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Designing a Place for the PK-12 Student in Our Social Network

A recent article in the Chronicle by Judith Shapiro, The Value of a Shared Education, laid out the principles of Gemeinschaft and Gesellschaft as part of an intriguing discussion on trends in college curricula. The main question Shapiro poses is “To what extent are undergraduates moving through overlapping though largely differentiated networks, and to what extent do they share experiences, priorities, and goals?” Shapiro walks us through a series of considerations including individual achievement, the current interest in competency-based education, and the impact of information technology on how young people interact with one another.

When we think of changes in higher ed nowadays, most people go directly to the challenges of integrating or competing with technology itself. Shapiro brings us back to the more critical question of how we are guiding people through their intellectual pursuits as they move closer to adulthood and the workplace. Similarly, we should be re-examining how we are guiding our PK-12 audience prior to their entry into college. How do curricular practices these days impact on how the PK-12 student sees herself as part of society?

Our thinking on this goes beyond standard socialization practices within the classroom and playground to the greater scope of ongoing learning activities that have or can be incorporated into today’s curricula. Some best practices for consideration:

Blend the curriculum to balance group and individual learning activities.

Today’s blended learning designs included personalized, peer-to-peer and teacher-led activities. Students learn on their own, and receive automated feedback and personalized teacher support; they learn from their peers in small group activities or as a whole class with teacher-led activities. The range of activities in a well-designed blended learning program represents both individual and group learning.

Build more Maker activities into the curriculum to build esprit de corps.

Project-based activities that require team cooperation in the design and production of a final product can develop both individual competencies as well as team strength. More time spent on these group activities earlier on in the process will pay off later on.

Bring in the experts to provide a range of role models.

Practicing scientists, designers, chefs, etc. can all play a part in knowledge and skills development in PK-12. By increasing the sphere of expertise in the classroom, and by working on projects requiring shared expertise, the PK-12 audience can start building their network early on. These experts may bolster existing curricular units or might be part of the extended projects referenced above.

Learning design in PK-12 is evolving to a point where students can more effectively develop their individual capabilities while playing an important part of both school and extended society. While the argument can be made that “socialization” has always been a goal in the K-12 curriculum, it can also be said that with the intense competition of the past decades, the race for success tends to silo learners from a very early age. We can use our design skills to create the type of curricula that supports the concept of shared success from the start.

Visit us at Designs2Learn for more on learning design and social impact.


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As of January 2024, Rewriting Paradigms is back and I'm writing about today's  issues, those that most test us and our humanity.

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