A New Paradigm for Education in the 21st Century

There has been a lot of debate about public schools in the U.S. We believe that most schools are actually doing a pretty good job; however, the model for education followed by virtually all public schools, based on textbooks, lectures, individual disciplines, and rigid schedules, is outdated. Memorization of content has little use in a world where almost everything ever known is available on the Internet. Graduates today need skills to find information when it is needed, identify the real problems and issues, critically evaluate different alternatives, collaborate with others to develop effective solutions, and even find innovative ways to address issues and exploit opportunities. Just as important, education needs to recognize that every person is different. We must help each student gain the knowledge and skills to fulfill his or her full potential and thus contribute to society as gifted.

The Business and Entrepreneurship Academy Charter High School is designing its curriculum and learning from scratch, combining all the lessons from the latest educational research and practice to form a new paradigm for learning based on hands-on engagement. The following video summarizes this hands-on, collaborative, student-directed learning approach as utilized in a one week summer program offered in the Lehigh Valley by Charter Partners Institute.

See more of what judges and student participants have to say about this learning approach.

Many students have the impression that such activities and successes are something they can never achieve. For any who have doubt, consider the following example. This is a 14-year old entrepreneur who grew up in very difficult circumstances in Allentown but went on to start a creative business built around skateboards with unique designs that he creates, has manufactured, and distributes through several local retail stores.

The Business and Entrepreneurship Academy Charter High School is developing a learning environment based as much as possible on real projects that engage students.  The “curriculum” is outlined in the following figure:

First, we will include specific activities to help students get in touch with their unique purpose in life, which includes areas where each has strengths and where each is passionate.   We have found that many students have never had the opportunity to understand themselves in this way, but it is critical to determine how to guide them in learning and where each should focus.   Second, we will help all students gain the fundamental understanding of the core academic subjects that is necessary to be successful.  However, we will do this as much as possible through project-based learning.  That means the teachers will look at what concepts and skills are needed based on the state standards and then formulate interesting questions for the students to investigate. Students learn while researching issues and solving problems that are real and meaningful to them. These projects can also be chosen with at least some attention to the interests of the students involved.  Finally, all students will tackle higher level, multidisciplinary projects where they will develop innovative solutions to issues or opportunities in the school, community, or world.   These projects will lead to real businesses or social initiatives that students may continue after graduation.   By using real projects as the vehicle for learning, all students have the opportunity to take any project as far as they wish, so there is no need for separate honors or advanced placement classes.  Further, we plan to incorporate rubrics that map progress in all the skills so that not only teachers but the students themselves can track and evaluate their progress along the way.   This will help to engage students and give them more control and responsibility over their own learning, and reinforce a culture of learning.