Pioneers in a few school districts are moving toward true student-centered learning environments in individual schools or major programs within schools. Here are some representative examples. They show what can be accomplished in a traditional school with the right leadership.
Katherine Smith Elementary School
Many see student-directed learning as only applicable to upper grades. Katherine Smith Elementary School is a district school in the Evergreen Elementary School District in San Diego that disproves that assumption. The school was badly failing, and a new principal decided to introduce project-based learning across the curriculum as a solution. Student engagement shot up.
Birmingham Covington School
Birmingham Covington School is a grade 3-8 magnet school in suburban Michigan. It has created an engaging learning environment where students learn how to find their own answers and solve problems. This video shows how students learn to solve complex problems collaboratively through design thinking.
Teachers at Birmingham Covington School also collaborate to create the learning envionment and constantly help each other improve their teaching skills and practices.
Monroe Elementary Oklahoma City
Karen McNeely, a third grade teacher at Monroe Elementary School in Oklahoma City, talks about how she resisted changing to a more student-centered learning approach. However, encouraged by her principal, she found that it worked much better with her students than her traditional “pushing” approach.
Innovations High School Washoe County Schools NV
Innovations High School, part of the Washoe County School District in Nevada, was a very low performing school (8% graduation rate) that has been transformed using a learner centered model based on the Big Picture Learning principles. It is a great example of how a determined leader willing to do what it takes can completely turn around even a challenging school.
Primary School Students Montevideo, Uruguay
These 11 year old students in Uruguay were bored, and asked their teacher if they could work with some robotics kits that had been provided to the school. See how the students figured out how to program the robots on their own, and they began to apply them to real problems. With help from the New Practices in Deep Learning program (www.npdl.global), this became the basis for a transformation in learning that excited both the students and their teachers.
Monument Mountain Regional High School
Monument Mountain Regional High School, in the Berkshire Regional Hills School District in MA, has taken a very different approach called the Independent Project. Students are allowed to work for a semester almost completely independently on topics of their choice, but helping each other. While this exact approach is probably not the best for all students, it demonstrates that students are much more capable of owning their own learning than most adults believe.
Knowledge in Action Project
The Knowledge in Action Project at the University of Washington is helping schools in Bellevue, Washington and Des Moines, Iowa develop a full project-based model for AP courses in government.
Big Picture in Bre
Here is a public school in rural Brewarrina, Australia that introduced student-directed learning using a model from Big Picture Learning. This video has a lot of insights about how to adapt and apply the approach of authentic, student-directed learning to a given school situation, with perspectives from administrators, teachers, and students.
Ralston Elementary School
Ralston Elementary School is part of a large school district, Jefferson County Schools, that enrolls about 9% of all K12 students in Colorado. The school introduced inquiry-based learning in a science class and found it so successful that they expanded into the full curriculum.
Crellin Elementary School
Crellin Elementary School, part of rural Garrett County Public Schools in Maryland, gets students working on projects that impact their community.
A group of schools within the Poway Unified School District in San Diego created an experimental school of choice called the Design39Campus, available by lottery to students from supporting districts. The school allows the district to experiment with a deeper learning environment based heavily on student-directed learning.