I had the privilege of sharing lunch with Gever Tulley , the master of fooling around at TedXBloomington.
Many people know Gever for his now famous TED talk about Tinkering School, or for his book ” 50 Dangerous things you should let your children do”. ( associate link). He also did a TED talk around this theme, listing 5 Dangerous things.
He is in the process of starting a new school which will open this fall: Brightworks. His talk at TedXBloomington explained more about the philosophy of the new school.
While listening to his talk, my first reaction was ” I want to teach there”. but moving to San Francisco is not a reality for us, so that quickly shifted to “I want to open the Midwest Branch of Brightworks here”. Part of the reason for this gut reaction is that his theories resonate strongly with much of my education, so I know it works. I was not schooled in some odd charter school, but rather in the public schools of Maryland, back in in the 1970s (shhh) in the Cambrian Era of Education. I grew up in Open Spaced schools, with “unclassrooms”. Then even with the move to High School, we were allowed to test out of the planned curriculum and then design our own research and investigation projects for a month or so at a time. This was in Science, Social Studies/History and English. We did not have the number of outside expert resources coming into our schools, but I grew up between Baltimore and Philadelphia, in an area rich with external resources. When my partner and I wanted to do more research on the Origins of Man for one project, the school system tracked down every Bus already going Down to Washington DC for a field trip, rerouted them to come by and pick us up in the morning, drop us off at the Museum of Natural History and then picked us up to go home at the end of the day. We did this every day for a week, then came back to the school and integrated what we learned with other resources to produce our project. This was not an isolated example, our teachers and the system wanted us to explore and learn and supported it every way they could.
The biggest reason I believe that Brightworks will be a massive success is the student to teacher ratio. At Brightworks the student to teacher ratio will only be 6:1. Our student :teacher ratio was slightly higher than that, but much of the education I got was small group or individual so the interactions with teachers were personal. Starting my Sophmore year, we were designated the first graduating class of a brand new high school. We were the upper classmen, so teachers had far fewer students to track and manage. Regardless of teaching technique, lowering the student:teacher ratio is good for learning. It returns us to our roots of Apprenticeship programs where only small numbers of students learned from Masters. It gives teachers the luxury of time to get to really know and understand how each student learns best and to tailor the experience for them, rather than attempting to mass produce learners from a School Factory.
I believe that what Brightworks is doing is the way that most teachers naturally want to teach, given time and freedom, and more importantly matches how all of us naturally learn. Think hard about how you learn new things, now that you are out of school- I doubt it matches the current modern classroom experience.
They are taking some care to try to balance gender, etc. in the school- so if you are in the San Francisco area and have a girl between the ages of 6-9 check them out they still have about a half a dozen openings. With a policy to have half their students on scholarship, this will not be an experience that is limited to the privileged few.
I am very excited about this experiment and hope the students end up sharing their expositions digitally as well, so we can follow along on their exciting journey of learning.