Don Wettrick, the founder of a new type of academic class in Franklin, Indiana, is taking principles of education reform by people like Sir Ken Robinson, Seth Godin, Daniel Pink, and putting it into practice. Wettrick’s Innovations class at Franklin Community High School is one of the many that are working to change education as we know it.
Wettrick, being an english teacher for fifteen years, knew that he had to find a better way to engage students and allow them to express their creativity. Inspired largely by Daniel Pink and Google’s work time model (where employees allocate 20% of their time to fun projects), Innovations is a student run, student taught, and student managed class. In the Innovations class, students have access to a television production studio, complete with computers and cameras and screens necessary to do practically any type of video work. Innovations is still in it’s early stages as a pilot program running for the first year, but there has already been significant results that have proven the power of such a class.
I had the chance of skyping with Mr. Wettrick and learn a little bit more about his Innovations class. While making the skype call, I was astonished by the quality of the equipment I saw in the classroom. The classroom does not resemble a typical classroom by any stretch, but more like a video producer’s playground.
With the equipment, the students not only have been working on their own personal or group creative projects, they have also used the equipment to reach out to and connect with industry leaders such as Microsoft’s Vice President and other international leaders.
To the class, social media is an integral part of what they do, and the students are realizing how powerful social media is to changing the world, and how they can put themselves out their by learning how to create their own personal branding. Being based largely on social media, the class aims to make teaching more transparent, because when teachers are transparent and collaborate, they are able to educate their students in a more effective manner.
According to Wettrick, “students don’t need to go to school to learn anymore. School should be a place where students can learn together.” Acknowledging the fact that learning from the Internet while collaborating with other students is much more powerful than listening to a teacher talk, the class allows for students to learn with their own preferences.
The truth is, many of the lectures and notes on the internet today are of much higher quality than anything a single teacher can produce on their own. Wettrick recognizes this especially in the field of video production, and instead of competing with online resources, he utilizes the resources on the internet to help his students to the highest quality content possible.
Since the beginning of Innovations, the class has made many accomplishments, one of the most significant being the selection to receive a pair of Google glass from Google’s testing program. Wettrick shared about how inspired he was by the way that the students pooled together the last minute to submit their application. Google glass will provide the students in the class to take part in the technology that companies around the world are developing.
Perhaps the most inspiring element of this class is how the students are able to take control of their own learning. Wettrick doesn’t need to assign projects and grade homework, because he is not interested in asking students questions with answers he already knows.
“The role of the teacher is to be a facilitator and motivator. It’s not about asking the right questions for students to answer, but inspiring students to ask the right questions.”
Education should be about pushing students to explore deeper than what is currently understood. Instead of observing areas of study from a distance or behind a textbook, students should be on the front lines, being the ones that explore and expand human understanding further.
Every school should provide the option for students to self-direct their learning, instead of forcing students into a systematic, factory model of education. To some, the Innovations class is seen as fluff, where students don’t really achieve that can be measured by a standard, but the effect of allowing students to explore on their own has had extremely positive results for the Innovations class.
If you are interested in helping out the Innovations class, they are currently raising money to extend the potential of the class. To them, having a budget leads students to come up with creative solutions to the challenges that they face.
The class currently has plans to publish a book, and if you are interested in connecting or helping the education revolution, check them out!