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Sunday, 29 November 2015

Salman Khan's Lab School: Will it work?

I just read this really interesting article about Sal Khan's (of Khan academy fame) new lab school in California.

He's putting some of his ideas about contemporary education into practice:

  • year-round school
  • technological tools to teach reading and math so that kids can move at their own pace
  • lots of data about each kid (everything is tracked)
  • an emphasis on mastery of skills as opposed to just exposure
  • and a school that functions more like a tech start-up than a traditional school -- as in kids have flexible schedules and more ownership over their time, and they get to work on "passion projects" of their own
As an educator who has been working in schools for close to two decades now, I'm fascinated. Will this experiment work? And what would it feel like to teach in this kind of a school? I love the commitment to mastery and experimentation. I think the school would be an exciting place.

BUT here are some of the questions I have:

- What is the consequence of learning from machines instead of humans? Can machines motivate better than human teachers? Or will there be something missing? 

- Are young kids really ready to pursue passion projects -- like starting an NGO -- or do they need time to grow up a bit before they can do this stuff in a way that will be fulfilling? Are we expecting novices to act like experts? Does that make sense?

- What do we give up (as teachers and as students) when we don't have long breaks away from school/work? I've always loved the academic schedule -- with a clear beginning of the year to start afresh, and a purposeful end to work towards. I've always loved summer vacations - that lack of structure and that get-a-way from the craziness and intensity of school. And I honestly think that the corporate world should incorporate the academic year schedule into their workplaces, as opposed to schools incorporating a corporate schedule.

- Is there such a thing as too much data on students? Schools and teachers are already so awash in data, and I wonder whether it's useful to have this much "objective" data about kids. As a teacher who works closely with kids, the data I like best, the data I find most useful, is not the kind of data one can track. It's what I learn from a conversation with a student in the hallway, or from the comment a student makes during discussion. It's what I learn when I watch a student in my classroom - when I watch her body language or notice the look in her eyes. It's what I learn when I engage in a casual conversation with a parent. It's the everyday stuff of human interactions. And that's what really allows me to get to know a child and build a relationship with him or her. And I would never want to put any of that stuff into an excel spreadsheet.

So, in conclusion, I'm fascinated but still a little skeptical. But I loved Sal Khan's book, The One World Schoolhouse, and I think he has some great ideas. Let's see how the school works out!

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