What would classroom teaching look like?

Yesterday we painted a picture of what school would look like if we were developing students as collaborative innovators ready to take on complex, real-world problems. The vision is both inspiring and daunting – we want this to happen but can’t imagine how to get there. As one reader asked, “what are all the behind-the-scene pieces that are needed to make this happen?”

This is a great question. Hopefully we can address it today as we explore what a Save the World school might look like from a teacher’s perspective.

What would classroom teaching look like if we were developing students to be collaborative innovators ready to tackle the world’s most complex problems?

Picture this:

You are a 6th grade geography teacher at Save the World Schools. You know you are preparing students for a future of independence and collaborative problem-solving that requires the thinking of every discipline.

Your morning begins by welcoming the 8 students in your Neighborhood Challenge workgroup. They have been investigating an environmental hazard just a few miles from the school building and you have been coaching them as they use geographic thinking to map environmental hazards across the city and determine which schools suffer the greatest health risks due to these hazards. Today you and your two 12th grade assistants help them use global imaging software to plot the hazards and schools on the city grid. With several hours to figure it out, there is time for trial and error, questions, dead-ends and re-starts. You don’t iron out the complications and confusing parts beforehand — that is where the real learning occurs — so you give yourself and students time to deal with problems as they arise as you work on the task.

Behind the scenes:

Utilizing older students to mentor, guide, and teach younger students builds community and develops older students’ leadership skills. It also frees up time for the adult teachers. While the teacher helps facilitate sessions, the 12th grade assistants are also there to provide one-on-one support to the younger students and to help provide feedback on student work throughout the lesson.

Each “workgroup” of 6-10 students will begin the first 2-3 hours of their day with a different teacher doing something similar – working on their Neighborhood Challenge problem through the lens of one discipline. Students choose which challenge they are most interested in from a list provided by the teachers at the beginning of the year. They then rotate through the various disciplines, spending 3-4 weeks looking at the problem through the lens of geography followed by a few weeks looking at it through the lenses of the other disciplines – math, science, journalism, art.

After this session you debrief with your 12th grade assistants and collaborate with them to plan for the next session.

Behind the scenes:

Teachers gather in August before students arrive to determine Neighborhood Challenge projects that are relevant for students and the school community. Adequate time is devoted to collaboration between all the teachers in the grade level so each one has time to gather resources and plan ways to support each project. This is the biggest instructional push – coaching students as they investigate the issue through the lens of a discipline – so teachers devote most of their planning time to this endeavor.

In the afternoon all students rotate through tutorials in each discipline where they utilize technology to work through modules of learning at an individualized pace. Your geography students are learning about globalization through an online trade simulation and research about a company of their choice. You help the students set goals at the start of the session, observe their work and confer with them about their learning, and then help them track progress toward their goals based on the work they’ve completed. They reflect and share out with the class how their understanding of the concepts of trade, globalization, and power are changing as they progress through the lessons. Eventually, this understanding will inform students’ Neighborhood Challenge projects.

Behind the scenes:

Solid technological supports ensure that teachers spend their afternoon time coaching and supporting students, not necessarily presenting new information themselves. Whether students are investigating concepts through online videos similar to Khan Academy, reading groups differentiated by novel, or games and simulations, curriculum and resources allow teachers to be facilitators and feedback-givers rather than just presenting information.

As a teacher, you see your classroom as a workshop. Students are working – thinking, investigating, reading, writing, collaborating – and you are facilitating their work and investigating a complex problem along with them. You have the time to follow a big project through to the end. You feel invigorated because you and your students are making a difference.

We realize that this vision is not something you can implement completely without a complete redesign of school. What do you do if your school doesn’t provide the structures to make this happen?

Don’t despair; it is still possible to teach this way. Design a real-world project that allows students to use math, reading, writing, geography, art, or science (whatever you teach) to investigate and solve a problem. Help students uncover concepts that are central to the project. Devote plenty of time to the same task to allow for students to overcome challenges on their way though a messy, real-world process. Reach out to colleagues – Can the English teacher help students revise their solution proposals? Can the math teacher help students use ratios and percentages to represent the impact of the problem on various populations? Ask for help from older students – Can older kids serve as tutors after school or be excused from one class to come support your students? What about parents? You’d be surprised what you can come up with.
















Categories: Stage 5: Students as World Changers

1 reply


  1. 5 Stages of Shifting Control to Students « Education to Save the World

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