I recently had the good fortune to visit the Discovery 1 school in my home town, Christchurch, New Zealand. It is an experimental primary level school, which leads into an experimental secondary school called Unlimited. It really was an inspirational tour, as they have changed so many of the tried and true tennants of public education, but always for the better.
From 5 years old, the children learn about what they are interested in so the focus is on them being taught to discover their own knowledge. In addittion, they are also taught the associated skills that support this: choosing educatonal goals, planning how to acheive these goals (so essentially creating their own lesson plans), managing their time, recognising ‘blind spots’ in their knowledge and resolving them, and at the end of the topic, creating an output that will fairly represent the knowledge they have gained (their equivalent of assessment). The essentials are still taught in more structured sessions, but the majority of time is self directed. The result is that they may now know as many facts, but that they can readily get up to speed on any given topic with no external assistance. I think this is such a valuable technique in the modern world, when your facts can be out of date in six months. Another huge benefit is that students stay modivated, because they are constantly doing what they enjoy, to the extent that while a lunch break is available, most students just stop long enough to eat their food, then get with back to ‘work’, which is probably more like focused ‘play’ to them.
Many things have been changed in interesting ways, often directly opposite to traditional techniques. The school is in the central city, on the third floor, above the central bus station – fitness is done in the town square and they have converted a balcony into a playground. Parents are not only allowed, but encouraged to come to school with the children for extended periods, and help them – they receive training in how to help, and many eventually start helping other students too. There are no distinct classrooms – it is like an open plan school, with different clusters of children. No students have their own desks – they all work on share larger desks, computer tables, beanbags or the floor – wherever they feel comfortable.
The teachers certinly have some interesting stories to tell – they have had over 4000 visitors tour through the school in the last 5 years it has been open, but sadly, they say they have had more visitors from Taiwan than they have from New Zealand’s ministry of education. Having said that the MOE does fund the school like any other (they get no special privilidges) and is interested in leaning from the initiative.
You can find a little more information at www.discovery1.school.nz.