In the UK as a teacher trainer I had the honor of observing lessons in all sorts of secondary schools giving me insider insight to the UK system and its diversity and limitations. I have been pondering the re-imagine education question for some time; below are considerations I believe that are important to include in any learning model that promotes quality education:

  1. Cultivating curiosity
  2. Sparking creativity
  3. Pursuing completion of what one takes on- fulfilling commitments
  4. Having a true community of learners where everyone involved in the learning center is engaged with actively learning, reflecting and sharing. (Everyone includes students, teachers, parents, support workers, gardeners, cooks…)
  5. Flexibility of time- why does the school year need to be Sept-June?
  6. Flexibility of student grouping- why do students have to be grouped by age? How can we create opportunities for different students to mix and work together on common goals.
  7. Lastly- when I visit or observe a school for evaluation purposes I always ask the question- would I want my daughter to learn here? for how long?

Re-imagined Education

When I re-imagine education I need to consider this notion on both a personal and societal level. Some describe the raising of a child and the educational process as an arc- starting from birth, early years, primary, secondary, post secondary- each stage has it own challenges and assumptions. It is important to note that we only go through the arcs or educational process once so as parents and schools/learning providers we need to make the most of it for all children. Also I see education as a human right and one that governments need to collectively be responsible for as a means of growing informed citizenship. As a society education is one of the key ways common values and norms along with shared learning takes place.  How does a society sustain what they value when there is significant flight from the mainstream schooling process?

When thinking about tinkering with the educational model either on a personal or societal level it is important to consider the end goals. The decisions we make today and how they may (or may not) impact our children’s opportunities for future are something to be aware of.

Starting backwards with an end goal in mind it is important to note the changes that are occurring in higher education. Personally I am most familiar with the US and UK and have recently learned about new universities popping up in Portugal, France, Africa and Hong Kong. Each university offers its own application process, has its own areas of interest and design.

A few of the more innovative university or higher education programs I am familiar with are listed below:

Minerva– This is a US based design that offers 4 year undergrad degrees in a global context. Students come together housed in a shared accommodation around the world and take classes via zoom with others around the world. Every semester students can change their geography yet maintain their academic program.

The organization has begun to franchise its project based, interdisciplinary approach to high schools to replicate and use as their academic program.

NOVA is the newest, public university in Portugal founded in 1973. Similar to the Oxford or Cambridge model they offer a de-centralized approach and integrate a connection to the UN sustainable goals and a global context. Entrepreneurship is also a theme that runs through their programs.

42 Lisboa is a new, technical training program that is dedicated to producing the next generation of highly skilled coders. Their approach is predicated on the notions of team work, learning from your peers and success measured by the outcome.

Many universities also offer free online courses to anyone interested. MIT, Stanford, Harvard are just some that have full programs available. The difference between free and earning a degree is usually an assessment task and tuition fees. I have heard of some professors who are leading a group of young learners through these free courses while providing them the other aspects of university life i.e. co-living, co-studying…

Besides universities the opportunity for apprenticeships are amazing especially in the UK and Europe. Within an apprenticeship a young person (or older) could combine working full time and earn a degree or advanced degree. This route is fabulous for those who really know what it is they want to do. Here is a link to the UK system. In the US such opportunities don’t typically occur until after university or within a particular trade.

The Road to the Future:

The goal in designing this road encompassing secondary education is to keep options open and not to derail a kid’s future to being accepted at university, achieve an apprenticeship or do something beyond. By homeschooling or attending alternative education it is still possible to apply and be accepted to higher education.  Typically these applications are reviewed differently than those through mainstream.

For the UK- one applies to UCAS and then specific course or subject.  One is admitted via this course.  

For the US- one can apply to specific universities and several of the privates are part of the common application.  

Both routes are alternative and therefore criteria is measured differently.  For applicants from the alternative-ed background it is recommended to play up the fact that you did not go down the mainstream route and be able to have something to show for how you benefited or what you achieved; best to not try to replicate the mainstream system.

Below are a few links to help one navigate the different university routes:

How to apply to UK university as a homeschool applicant Quora Article
Home Education in the UKSummary of different options
Khan Academy article for how to apply to US collegesArticle here
Interesting collection of research that supports homeschooling as a positive contribution to society and personal satisfaction. Article here

Alternative Education Options

This takes us to how best to design alternative education that embraces the interests of learners and fosters curiosity and mastery of learning. Then we ask what is mastery of learning expected to capture while at the same time garnering the interests of the learners? Below are a list of resources for online schooling options that provide some flexibility and in some cases appear in many families’ travel blog recommendations.

URLS for Schooling OptionsAgeDesignKey Elements Standards aligned; live virtual group sessions; asynchronous learning materials premise; high interest learning opportunities in live virtual groups; asynchronous learning materials; varied subscription model; international, year-round. Bonus coupon: Use this code Noodle10 to get a $100 discount when you apply to Galileo US based families this is an organization that provides online learning for either tuition or part of the public school system. traveling families comment that this program works well for them and it is aligned to the UK system. to above, this online program is noted by traveling families and is aligned to the UK system.

Besides the more formal school programs described above there are other resources to help home school/ alternative education programs engage learners and build skills. With the list below a parent or educator could curate learning opportunities for a child and then capture it on some kind of transcript. It would be important that that there be some kind of metric or criteria that measures skills and development of thinking. The elements below are mostly a collection of input tools with West River Academy serving as an outcome validation tool.

