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Thinking Outside the Box: New K12 Learning Models

Friday, May 12, 2017

At the 2017 ASU GSV Education Technology Summit, KLS Executive Director Dominic Liechti participated in a panel titled “Thinking Outside the Box: New K12 Learning Models.” The conversation included education leaders from AltSchool, K12.com, and GEMS, and it addressed gravitational shifts in K12 learning dynamics. Watch the video below, and read on for highlights from the hour-long panel.

MODERATOR:
Brian Greenberg, CEO, Silicon Schools Fund

PANELISTS:
Allison Cleveland, Executive Vice President of School Management and Services, K12.com
Colleen Broderick, Vice President of Pedagogy and Research, AltSchool
Denise Gallucci, CEO, GEMS Education Americas and The Education Partners
Dominic Liechti, Executive Director & President, Khan Lab School

The following excerpted quotes are from the ASU + GSV panel on New K12 Learning Models.

“What's one tangible thing that captures why your school looks a little bit different than the schools that we probably went to?”

Allison Cleveland, K12.com:
I think ours is the most obvious because by and large, our kids are actually not going to a brick-and-mortar school. So what looks different to us is our kids are largely working from a home-based setting, some blended centers here and there, and what we're trying to do is meet the need of those kids. They wouldn't be coming to us if where they were currently sitting had been working for them, so why are they coming to us? We are working one by one to figure out, “What does that child need, and how do we make that child successful?”

Denise Gallucci, GEMS:
Our school in Chicago, The World Academy, is networked with seven other world academies in different countries around the world. Our students spend four days in the school and one day in the field. The classroom collaborative groups that they have are not the four students or five students sitting at their table but a student in Dubai, one in France, one in Singapore. And beginning in first, second grade, students are learning how to operate in the cloud, how to navigate time zones, getting up at six o'clock in the morning in the second grade to ensure that all students are on their video conference, and so it's certainly providing a truly global perspective, from our earliest learners.

Dominic Liechti, Khan Lab School:
For us, it is all about student agency. They’re working on goal time, self-directed learning. Our kids in elementary, about 25% of the time they're working with edtech tools on their content. In middle school, about 35% of the time, and now we're opening a high school and it’s starting at 40% of the time. The second part is really the independence. We are disconnecting grade levels from academics, and we call this Independence Levels. Our Independence Levels are focusing on self-management, time management, collaboration, focus, motivation.

Colleen Broderick, AltSchool:
What really differentiates us and what we're trying to accomplish is how do we empower more models. We're not looking to replicate our own, but how do we ensure other models have exactly the right data that they need to support kids and what their needs are and what they're ready for. So I would say in terms of innovation, it really is, “How do we dig deeply into understanding assessment flow? How do we understand clearly where students may be in relation to their goals?” And how to connect those in very vibrant and real ways to the right content and ensure that they're linked up appropriately to different mentors, to different organizations, so that their learning holds relevant and is contextualized.

“What does it feel like early in piloting, versus once you become a district?”

Colleen Broderick, AltSchool:
For AltSchool, the reason we went with micro-schools is we wanted to be first outside of the system. I absolutely agree that the “district” institution is really sometimes paralyzing in terms of innovation; so we wanted to be in a space where we work outside of some of those regulations, even though we are certainly using tools that show where our students are in terms of standardized metrics. We wanted to be in a place where we could try something differently, see what teachers were doing without imposing something first, and go ahead and surface, “What are those things that serve as the greatest levers, and then how do we use technology to signal those? How do we use technology to ensure that we organize for those so that we can accelerate what it can look like in the learning environment?”

If we continue to think about thinking outside the K12 box as “schools,” we will not get very far. We need to begin to think about how we get beyond schools to really learner-centric environments. How do we coordinate a system around a learner, whether it's beginning with agency levels, whether it's starting with rich curriculum, whether it's creating this space for really deep connections across the community – until we start investigating how we empower those things, then we're not going to step outside of the box.

Brian Greenberg, Moderator:
What have you found to be big levers within AltSchool that do unlock something different?

Colleen Broderick, AltSchool:
I would say probably one of the greatest things that has helped us understand how to really shift the culture of learning is having a portfolio of data… what does that look like when you combine online tools? What does that look like when you combine teacher-generated assessments? What does that look like when you combine captures of emergent moments of learning alongside anecdotal evidence... broadening the story of what learning is, and being able to organize that in ways to respond. It pushes the confines of what you need to consider to support that learner.

Dominic Liechti, Khan Lab School:
I would like to add, in terms of quality assurance, one piece or another level that we haven't discussed yet. In our vision, one of the “A’s” we have is Art of Teaching. These days, we are forgetting the teachers. We’re all about the teachers [at Khan Lab School], because their role is changing in our model. The student role is also changing from being a consumer to being more of a creator in our system.

Before we start [to scale], we said, “No, let's focus first on a teacher training center.” Because I cannot build any more airplanes without having my crew, my pilots, in those airplanes. We're going to start first with the teacher training center, because then teachers can come to our school, see it in action, maybe take one or two elements back home to their schools and can improve already on a small scale something where we can infuse innovation.

