Speaker: Let kids customize learning

Tom Vander Ark asks the questions: “What if kids co-created customized learning pathways?” And what if students drove their learning, using new digital tools and attending new models of schools?

Tom Vander Ark
Tom Vander Ark

Vander Ark asked this Tuesday of the lawmakers and education leaders attending this month’s Ed Sessions luncheon sponsored by the J.A. and Kathryn Albertson Foundation.

“It’s where we’re headed nationally,” he said. “We’ll get there, the question is how.”

He shared his model of  schools and what they need to transition to:

Textbooks — Digital content
Passive — Active
Age cohorts — Individual progress
Annual tests — Instant feedback
Teachers — Teams
Sequential — Adaptive

He told attendees it’s not that hard to transform a school or district, and he’s excited to see Idaho take the plunge into customized learning for every kid.

“Put me in the enthusiastic column,’’ he said. “I’m excited about the potential impact here.”

Vander Ark is CEO of Getting Smart, a learning advocacy firm. Previously he served as the first executive director of education for the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. Vander Ark, an educator and former public school superintendent in Washington state, has turned to advocacy and writing, including a daily blog for the national publication Education Week.

“We need to shift to personal, digital learning,” he said. “I think this is a really big deal.”

He said the first step is to join the conversation and plug into next generation learning: blended digital and classroom instruction.

The second step is to make the teaching profession more collaborate and customized.

“We’ve seen an explosion in interest-based learning, and anywhere-any time learning opportunities,” Vander Ark said. “We’re living in the most important and interesting time of our lives. The new ecosystem is to share and learn from each other, both as educators and students.”

The third step, he said, is to study in person what others are doing and what can be modeled.

“Field trips have been life-changers for me,” said Vander Ark, who has visited more than 2,000 schools.

The fourth step is to find and leverage teacher-leaders. These exceptional teachers should mentor, support teachers who are struggling. Through digital tools, these teachers can reach more students.

Vander Ark asked two Idaho superintendents to share their ideas for innovation. Meridian Superintendent Linda Clark talked about a growing emphasis on project-based learning: taking what students learn and applying it.

“Real-world solutions raise the bar,” Clark said.

In Emmett, blended learning is becoming more popular, Superintendent Wayne Rush said.

Click here to read Vander Ark’s article on the Top 10 methods toward customized learning for students.

Disclaimer: Idaho Education News and ED Sessions are both funded by the J.A. and Kathryn Albertson Foundation.

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