Dawn, Principal at Cleveland Elementary School

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To empower educators to provide the personalized, competency-based, and student-centered environments we seek for students, they need to first experience and truly understand it for themselves — and that’s the purpose of a new body of work that just kicked off at Cleveland Elementary School in Washington, D.C.

Through the project, which launched in August after a year piloting the process with six lead educators, each Cleveland teacher is identifying a problem of practice based on the school’s vision and areas of instruction they want to improve. Teachers then will design personalized learning pathways composed of a range of learning experiences, content, and skills they’ll need to gain the competencies necessary to meet their goals, which they will demonstrate through authentic evidence. (No standard assessments here!)

Why do this work?

“In order for personalized, student-driven learning to work with our kids it first has to become a reality in our school for our teachers. They need to know what they are doing and how it feels. Really great educators have a keen insight of what they are good at and where they need to grow, and this practice lets them choose what they are learning and lets them go at their own pace.”

What are you hoping for this year?

“I want our teachers to transform and become facilitators of learning with our kids doing more of the heavy lifting of learning. Through that, I hope student agency will develop in a deeper way because we’re putting kids in charge in the classroom. If students know where they are and where they need to go, and they are motivated to get there, they are going to work harder, do better, and go farther. That’s the big thing I’m hoping to get out of this experience. Our student success data is not bad. We’re already good, so why do we need to make changes? We still have 30 percent of our students that we’re not reaching and we have kids that could do more than they are doing. That’s why.”

Amy, Principal at Parker-Varney Elementary School

Parker-Varney Elementary School in Manchester, New Hampshire, used to rank as one of the most struggling schools in the state — not anymore. After more than three years of deep innovation focused on project-based, personalized learning, Parker-Varney was recently one of five schools nationwide to win a school change and innovation award.

“The school has changed so much. We’ve become a learning culture both for the students and teachers —  we are all living the learning. I’m continually thrilled with both our staff and our kids abilities to take risks and challenge themselves. For our kids, specifically, they really have become the center of their own learning, and now that they are given so much choice and independence they are that much more engaged.”

See more of what learning looks like at Parker-Varney with this multimedia story.

Tiarra, 12th-grader at SLA

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2Revolutions recently spent time in Philadelphia with NGLC, visiting innovative project-based high schools. Science Leadership Academy (SLA) is a high school in Philadelphia that prides itself on being inquiry-driven and project-based. 

According to SLA, the school works hard to "provide a rigorous, college-preparatory curriculum with a focus on science, technology, mathematics and entrepreneurship. Students at SLA learn in a project-based environment where the core values of inquiry, research, collaboration, presentation and reflection are emphasized in all classes."

Tiarra is one inspiring senior we met, who had just completed her Capstone project, the culminating senior project that is totally student-driven. For her project, she designed and built three wooden furniture pieces, shown in the picture to the left. Tiarra was beaming with pride as she showed off her craftsmanship, pointing out the details that make her pieces unique. Tiarra secured a spot in the Rhode Island School of Design's freshman class, where she will study furniture design.

William, Ninth-grader at DSISD

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“Here if you don’t understand something, our teachers will try something different, and they’ll
keep finding options until you understand it. I don’t feel dumb anymore.”
– William, Ninth-Grader
Denver School of Innovation and Sustainable Design (DSISD)

Our team at 2Revolutions was lucky enough to spend a few days visiting and filming DSISD, a new competency-based high school in Denver, Colorado. DSISD’s staff of joyful, authentic, wicked smart and motivated teachers and leaders are working to create a completely new learning experience for their first-year class, one based on real world, authentic in- and out- of the classroom learning experiences with a focus on innovation, social entrepreneurship and STEM. Students at DSISD choose their own pathway of learning based on interests and goals, and move through as they demonstrate mastery of concepts and competencies. Check out this short Day In the Life video to see what it looks like for William and his classmates.