“What makes you think this time it'll be different? That the work that you will do in your micro-schools or your pilot settings will be replicable, and won't just be eaten up by the entity called ‘schools’?”

Denise Gallucci, GEMS:
There's a very sobering statistic from the U.S. Labor Statistics that says 65% of grade school students will populate jobs that have yet to be created. So if you look at the current model, how do we then prepare those students? And that to me is a very scary thought. So when you operate at both ends, you have to meet somewhere in the middle to ensure that students can think and adapt and be resilient.

Colleen Broderick, AltSchool:
This is a call for the need of parallel paths, right? This is a call for ensuring that we continue to make improvements within our current system but that we need to populate a parallel path as richly and as deeply so that we are continuing to look for solutions, we are continuing to think differently about how to serve kids in the future, and absolutely they'll converge at some point; but if we are limited by thinking about “How do we change the current system”... we can't disrupt ourselves. We know there needs to be a space where we're trying and doing different things that can inform what's happening within the current system. So I appreciate the point, I think it's important to call out, and we need to ensure that we're building an incredible depth on the other side of it as well.

“What could this look like if we assume brick-and-mortar won't always be the dominant force? Or even, let's say there's a physical place we send kids for the custodial reasons we have schools: what could be happening at our schools? When you dream about what your kids might someday do if they worked in education, what's on your mind?”

Allison Cleveland, K12.com:
Having kids myself that are in grade school… it felt a little bit like, “I am sticking my child on the great assembly line of U.S. education, and I will get them back in 13 years and pray that they have a plan.” You know? You drop them off in the morning, and you pick them up in the afternoon, and you largely don't know what happens during the day. And through K12, I get to see the vision… They're no longer tied down by the 9:00 to 3:00 traditional schedule. They're getting to participate in apprenticeship programs. You know, one school we have in Wisconsin that does career/tech, we’ve partnered with the operator engineer local union. They're getting to learn how to operate big machines, but they can do their math a little bit in the morning and a little bit at night, and their day is free to go have hands-on experiences that are preparing them for the future… it's neat to see how much more there is out there then “drop your kid off at 9:00 and pick them up at 3:00.”

Dominic Liechti, Khan Lab School:
It’s great that you're saying that because it really ties into our vision that we have for our high school. We’d actually like to design it as a co-working space. Because we don’t know if a high schooler still needs to go to college – you can just do that on the job, right? And we’re thinking about with this Ownership Time, 40% on their own, but the rest, as you said, internships, apprenticeships. Our students were just a couple of weeks ago with IndieBio in San Francisco, a biotech accelerator. Our students were there for two weeks and were working in their real science lab outside of school. And at home, they could work online on their content. So I think that will change within the high school.

“So grade level goes away. Grades go away. What timeframe? How many years?”

Denise Gallucci, GEMS:
I wish I could predict that because I’d probably be a lot more successful than I am today. I think in the next 10 years we will see some big changes.

Dominic Liechti, Khan Lab School:
We don't have grades anymore already, and it works perfectly. There's no stigma on grade level, or what is an A or what is a B. They get qualitative, narrative feedback. There's actually a dialogue happening after they get back an assessment. But I think what we need to focus on is content, context, and concepts, right? They're applying their content in different contexts, and they're connecting it to larger concepts. We call it macro-concepts, such as relationships, identity. I think it’s way more important that they see those relationships amongst those different concepts.

We're taking all the numbers out and we’re creating a portfolio where they're adding their authentic YouTube videos, their projects, everything that they have experienced – their reflection on the concept. That goes into the portfolio, and that's what they take then to the college. And that's how we're going to change the college admissions part, as well, in that regard. I think it's really about authenticity here.

Allison Cleveland, K12.com:
I think that the trouble is, in the public school sector, you have to do that. You said, “What are we willing to do to slay the dragon?” Well, we need to keep – we want to keep – our schools open. And to keep them open in several of our states, your kids have to take the SAT. And if they don't score a certain score on average, your accountability is is damaged in the state. So trying to play within the current system, you're forced to check all the boxes of what the public school system is telling you you have to do: your authorizers, your state and federal governments. So we're doing a lot to have the privilege of even operating.

We're trying to innovate and really provide to kids a unique opportunity… let's convince the legislators that you know what the future of education looks like.

Denise Gallucci, GEMS:
If you look from a standards perspective, you mentioned that we keep adding on: “you have to know this, and you have to be able to do this, and there's another course.” I also think that will change. And the Jenga puzzle – what needs to come out and what needs to come in – I think that will start to happen within a five-year time frame.