OutschoolOnline, face to face learning opportunities lead by teachers offering high interest courses. The platform has grown to offer social groups and longer term courses.
Khan AcademyOnline, self paced skill building courses in math, science, finance and economics. The program is free.
Self Directed LearningHere is a collection of self directed learning resources compiled by Galileo. Lots of good ideas and support.
online learning resourcesHere is a collection of online learning resources compiled by Galileo.
West River AcademyThis group provides accreditation services to families who chose alternative ways of educating their child. The process is simple and through their team they will evaluate and provide students with a transcript.

With these different elements when I personally think about what a reimagined secondary school design would look like I defer to my daughter. She has now experienced five different school designs in her lifetime:

Pre-School- amazing, play based, student directed space with some common activities together and a lot of opportunity to discover new learning together.

Primary School- UK, State School that was organized by age/year groups. It was a mix of basic subjects taught on a schedule with some thematic learning over the course of each term. Here too she had forest school once a week, music lessons, school-wide assemblies and student leadership opportunities.

International School- in Lisbon she attended 4th grade, American curriculum of sorts in a new project based learning environment but there too there was distinct time for the different subjects.

Online, self directed, unschooled program- while we travel she attends Galileo XP where every 6 weeks she engages in a range of high interest boot camps i.e. animation, …

Project based Learning- attended the Hive which has a 6 week term where students learn in person about a common topic and then choose a project related and execute it and then present their findings at the end of the term. In this setting there was every day a group meeting to start the day and set one’s goals/ intentions for the day, time to do the work and then at the end of the day a review of what was (or wasn’t) achieved.

With all these different versions of schooling what we have learned is quality education occurs when learners are able to make connections to what they are learning and its impact on their lives, communities or society overall. The real life connection is what pushes the learning to having impact and building skill. Having a keen and skilled connector i.e teacher/facilitator/coach is crucial as these experiences are difficult to unpack into applied, transferable learning skills.

My 11 year old daughter would suggest that school or learning institutions for kids would be a program like the Hive with 6-week terms, project driven with more clear ways of measuring progress and skill development. If students were given a matrix of skills and over the course of their school journey (not time based) they are able to match what they are doing to progress on some kind of progress bar; this concept gives students ownership of their journey and clarity about skills they are acquiring. Ideally these skills would be couched with the relevancy and different from a mundane exercise class their be a level of excitement, energy and curiosity tapped that propels the momentum to keep going.

In the setting there be a cacaphony of inspirational elements including different animals, bugs, books, collaborative learning spaces, quiet areas,… The day would include a start activity that would energize the learners and help them have clarity for how they will spend their time. Follow this by some kind of physical activity to help align the heart, breathe and mind. Next a block of time for students to choose what to do aligned to their daily goals. It might be a math or writing workshop, some kind of science experiment or investigation, historical connection to a current event… Then lunch and a similar block of time in the afternoon to the morning with there also be an option to work on projects. In the afternoon there would be a closing activity together.

Learning would take place individually, in small groups and as a school. Ideally there would be multiple layers of projects taking place at the same time. Students would have their own project happening while as a school or class group there would be another longer term project taking place perhaps in collaboration with another school or organization. There are some great tools available for schools to take and adapt to help transform their learning environment. Tom Vander Ark, a guru in educational design described how to utilize the Framework for High Quality Project Based Learning. Similarly the Buck Institute group also provides a framework and helps set a standard: PBL.

Feedback on progress would be delivered aligned to an adopted rubric that measures learning. Personally I have always appreciated Webb’s Depths of Knowledge (DOK) and believe it can be applied to a lot of different learning experiences. In this article the DOK is described and sample rubrics for different subject areas are provided. Here too is an example how one school system took this criteria and developed their own rubrics. Key is that learners (and teachers) know what kind of progress is being made and to what degree of mastery.

Within the school context it would be important to build in 1:1 time with a facilitator/coach every couple of weeks at least to help with progress and to make sure the student is developing across a variety of skill areas and subject matter. Also important is to maintain the student’s level of curiosity, creativity and excitement towards learning.

In the perfect world a school would run continuously throughout the year and abandon the agrarian calendar. This would then afford both teachers and families to identify when they need/or want time off so that time in school is meaningful and fulfilling. By shifting the calendar to year round this too could force the travel and tourist industry to adjust and be less crowded during peaks.

Similar to work, school would be a place for learning. The other elements that have over the years become vital elements i.e. competitive sports, clubs and so forth would move back to the ownership of communities. By narrowing schools’ focus they can become real experts and work towards improving quality education for all of its learners.

Students may finish their learning requirements at different times/ different ages depending upon their speed and success. With having varied endings students would be encouraged to take up other interests to more fully investigate prior to jumping in to a university program or work-based program to prepare them for a career. These experiences might include travel and/or volunteer opportunities or somekind of application of learning job-shadowing experience.

At the end of their studies students would have a portfolio that demonstrates their achievements and learning interests. With this portfolio students could apply to higher education and job interests.

Obviously there is more to an ideal secondary school setting which could lead to another blog entry. The key to a reimagined education system is that there is flexibility and focus on building learners’ skills and for them to be adaptable, resilient and persevere towards achievement. Learners need to sustain their curiosity and develop ownership of their learning ideally being fulfilled in the process.

Stay tuned for the next iteration of ‘a more perfect school.’

Published by marasimmons

A passionate educator turned world traveler embarking on a nomadic lifestyle with my family. Learning to appreciate a life where we have the privilege of choosing our destiny and embracing it.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: