Preparing #LifeReady Students: Creating a Globally-Sourced, Locally-Relevant Curriculum

By Eric Davis, Aparna Rae and Stephanie Leite

“Sixty-five percent of children entering primary schools today will likely work in roles that don’t currently exist.” At Global Learning Models (GLM), we believe it is our responsibility to drive learning in a manner that prepares students for a future that is both exciting and uncertain. To truly prepare #LifeReady students, we need to begin with curriculum that is not siloed or defined by subjects, but is instead integrated and relevant for students and teachers in order to cultivate active global citizens.

We ask: If students are not learning to make the world a better place, then what is the purpose of their education? How can all students find purpose within themselves, with others and in the world? How can we influence student and teacher learning so every day is inspiring, interactive, skill-building and unique to each individual? How can we strategically, effectively and positively transform the experience of learning for more students and educators? How do we turn a community into a classroom?

To begin pursuing these questions, we align courses with the United Nations Millennium Development Goals (MDG) and Sustainable Development Goals (SDG), as well as the US Common Core State Standards, and invite educators to customize curriculum locally so as to maximize relevance and impact.

The World Economic Forum (WEF) says that “without urgent and targeted action today, to manage the near-term transition and build a workforce with future-proof skills, governments will have to cope with ever-growing unemployment and inequality.” We respond to this call to action by preparing students to meet the challenges of the 21st century and supporting educators to redefine teaching and learning.

Inquiry-Based, Project-Based, Place-Based

Ensuring that every student finds their purpose begins with the practice of inquiry and project-based learning. GLM employs Place-based Education (PBE) both locally at our lab school in Chicago and with partner organizations around the country. Each section below offers a guiding framework, a classroom integration example and GLM’s offering.

Blended and Personalized Learning

GLM’s approach to learning is less about gimmicks and more about relevant, applicable content combined with ongoing support. Technology is changing how we learn, and knowing how to use it effectively is a key skillset for success. Our curriculum and professional development provide a model for students and educators to practice blended learning and utilize appropriate high and low-tech applications through digital curriculum, on-site and virtual observations, and personalized coaching.

Student work example: Through our STEAM course H2O, students use technology to bring statistics to life. Learning about global water usage brings the world into the classroom, and data becomes real when students calculate their own daily water usage, compare it to average teenagers around the globe and attempt to carry their own water from a public water source to understand the privilege of having a working water tap at home. Projects range from creating high-tech infographics to low-tech water filters that could be used in a crisis. Whether taking the course in a brick and mortar school or completing it using our self-guided, self-paced digital platform, students experience empathy, reflect on their own consumption habits, and expand their academic skills in Algebra, geology, and biology. See examples of student work on our blog.

Students undertaking Global Learning Models’ H20 class transport their calculated daily water usage from a local water source to experience the weight of their consumption.
Students undertaking Global Learning Models’ H20 class transport their calculated daily water usage from a local water source to experience the weight of their consumption.

For teachers, GLM’s professional development workshops and ongoing support sessions begin with establishing a shared understanding of inquiry and project-based learning, then provide opportunities to model the learning by first becoming a student in the classes they will teach. We challenge educators to walk the walk, practice what they preach, lead by example, know their content and, most importantly, observe and know their students so that they may help make the content come alive. Then, they participate in debriefing sessions that enable peers to share their successes and challenges, make immediate refinements and work collaboratively.

For students, our course catalog and its implementation at the GCE Lab School through digital portfolios are proof that thoughtful integration leads to transformational outcomes.

Local to Global Curriculum

We believe in equipping students and educators with a curriculum that builds critical thinking and cultural awareness so that each child can contribute as a global citizen to today’s increasingly boundary-less world. Students will find themselves confronting questions such as “How might a child in Flint, Michigan relate to one in rural Bolivia who is struggling to secure his right to clean water access?” and “How might a young girl interested in politics draw inspiration from the example of Rwanda’s parliament?” With these questions driving at the heart of instruction, each GLM course is designed to make the world a better place.

Student work example: Our Humanities course, MDGs and You, offers an introduction to the challenges facing the world by examining the United Nations Millennium and Sustainable Development Goals. Students analyze global statistics, unpack their assumptions about other countries and see what we can learn from the examples of other nations, such as Rwanda, where 63% of the Parliament is composed of women. Visit our blog for examples of student investigations into gender equality across the globe.

Breaking out of subject-specific silos is at the heart of GLM’s curriculum. Integration helps students understand the connections between disciplines and how subjects interact in the real world. Learning feels good—when it fits. Our curriculum, combined with our pedagogical framework, leads to the creation of a safe place to ask questions, reflect, experiment, imagine and experience while developing core academic skills and engaging with communities. The course catalog presents ways in which GLM has integrated subjects for impact while maintaining adherence to Common Core, MDG/SDG as well the need for students to earn credits (IES SCED Codes ).

Social Justice and Civic Engagement

Students care about curriculum if it matters to them; they swiftly and informally determine its value based on whether or not it helps them in life. Does the curriculum offer them a pathway to a career, an opportunity to better care for a family member, an enhanced station in social spheres, or a chance to pursue a personal dream? Through GLM curriculum, the problems students grapple to define, understand, and attend to are not immediately resolved at the end of a semester; rather, they persist throughout their lives. Instead of just reading about food deserts, why not map your neighborhood to see how far you have to travel to access essential services? In addition to learning about civil rights leaders, why not write your own book that highlights the accomplishments and struggles of individuals who rarely make it into history lessons? By making lessons personal and relevant, students are inspired to take action outside of the classroom in order to build communities and a world that are more just and equal.

Student work example: In the Equality course, Seniors explore the roots of race, gender and class divisions by conducting simulations, listening to voices of the marginalized and examining the structures that stratify our society. Through interviews and research, students write their own history textbook that bridges the past and present and identify lessons that will help imagine and build a more just future. See an example of student work.

City2Classroom™: Through weekly guest workshops, field experiences and hands-on exploration of real-world case studies, we redefine both the classroom and the educator. Students augment the skills and knowledge they build in the classroom by leaving the school and obtaining insights from established industry leaders. Our City2Classroom™ partners challenge students to question their assumptions about the world around them, discuss practicalities and possibilities in the workplace, and expose students to a wide range of jobs and career prospects. By the time they graduate, students have participated in over 200 field experiences that provide practical applications for everything they learn in the classroom.

College, career and life readiness in the 21st century demand a truly reimagined approach to curriculum, customized to meet the needs of students and educators based on geography, student demographics and learning levels. Our work at Global Learning Models (GLM) provides educators with an opportunity to learn about how inquiry and project-based learning, used alongside a globally relevant curriculum, can help shape #LifeReady citizens.

This blog is part of our “Place-based Education” blog series. To learn more and contribute a guest post for the series, check out the PBE campaign page. Join in the conversation on social media using #PlaceBasedEd. For more on Place-Based Education, see:

Eric Davis is GLM’s Chief Learning Officer, Stephanie Leite is GLM’s Curriculum Designer and Lead Trainer, and Aparna Rae (@appyrae) is GLM’s Director of Products. Follow GLM on Twitter: @GLMeducation.

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