Colleen Broderick, AltSchool:
Yeah, and I think we're coming from the opposite direction, because as Dominic’s saying, we don't have grades, and we too are in grade bands. We don't have letter grades – until our students leave. And then when our students leave, we have to come up with a transcript, and that transcript has to translate to a different environment, and grades are a proxy that serve as a unit of communication. And so we can be helpful in that conversation, instead of starting with the grade and backtracking to what’s purposeful about learning, starting with, “What's purposeful about learning? How do you represent it? How do you translate it? And then how do you communicate it across multiple environments?” So I do think we are positioned to begin to lead that conversation more deeply.

Brian Greenberg, Moderator:
I like your Jenga image: you know like in California, A to G courses, SAT, you put all those buckets in... I, for my children, am willing to pull out some big buckets. I'm willing to have them be a little light in this subject because they got fiery and passionate about that one. But here's my question: the more academically underprepared a kid is, the less they have parents like you all at home guiding them, the riskier this is and the harder it is to pull off.

“What do you all think about this in the hardest to serve communities, the lowest income communities? How is it working? Do you have optimism? Or could this unintentionally exacerbate the achievement gap?”

Dominic Liechti, Khan Lab School:
I think it comes down to ownership and relationship: how you do your one-on-one conversations in the learning context you’re in. When I was teaching in an inner-city school district, I was really focusing on that relationship piece with my students, and it really helped them because they didn't get the support from home. It was all about the relationship that I had with the students in that particular setting, and I think that's what we need to focus on, regardless of all the regulation into it. And that's also what we’re doing at Khan Lab School with the graduation requirement, with independence as a second layer but also character strengths and cognitive skills which are going to be fostered in those relationships. So we need role models, we need teacher training.

“What part of education do tech people not get? Why has education been so immune to change?”

Denise Gallucci, GEMS:
It's a people business.

Dominic Liechti, Khan Lab School:
Yes.

Denise Gallucci, GEMS:
We talked about the relationships, and the importance of place and society and service and creating global citizens, and when technology can do that, then perhaps we're one algorithm away. But right now it's that human interaction, that heart-to-heart, and that’s the problem… the data is very helpful, and the software tools and technology are helpful, but the child's going through a crisis in their lifetime and there's only a person on the other end – the other end of a video chat or a hand on a shoulder that says, “This is going to be okay, and you're going to get through this, and I care about you.” And so, for that, I don't know that an algorithm can take the place of a loving and caring individual who tells you, “You can do this.”

Allison Cleveland, K12.com:
I completely agree. And those people don't scale necessarily. You know you're going to need one of those for every X number of kids, no matter how many kids you have, but I think it can look different than what it looked like when we were kids, and how it looks for our kids. Where technology can help is kids today are so different than kids of five years ago or ten years ago. What they perceive as socialization doesn't necessarily mean sitting next to somebody in the same room, you know, but there has to be this somebody that cares about them. They need the interaction, not only with other adults but with other students, but it can look vastly different than it looks like in a brick-and-mortar today.

Dominic Liechti, Khan Lab School:
Yes, for me personally, it's also all about human touch. Initially we had too much technology and we paddled back with that. We added more teachers to it. We have the same ratio as any other private school right now in terms of student-teacher ratio. I mean that's the key, it's all about human touch and building relationships. But the last point is also: I think we all have to relinquish control. I think that's the key thing as well. Sure, the tech gives us a lot of control, but we also need the trust because that builds confidence in a student and then a student will disclose more and give/receive feedback in that regard.

“What's the one thing you wish we could have covered in this panel?”

Allison Cleveland, K12.com:
I think there's not going to be one solution that works for every single kid. And part of solving the crisis of education in the country is figuring out, “What are the hundred different solutions and every iteration within so that we have a solution for every kind of kid that we're trying to serve?” Clearly, every child is unique, but I think we can say there are similarities across. So what's going to be the solution for the high-functioning autistic kid that can maybe work for 70% of those kids? What's going to be the solution for the gifted and talented kid who really needs some different kind of pushing and enrichment? And we need to piece those together, and it's going to take thousands of solutions, not one solution.

Colleen Broderick, AltSchool:
I think, Dominic, you were getting at it in terms of the learner role is different, the educator role is different. How do we mobilize a community to serve as a teacher for all? And how do we position students differently in that in that dialogue? That’s something I would love to continue to explore.

Denise Gallucci, GEMS:
On the organizing piece: there are so many models that are happening in parallel that are really gaining steam and are showing their level of effectiveness. How do we continue to organize ourselves to continue to have these conversations so that we grow and we learn from one another, and we're able to amplify and scale? I think that so much of what's happening is happening in isolation, and we need to build an ecosystem to create one conversation.

Dominic Liechti, Khan Lab School:
It's just not one stance. It cannot be one stance. It's all different contexts. But what’s missing at the moment is collaboration between the different contexts, and that's what we need to focus on: using all the synergies amongst all the different contexts.

Brian Greenberg, Moderator:
I do think we have to listen to the technologists. I do think we have to listen to the futurists. And I hope people will also listen to the educators. As I've said for a long time, anyone who says, “Oh, this will be easy,” just walk away from them. And anyone who says, “This is impossible,” run away from them.