Focus and Higher Education

GRPS, Public Museum and Kendall team up to create a school

August 23, 2013
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Grand Rapids Public Museum recently began a campaign to remind Grand Rapids residents that the museum’s extensive collection of artifacts belongs to them.

Included in the campaign is a greater opportunity for museum members to view its archives, which includes more than 250,000 scientific, cultural and historical artifacts. The museum has acknowledged that it has an abundance of items the public never sees, and those items are just as interesting as the ones regularly on display.

One segment of the Grand Rapids population that could benefit the most from access to the greater museum collection are the city’s children, and Dale Robertson, president and CEO of the Public Museum, has partnered with Grand Rapids Public Schools and Kendall College of Art & Design to develop a new 6th through 12th grade school that will bring students into daily contact with the archives.

Similar to GRPS theme schools, such as the Zoo School and Blandford School, the Public Museum’s school (an official name has not been determined) would provide place-based education.

“It’s re-embracing that place-based education, where you learn the curriculum through your environment,” said Wendy Falb, president of the GRPS school board. “So at Blandford, it’s an environmental education. We are proposing to engage with the archives at the Public Museum as a place-based education to learn your curriculum — your math, history, everything.”

In addition to providing a place-based education, GRPS and the Public Museum are joined in the partnership by Kendall College, which will help bring human-centered design to the equation and into students’ learning.

“My sense of it is a sort of codifying of methodologies that are used often in innovative work, design work and creative work, and it’s trying to break them down and codify them and use those methodologies in an educational setting,” Falb said.

“Deeper than that I think, it is a reaction to this hugely consumer society that we have. We create very passive students. They are passively consuming technology, products, culture, and it’s a way of getting them to internalize and practice being creators rather than consumers.

“It’s making them recognize the essential human need to create and how one creates within collaboration and empathy with others. It very much has a social justice component of ‘we design for people.’ It’s creating those values, practices and initiatives around learning. It’s bringing that together with the place-based (education).”

Karyl Morin, who has been hired by Kendall College to serve as the project director for the 10-member team, noted that students’ vast variety of learning styles will be embraced in the development of the curriculum and in the design of the school’s spaces.

“Student engagement is one of the biggest challenges as a practitioner in education,” Morin said. “The broader reality within education is that we have shifted from this scarcity of knowledge model, which requires such heavy direction and the teacher owning knowledge. … Now we have a surplus of information that our students have to deal with. Related to that, there is a need for continued and innovative ways to address 21st century competencies.”

Morin and Falb believe the new school will provide a greater opportunity for students to develop the skills they will need to succeed as adults.

The school’s curriculum will be developed around what is known as “the four C’s” — collaboration, communication, critical thinking and creativity — followed by an integration with the “three R’s”: reading, writing and arithmetic.

“It’s about work-force development, if you think about those adaptive skills,” Falb said. “I know that is such a concern for employers. You have everybody coming together saying, ‘How do we create a local work force so we aren’t trying to hire from outside the state while having citizens who are unemployable here.’ This kind of creative, innovative thinking, adaptability and initiative is central to that.”

Falb and Morin said another hurdle facing educators is when students don’t find the curriculum relevant.

“The rigor becomes really hard to do because they don’t find it relevant, so you might have these four Cs that help to establish the relevance that then you can develop core competencies with rigor in it, because they are motivated then: ‘I need this math skill to complete this project because this project is meaningful to me,’” Falb explained.

The hope is that by interacting with the archives in a human-centered educational environment, students will begin to see a greater relevancy in the classroom work they are assigned and, therefore, will be more engaged with the work.

The museum school will also help level the playing field for different types of learners, Morin said.

“It’s really remarkable when you start to throw in the creativity and innovation and value, the pairing of the critical, logical and the creative,” Morin said. “You start to engage a lot of kids who historically have felt that their voice isn’t as good because maybe their grades aren’t as good. … You are leveling the playing field for a really diverse set of kids. No longer is only the kid who is verbal and logical/sequential the kid excelling the most. You are starting to value a greater diversity of skill sets.”

While the school aspects of the proposed project might change, plans are already in place to start implementing it this upcoming school year.

For one week this fall, approximately 250 students will spend five days immersed in the museum archives with their teachers. The initiative is being funded by a DTE Energy grant, based on its successful pilot through Grand Lesson.

The 10 committee members, who represent the three entities in the collaboration, will be meeting soon to discuss longer-term planning for opening the school to the first crop of 6th grade students for the 2014-2015 school year. By year three, the committee hopes the school will be operating as a full 6th-12th-grade program.

Students will apply to the school similarly to how they apply to other GRPS schools, but Falb said details of the application process have not been determined.

Also similar to other GRPS schools, involvement from local businesses will be sought. In addition to funding, Falb and Morin hope businesses will consider working with the school through mentorship opportunities, job shadows, facilitating a project at the school, providing internships to students, participating in project panels to help critique students work, round tables, helping to engage students with real world problems their companies are trying to solve, etc.

“I’d like to see it make an impact on the city in that many of the children who are currently growing up in the city will have an impact on what our archives are. They will have an impact on what our history is, and they will have an impact on the industry around us because they will be active participants in industry,” Morin said. “I would really love to see that.”

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