How Can Different Models of Education Better Your School?
Maddie Brother: Student Journalist
All around us the idea of “being yourself” is advertised but what does that really mean? In society we are told constantly to be you, but what they don’t include is the fine print; “be yourself but only within these limited, strict parameters.”
In my community and in many others in the state of Kentucky middle and high school students are given a specific model of who they can be and are told that they have to make that daunting, life changing decision of who they want to be and what they want to do right now. with only that limited information To some students this is perfectly alright, they have known what they want to do with their life since day one. But others, through this unfair, cookie cutter system, lose all individuality and fall into categories and standards that aren't always the best for them just because that’s all that is being offered.
I believe that by opening our minds to different models and systems of education, we can create a school society where “be you” is actually true.
“Career pathways” is a term used to describe an integrated continuum of education, training, and support programs that enable individuals to succeed educationally, to secure employment in a specific industry or occupational sector of importance to local economies. This sounds like a great idea for high schoolers who need a little push into the right field but only if this model of education is done correctly. For instance, at my school we have very limited options for a career pathway. There’s business, medical, engineering, and a few agriculture pathways. If a student is interested in getting on track within one of these careers that’s great, but if they’re not then their choice is to either defy the counselors' expectations and choose to not be in a career pathway or to be forced into one that isn’t always suitable for them as a career.
During a survey I got to hear many responses from a diverse group of students and although these students go to different schools and have different systems, all of them seemed to agree on one thing; career pathways are not benefiting ALL students. When asked if they believe career pathways are helping them find their path, ultimately leading to success one student responded with, “No, because students are forced to pick a pathway, which might be irrelevant to what they want their future career to be. Since there are only three kinds of pathways to choose from, this doesn’t give students the ability to branch out and find their own interests… Unless you’re going into a career in agriculture, business, or health you’re on your own when it comes to being properly prepared.”
Another student responded to the same question with, “Career pathways are so emphasized at our school, but the options usually only fall under agriculture, medicine, business, and engineering. This either leads students to not bother with a pathway or be pressured into a class which does not give any credit benefit.”
Many of the other students had the same kind of response. Some said that “career pathways are helping some find their paths but not all.” Overall the general response was the same. Career pathways are not benefiting all students and helping them find their path to success. I believe that there are ways to fix this broken model for the better of all varieties of students.
A different solution?
How can we fix it? Honestly, there are many ways to fix this model of education. We can repair the career pathways system by expanding the different tracks. Students responded to the survey saying they'd like to see, “more arts programs, as well as science based classes.” “reading/writing pathway or criminal justice pathway.” “Education, communication, and law” All of these pathways described by students are ways we can expand the limited options given to students.
However, what if I said that there are different levels, categories, and models of education that could help students expand their interests and not force them in any path. Instead students could learn more about themselves and their social surroundings before being pushed into a decision that doesn’t always benefit them as much as possible.
Background of education models
There are a variety of ways that education has been done over the years. There’s STEM, Project-based learning (PBL), Inquiry, Interdisciplinary, Neuroscience, Place-based learning, and Multiage learning. All of these different levels and forms of education bring something to the table and should not be overlooked.
An article by Education Week introduces “35 High Schools Worth Visiting'' and describes what each school system seems to be doing to work so well. For example, San Diego high school Kearny High School of Digital Media and Design revolves around a student-centered project based learning system, Minnesota's New Country School is centered around interest based learning. Both of these models have students learning their curriculum but also taking time to partake in passion projects to expand their interests on the topics.
Another school on the list is Casco Bay High School and it runs as an expeditionary learning school, described as keeping the school’s goals “clear, ambitious, and essential.” Students engage in “long term interdisciplinary projects that result in demonstration of learning.”
All of the 35 featured schools offer something special that benefits all students and makes learning and education more interesting and effective.
After looking into all of these models two systems stood out to me the most.
One of the models of education that stands out to me the most is project-based learning (PBL).
In an article by Educators of America titled, “What is Project-Based Learning?” PBL is described as, “a revitalization of education for students so that they can develop intellectually and emotionally. By using real-world scenarios, challenges, and problems, students gain useful knowledge and skills that increase during their designated project periods.”
