From the minute he met a student from The Met, the flagship Big Picture Learning school, Andrew Frishman (@AndrewFrishman) knew he would be involved in crafting education one student at a time. He became a Big Picture advisor at (the now world famous) Metropolitan Regional Career And Technical Center (The Met) in Providence and then internship coordinator at Met Sacramento.
Twenty-five years after Dennis Littky and Elliott Washor launched The Met, it remains a radical proposition: to find and follow the interest of young people and co-construct real-world experiences that explore those interests.
I visited with the first class at the Met in 1999. They met on the first level of the Rhode Island Department of Education (owing to the leadership of a brave Commissioner, Peter McWalters). And despite the unconventionally progressive nature of The Met, the inaugural class graduated in 2000 and 98% were admitted to postsecondary institutions.
The Met and other Big Picture schools are distinguished by:
- Real-world learning: Through Internships students work with a mentor in the field of interest. Students complete authentic projects connected to their interests and needs and benefit the mentor. Internships and related projects are the main sources of student growth, not just a supplement.
- Personalization: Individual Learning Plans are created by students with parents, advisors and when possible, mentors. Personalization involves doing what’s best for kids: pushing and pulling at the right time, and not dictating or punishing, but problem-solving and mediating.
- Authentic assessment: Project work is the primary form of assessment. Public exhibitions each marking period track growth against Learning Plans. Learners check-in weekly with their advisors.
- Advisory structure: Students (about 16) meet with the same advisor for four years. Advisors monitor Learning Plans and help structure internships. They get to know learners through home visits and one on one meetings.
- Postsecondary planning: students develop post-high school plans that may include college, professional training, travel, the military, or the workforce.
- Support: Families/guardians play an active role by helping to identify a mentor, supporting postsecondary planning, and playing an active role in the school community.
Rather than starting with course requirements and a master schedule, Big Picture schools start with the student. They don’t start with assessments that identify deficits, they start with student strengths and interests. Advisors help turn interests into internships.
There are 65 Big Picture schools in the US and more than 100 internationally.
“We work with a sense of urgency,” said Frishman, “but we’re in the work for the long haul.” They are not animated by a growth target but seek sustainable improvement. The co-directors and founders are encouraged by a growing interest in the US with 65 schools and over 100 internationally with growing numbers in Australia, New Zealand, Italy, Netherlands, Brazil and India.
Most Big Picture schools are part of school districts and many serve as alternatives for youth not successful in traditional schools. “We are excited to work with districts trying to engage disengaged youth, young people that have been systematically oppressed.”
On a recent visit to The Met, every student I encountered jumped up and introduced themselves. Ten of them summarized pitches for entrepreneurial endeavors and exhibited design skills (the three new literacies of the innovation economy). All of them had benefited from several years of real-world learning.
Supporting Real-World Learning
Creating and connecting youth with internship opportunities and managing the logistics of and feedback from internships is a bit of a headache. The Big Picture team created Imblaze, an internship management platform that helps young people find internships.
After picking an internship, a young person attends and checks in at the site using the mobile app. The advisor receives notification that the student is on site. Mentors can provide feedback to students that advisors can review.
A LinkedIn integration allows students to build resumes, archive references, provide recommendations for their mentors and peers, and promote their expanding skill set. Over 70 schools are using Imblaze and over 100,000 internship days have been logged.
ImBlaze makes it easy for companies to participate because it’s built on Salesforce and is interoperable with leading human resources software. Companies can describe internship placement opportunities, define how many placements are available when, and set prerequisite skills.
Next on the ImBlaze road map are features enabling regional use supporting hundreds of companies and dozens of schools.
Check out the Big Bang, Big Picture Learning’s annual conference on Student-Centered Learning. This year it is in Detroit July 23-26.
- ImBlaze: Igniting Powerful Real-World Learning Experiences
- Odyssey STEM: First to Combine Big Picture Learning and altSchool
- Personalization and Real-World Learning at Big Picture Schools
- Big Picture Learning in the Real World (2016 podcast with Andrew Frishman)
- 4 Ways Big Picture Learning Prepares Leaders for Deeper Learning
- Big Picture Learning Pilots Dual Enrollment with College for America
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This post was originally published on Forbes.