Is there a way to give teachers the time to experiment with their lessons and their classrooms? Most teachers try out new ideas every year, so we could just say that experimenting happens, and that’s that–no problem to address. But at the DT4E conference we were exposed to a different type of experimenting that demanded rapid prototyping, uninterrupted focus, and time to reflect. As the group reimagined a library for the 21st century, we covered the Riverdale cafeteria with models and full-size sets, all made in less than an hour. The creativity was remarkable, and I think that everyone felt more optimistic about successfully incorporating new ideas into their own teaching.
It’s hard to see teachers experimenting during the school year the same way we did at the DT4E conference or the same way they would in an explicitly experimental setting. That doesn’t mean that teachers can’t experiment in their classrooms during the year; it’s just hard for them to experiment as deliberately and thoroughly as they might during a less harried time. School days are crazy and frenetic, and finding time for reflection and analysis is no easy task when there are papers to grade, meetings to attend, and emails to answer.
Fortunately, schools have three months of every year when they aren’t in the go-go-go mode that makes authentic experimentation so difficult. What if schools used their campuses as educational laboratories during the summer? This program would be more than the summer day camps that many schools offer during the summer. It would require students to be participants in K-12 research, and the focus would be on teacher enrichment, though the students would learn plenty as well. One school could gather teachers and students from many surrounding schools so that the program would feel different than the academic year, with a different mix of people and a different sense of purpose. Younger students could be enrolled in what looks like a summer camp, causing little change to their plans. Older students could be paid an hourly rate to be in laboratory classes for a few weeks each summer. These days teenagers are in need of jobs (teen unemployment was at 24.6% at the beginning of June), and plenty of teachers would be willing to sign on for some extra productive work during the summer months (stipend provided, of course). Teachers could try new ideas, get feedback from real students, adjust their approach for the following class, and prepare for the coming school year in authentic, innovative ways. Rapid prototyping, tailored for education.
Just an idea, one obviously in need of some further thought (and some funding), but it could easily lead to some fantastic new ideas in K-12 education. Then again, maybe this idea has already been implemented elsewhere. If it has, please post the info.