As a social studies teacher in Philadelphia’s Science Leadership Academy, a partnership with the Franklin Institute with a focus on science, technology, mathematics and entrepreneurship, Diana Laufenberg works hard to ensure her high-school students create their own learning experiences. And she believes there is very little kids can’t do, as long as adults get out of their way.
“When you teach kids how to think, they will do well,” Laufenberg says. (See Laufenberg’s recent TED talk here.) It seems like an obvious conclusion, but according to Laufenberg, today’s education system isn’t set up to encourage that kind of self-directed learning.
“As long as standardization is the goal, innovation won’t happen,” Laufenberg believes. “Education is not one problem to solve – problems are local. Every community, every family and every student presents a different set of issues. We need community-based solutions, along with consistent funding, to address these challenges.”
Laufenberg is fortunate to be part of a school where innovation and self-directed learning are the norm. She presents her students with an issue, provides minimal instruction and sends them off to begin their research. They will then blog about, share and reflect on their work, using that insight to improve on the next assignment. A recent assignment, to watch and analyze US President Barack Obama’s State of the Union address, culminated in 462 Tweets and 36 pages of Moodle chat among the students. These students are engaged.
Students at the Science Leadership Academy get real-world experience, too. On Wednesday afternoons, they leave the four walls of the school to work in internships with professionals. A recent group worked in partnership wth famed astronomer Derrick Pitts, then (at their suggestion) presented the work at the National Science Teachers Association meeting. Laufenberg believes these students have the skills to be savvy consumers of information, and to succeed in whatever they choose to do.
“Our students know how to speak, present and listen,” says Laufenberg. “But more important, they have something to say.”
Does standardization inhibit innovation? What do you think?
About Diana Laufenberg
Teacher, Speaker, Author
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA
Diana Laufenberg describes herself as a “farm kid who moved to the mountains – taught, traveled, taught; who then moved to the city – teaching, traveling, teaching. Life is good.” In addition to teaching social studies to all grade levels, Laufenberg has taught teaching methodology in Jiangsu Province, China and is a frequent keynote speaker and television commentator on the subject of experiential learning.
Birthplace: Alma Center, Wisconsin, USA
Current residence: Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA
Education: B.A. in Broadfield Social Studies from the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire and Masters of Education in Educational Leadership from Northern Arizona University
Website I check every day: http://scienceleadership.org
Person who inspires me most: My students
Favorite childhood memory: There isn’t really one, being a farm family there were hard and fast routines to our lives and some of those live on as my favorite memories. They were little things like popping popcorn on Friday night to watch TV as a family or getting donuts after church on Sunday at John’s IGA or going for frosty mugs and cheese curds at the drive in Root Beer Stand. We are not a complicated family; simple routines were valued and appreciated.
Next travel destination (work or pleasure): Pleasure – Alma Center, Wisconsin, Work – Portland, Oregon
Favorite book: The River of Doubt by Candice Millard