Education and Change: A Story of Miracles

Updated: Oct 31

In the 18th century when public education became a "thing", it was designed to meet the needs of a world rapidly industrializing. In its time, public education was a revolutionary concept. It was designed by envisioned, forward looking, passionate men and women who were able to see that if our nation will prosper, children must become educated adults,

Since then, we have evolved from an industrializing nation to a highly developed, technology centered, service and consumer driven economy with a multi-trillion dollar GDP, 70% of which is consumer sales.

The designers of the then, modern system of education knew well to avoid the mindset that says, "We've always done it this way". Clearly, it had no place in the educational world. The visionaries who created the original public school system would never have envisioned our system today, a system frozen in time.

This system, developed three centuries ago was a great plan, until it wasn't. But there is rumbling coming up from the ground. More are agreeing with our educational models and standards since they are beginning to recognize the system is broken. Many are listening. Some are discovering. Some are trying new things tailored for today's students and tomorrow's life. Here's a taste of the miracle of change in education.

It's all about Personalized/Competence-based Learning. In that context there are several major areas of advancement. This post will consider two of the most relevant. Perhaps some other time we will look more carefully at differentiated teaching, micro-credentialing and flipped classrooms, among others.

The Beginnings of Maker Learning

The maker movement is rapidly gaining traction in K-12 schools across America. Maker learning is based on the idea that you will engage students in learning by encouraging interest-driven, problem-solving and hands-on activities (i.e., learning by doing). In collaborative spaces, students identify problems, dream up inventions, make prototypes, and keep tinkering until they develop something that makes sense. It's a do-it-yourself educational approach that focuses on trial and error and views failure as an opportunity to refine and improve. Hmmm. That's starting to sound like Thomas Edison or Shockley, Bardeen and Brittain (the three men who built the first working transistor).

Maker education focuses on learning rather than teaching. Students follow their interests and test their own solutions. For example, that might mean creating a video game, building a rocket, designing historical costumes, or something as unique as 3D-printing an irrigation system for a garden. It can involve high-tech equipment, but it doesn't have to. Repurposing whatever materials are on hand is an important ideal of the maker philosophy. A Maker Space at Paradigm Learning

There is only a little hard data available on the maker trend. However, researchers at Rutgers University are currently studying the cognitive basis for maker education and investigating its connection to meaningful learning. They now offer The Rutgers Makerspace. (

According to Rutgers, this is a collaborative workspace designed for students, faculty, and staff from all academic disciplines who love to learn, design, and create. They provide tools, workspace, and training to enable students to design and create whatever they can dream up. The Rutgers Makerspace provides all the resources for students to learn and develop various making skills, including 3D Printing and Design, Digital Fabrication and Manufacturing, and more traditional making methods like woodworking and sewing.

The spark children once had for learning is being reignited. Students are becoming excited about the possibilities of learning once again.

There is another great change that is fueling this new desire to learn.

There is Movement Away from Letter Grades

Many visionaries in education are convinced that student assessment places too much emphasis on the traditional grading models. There is such emphasis and stress around grades that even a casual observer can see that school has become less about learning and more about passing.

The central problem is that grades do not sufficiently measure any of the most prized skills in the 21st-century workforce such as problem-solving, self-advocacy, and creativity. Grading systems cannot assess or report on core abilities necessary to succeed today. As a result, a growing number of schools around the U.S. are replacing A-F letter grades with new assessment systems.

In 2017, the Mastery Transcript Consortium was formed. This is a group of more than 150 private high schools that have pledged to get rid of grade-based transcripts in favor of digital ones that provide qualitative descriptions of student learning as well as samples of student work. Some of the most famous private institutions in America have signed on, including Dalton and Phillips Exeter.

The no-more-grades movement is taking hold in public schools as well. Many states have enacted policies to encourage public schools to use something other than grades to assess students' abilities. It's part of a larger shift toward what's commonly known as competency-based learning, which strives to ensure that students become proficient in defined areas of skill, not merely memorizing a set of facts so a test can be passed.

But what happens when it's time to apply to college? The trend continues because colleges and universities are also recognizing the lack of validity in letter grades.

At least 75 higher education institutions across New England, including Dartmouth and Harvard, have said that students with competency-based transcripts will not be disadvantaged during the admission process.

It is indeed a miracle in the making (Pun intended)! Something that is terribly broken can be healed. But, to do so we need to become visionaries as were the founders of the original public education system. We need to work at it and fail, and fail, and fail, until we are no longer failing our children. This will require a lot of effort and courage, just as the original founders of the educational system demonstrated.

Because learning is what's most important. So let's get back to it. Competency is gained by developing skills in Maker environments, something that books and test-taking can not create and grades cannot measure.

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