Education needs to be an integrated component of the community. To move towards this vision our focus as Learn Deep is on the following 3 components:
- Learning becomes largely inquiry based, with student voice and choice, aligned with adopted learning standards, and leveraging, through collaborative relationships, expertise, resources and programs existing in the community.
- Learning is interdisciplinary in nature, requesting participation from a diverse set of participants, both in the formal education setting, as well as from both industry and community.
- Build an infrastructure of the networked relationships desired to facilitate early exposure to career options, encourage a diverse participation in career-oriented learning (high school, higher ed) and foster a strong regional, equitable, diverse and innovation oriented workforce.
What might this look like?
The teachers in the first cohort of our Fellows Program had three big goals for their students. The ways we structured the engagement of students, teachers, and community partners were designed to support those goals.
I want my students to see the opportunities available to them in Milwaukee
For this to happen, students need not just exposure to careers, but the chance to find individuals they connect with on a career path that inspires them.
- Industry advisors and near-peer mentors from higher-ed are engaged regularly over the course of project work to both support the work of K-12 students and allow students to build a network of personal connections that allows them to see the possibilities open to them.
- Partners from higher-ed, industry and non-profits offer field experiences for students and teachers that connect directly to and support students’ work on projects, giving students and teachers a broader view of the work that takes place within the community.
- Through their collaboration on projects, educators and community partners have the opportunity to build both relationships and a deeper understanding of the goals and capabilities each side brings and where those can align to support students in every richer and more challenging work.
I want my students to see themselves as creators and not simply consumers of technology
For this to happen students need to see that they can use the skills they do have and develop skills they might now lack to take on problems they care about.
- Projects give students the opportunity to develop and leverage new skills and technologies in pursuit of a challenge they care deeply about.
- Projects are interdisciplinary by design with opportunities to leverage skills and resources across subject areas.
- Projects engage students across multiple schools and grade levels and provide opportunities for those students and their teachers to learn from, inspire, and support each other in their work.
- The challenges students take on have the potential to evolve over multiple years, building on what students and educators have built and learned along the way.
- Schools and students can leverage and further develop the particular skills, capabilities, resources, and relationships they have to support others engaged in the challenge at hand.
I want my students to see themselves as being able to make a difference in their community
For this to happen, students need to engage in real-world challenges and see that their work is recognized and valued by members of the broader community.
- Projects are focused on issues students care about that offer multiple points of engagement across grade levels.
- Projects are structured to provide multiple opportunities for the work of students, teachers, partners to be shared with the broader community.
What does it take to get there?
All of this requires that educators and partners learn together how to develop community engaged learning experiences that inspire students and develop the skills they need. If one has any sense of urgency (as we do), then we must also break down the silos and build the relationships between stakeholders that allow for honest and meaningful collaboration. Thus, the structure for the design and implementation of community engaged learning experiences mirrors the end product:
- Teachers collaborate with each other and partners from higher-ed, industry, and non-profits in the design, execution, and evolution of community-engaged learning experiences for their students.
All of this is a pretty big change for teachers accustomed to working inside the walls of their classrooms. Most don’t have relationships that connect them to peers and partners willing to collaborate to bring an idea to life. Few have experience in the design and execution of project based learning experiences. Few have exposure to, let alone comfort with, agile processes that can help them manage the inherent uncertainty, unexpected opportunities, and open-ended nature of community-engaged learning. Nonetheless, it is teachers that are the key leverage point. Nothing interesting happens for students without a teacher enthusiastically willing to say “Yes!” Teachers are closest to the students and are in the best position to see what’s working, what’s not and adapt in the face of assumptions that don’t prove out or take advantage of new opportunities as they present themselves.
This isn’t a challenge that is solved by trying to swap in technology. The development of mere skills, in the absence of relationships, finding problems one cares about, and a future worth pursuing is a fool’s errand.
If we want to see the evolution of a new model of education, where educators and students have strong connections to both the issues and work of the community, where students can use the opportunities to make an impact in their community as opportunities for rich, meaningful, interdisciplinary learning experiences, we need to enable and equip teachers to take on the challenge.
To pull this off, teachers need:
- To see what is possible through Community Engaged Project Based Learning
- A network of relationships with peers and community partners and solid understanding of where goals align
- New tools and techniques to flexibly manage uncertainty
- The autonomy to test out new ideas and approaches, to implement with curiosity, rather than mere fidelity.
In the age of the pandemic and great resignation we can’t afford to lose the teachers who can drive this shift. These are the teachers who will be first to leave if they don’t have the opportunity to move in the direction they know schools need to go. Support for teachers who see the vision of community engaged PBL is not just a way to move forward, it ensures that we can.
The Learn Deep approach
Our approach is decidedly:
- Entrepreneurial: We experiment to learn and develop scalable solutions, leverage agile and design thinking processes, and use a “Job To Be Done” approach in recognition that a solution is only scalable to the extent that it solves real problems for all participants.
- Collaborative: We thrive on creating opportunities for other organizations to find new ways to offer their expertise and programming in the education environment, showing educators how to design Learning Experiences with roles for outside expertise, and creating opportunities for partners to extend the reach of existing programming, or developed new offerings more tightly aligned to the needs of educators
- Ecosystem Focused: We identify and develop opportunities for interdisciplinary projects that exercise relationships; leverage, extend, and build the capacity of schools and partners to engage students in richer, more complex work; help participants understand where goals align and working together on a common project brings greater returns than individual efforts.
Over the past 6 years we’ve developed the following components into a program that engages many members of the broader community in Milwaukee through an ecosystem approach, where Learn Deep acts as a catalyst to drive collaboration and engagement:
- Collab Labs. Monthly gatherings with a workshop feel, these are seen as a combination of community building and PD alternative. (link to Collab Lab schedule)
- STEM Studio. Our hands-on Learning Experience Framework design lab that is available both standalone or integrated in our Fellows Program. STEM Studio lasts 2 weeks (10 days) as an intensive design lab for interdisciplinary learning.
- Fellows Program. A design-and-implement professional development program that provides teachers the opportunity to experience a world with open ended challenges that requires collaboration to design a working pilot. Not unlike what they are hoping to offer their students.
- inspirEd. Our online Community Engagement Platform serves first of all as an extension of the community building we conduct as a core of the monthly Collab Labs. But we can do so much more inside an engaged community of educators who want to grow and practice their profession. inspirEd is the place where social, supportive, informal PD can take place in a more efficient and effective format.
In parallel we’ve built a network of educators and community partners from public, private, and charter schools, industry, nonprofits, and higher-ed, who share our vision and step up to help make that happen. This network is key to enabling the work we do. None of what we hope to see is possible without educators and partners who can see where goals align, and have built relationships that allow them to try new things together. To that end, we’ve been very intentional about how we create and grow that network and our role as a keystone partner in Milwaukee’s K-12 educational ecosystem.