By utilizing this model of education students can explore what interests them and pursue making their own decisions with their own knowledge/research, and review their own and their peers’ processes and projects. Allowing students to have this wide range of freedom while also creating an open learning environment can help all students better understand what they want in life and begin to scratch the surface of who they are as an individual.
When conducting a survey for students about the different models of education, when asked about PBL and if it would be an effective learning style for middle-high schoolers all of the responses were in favor of this model. One student said, “I like this idea. You want to go into a career that you’ll enjoy doing daily. If you have a passion, and you want to make it a career, it would be best to have these types of classes and programs.”
Another response from the same survey says, “It would allow students to dig deeper into their interests and possibly prepare them for a better life.”
Not only does this method of learning greatly benefit students in developing as an individual and lead them to success in the real world it also impacts the teachers.
In an article by a teacher in Columbus, IN, titled, “How Project-Based Learning Changes The Teacher” Andrew Larson goes into great detail how PBL has changed how he teaches for the better. “Practicing PBL as my ‘day job’ has changed me in many ways… improving as an educator. So even though my PBL time is half of my career… more than 50% of my personal and professional growth have occurred during the past decade.” Larson goes on to describe how PBL has changed him for the better through taking more responsible risks in life, everything becoming a project, improvement in communication skills, an increase in community involvement, and more. “It cannot be overstated how much the authentic and rich experiences that teachers bring to their students through Project-Based Learning will invariably impact themselves as well.” -Andrew Larson.
The other model of education that stood out to me was place-based education (PBE).
This model of learning is described as, “an approach that connects learning and communities with the primary goals of increasing student engagement, boosting academic outcomes, impacting communities and promoting understanding of the world around us.” This form of education would allow students to learn through their communities and understand the world around them. Students could explore different ways of life and relate it back to where they are from. PBE could easily expand students’ opportunities to further understand their identity and what they want to do in life without being forced into an unwanted pathway.
During my survey when I asked students about place-based education, the responses varied but none of them were anything negative or against PBE. One student said, “Yes, it gives students the chance to better understand what they are learning.”
Another student responded, “Yes, because it provides real-world situations to help students to grow and develop with their learning.”
Furthermore, during my research I came across an article from Edutopia called, “A Student’s Perspective on Place-Based Learning” written by Grace Whitmore, a Hood River Middle School Alum. In the article Whitmore states, “With place-based learning, this simple connection from student to creek to neighborhood brought me a sense of cause and effect that I never quite found in a textbook.” She goes on to say, “Community became very important to me after going to HRMS, and I love to work on projects where I can be involved with people and take action. I doubt I’d have such an interest in connecting to the place where I live if HRMS hadn’t fostered that through place-based learning.”
From this account and direct responses from students in different regions of Kentucky I can come to the conclusion that PBE is an effective model of education for students to embrace their community and develop in their learning.
Gather all the facts
After reading this article I hope you can grasp onto all the opportunities that will be open for students through these different models of education. Whether it is project-based learning where students periodically take part in passion projects in order to expand and explore their interests or place-based learning where students receive a better understanding of their community and social surroundings or even if it’s another model that will help students reach their own goals for success.
To conclude, this story is not an argument for any model of education or any type of school, it is a story for the students.
High school is already a difficult time as it is; teenagers experiencing new things, stress of grades because they actually mean something now, anxiety of not knowing what’s next, and just trying to figure out who you are and what you’re meant to do in life. It’s a tense but exciting time in life and students don’t need the added unease of limited options and opportunities.
We deserve to be able to explore our interests and find ourselves without being pushed onto a path that doesn’t lead to success. Now this method may be perfect for some people who have known what they want to do in life since they could make a decision but many high schoolers don’t know the first thing about their future and deserve the chance to expand their interests rather than be sucked into a path that’s not for them.
“Be yourself” they tell us, but what if we don’t know how to do that with the options given?
I hope after reading this story you are motivated to make a change within your middle/high school that will better the students' growth and help them build their own versions of success.