Sun04202014

Schools

Student ingenuity on display during Ed-Con


Photo By: Ellie Van HOutte/Town Crier
Photo Ellie Van Houtte/Town Crier Sixth-, seventh- and eighth-graders collaborate at the Los Altos School District’s Student Ed-Con earlier this month, offering their input on how to improve their schools.

Unlike their peers, a select group of graduating sixth-, seventh- and eighth-graders from the Los Altos School District didn’t celebrate their final day of school June 12.

Approximately 65 students stayed an additional three days after school ended earlier this month to participate in the district’s first Student Ed-Con (Educational Conference), voicing their opinions on bettering education on district campuses.

Conference organizers divided students into eight collaborative action teams. Each team identified a challenge and worked to develop a prototype solution. Students used the design-thinking model to formulate ideas for reimagining and redesigning their educational experiences.

The design-thinking process includes five steps: Discover, Empathize, Define, Ideate and Prototype. Students began by defining challenges in local schools and determining how those might translate into opportunities.

Guest speaker Nikhil Goyal, author of “One Size Does Not Fit All: A Student’s Assessment of School” (Bravura, 2012), discussed “Identifying Opportunity” and addressed the students on the importance of each step in the design-thinking process. Sal Khan, founder of the online mathematics learning tool Khan Academy, spoke on “Acting on Your Vision,” and Chris Gerdes, director of the Center for Automotive Research at Stanford University, explored “Prototyping to Action.”

Off-site professionals communicated with the students via Skype, offering suggestions on how to execute the ideas.

On the final day of the conference, the student groups presented their ideas to an audience of administrators, teachers, board members and parents. District administrators selected three ideas to attempt to implement in the next school year.

The first proposal addressed the process of sixth-graders selecting their seventh-grade electives. Currently, sixth-graders are required to choose their electives before any exposure to the subjects. The solution proposed to improve the process allows sixth-graders opportunities for “Elective Shopping,” where they could visit the junior high classes and experience the electives before making a decision on enrollment.

The second idea, “Project Me,” involved personalizing student learning. Students suggested allowing greater autonomy in the learning process, including expanded choices in classes and teachers, and more freedom and flexibility overall.

“They wanted more ownership in choosing how they learn,” said Alyssa Gallagher, assistant superintendent for curriculum and instruction.

The final idea, “Democratic School,” would give students more input on policies that directly impact them. Gallagher said the district plans to implement the idea via student councils and governments throughout the district.

Gallagher said she considered the event a success and added that the district plans to sponsor another Student Ed-Con next year.

“We are thrilled with the possibilities that open up when you engage students and ask them to be part of their learning,” she said. “We learned a lot, and we thought it was valuable enough to continue for next year.”

For more information, visit www.lasd.studentedcon.org.

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