Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Architects of their Learning: KM Explore

KM Explore is a K-5 elementary charter in Wales, Wisconsin in Kettle Moraine School District that embraces the notion of a ‘generative curriculum’ grown from the collective voices and choices of the community of learners, families, and educators of the school itself. Learning at KM Explore is on a continuum where each learner is on a self-propelled journey embedded in a community of learners. We have been following the planning and opening of KM Explore and decided to expand on what we've learned from the teachers] journeys to more about the school's philosophy, background, and implementation of the model to share with the world.

Why is KM Explore a Personalized Learning Model?

KM Explore involves learners in the design of a different kind of school.  By being multi-age in structure, community-based in function, and integrated in its curriculum design, KM Explore learners provide evidence of learning in a manner that is meaningful to them.  A fluid and adaptable schedule removes traditional boundaries of learning. Integrated curriculum design, the creative process, and high level questioning is woven throughout the learning experience. The fundamentals of reading, writing, and math are foundational to this generative curriculum as they are embedded and integrated into the day-to-day work.

Lisa Welch and Wanda Richardson are the K-1 co-teaching team who we have been following on our journeys page who taught with Susan Blaesing in a K-2 team at Wales Elementary. This year, all three teachers along with others are part of an exciting adventure with KM Explore that has a "foundation" with the following pillars:

  • Optimal Learning Spaces
  • Generative Curriculum
  • Multi-Age Learning
  • Habits of Mind
  • Collaborative Teaching and Learning

This is their story about their new journey and this model...

Optimal Learning Spaces 
We try to get out into the community in order to experience real world learning and the awareness that we are part of a larger group of people who help us as well as the other way around.  We have a strong connection with the public library near us and also make use of the village that our school resides in, the neighboring community that has a fish hatchery, "mini-downtown" area, military academy and another community where we are collaborating with a fine-arts school. 

Inside Explore, you will find furniture similar to a home-setting where learners are encouraged to move and find comfort while learning. The furniture is movable and can be arranged for collaborative work as well as quiet space. 

We also encourage "anytime, anywhere learning".  It is not uncommon for learners to access their learning plans at home and come to school with artifacts of their learning. This type of learning is embraced and welcomed at our school.

Generative Curriculum 
Through these connections and the discovery of our community at large, we have generated learning. For example on a walk to simply notice the street names around us, we discovered a LFL (little free library). This became a learning experience and a resounding interest in creating LFL's of our own for the community. We are currently in the process of gathering the wood, and volunteers to help us build. Some parents have even offered to have some LFL's right in their front yards! 
Another example would be a walk we took around the playground. While walking we heard the nearby high school band practicing for the homecoming parade. Some of the kids stated that they wish they could be part of the  band.  After a discussion in the classroom, we all called the high school band teacher on speaker phone and asked about the possibility of being part of the band. We collaborated with the high school students and marched in the homecoming parade with them! 

Multi-Age Learning
We have three different groups of learners; K-1, 2-3, 4-5. Though the learners are in groups due to logistics, we like to embrace the notion that we are "ageless and grade-less". Learning goes along a continuum and the CCSS are used, but are not necessarily grade specific to each student.  We look at each individual learner and their learning plan is made to reflect their abilities and has the rigor to nudge them just a little bit further. This "just in time" type of learning is more meaningful and correlates with competency based learning. The plan has specific goals based on the ability, personality and learning style of the learner who is NOT average. The goals are different for each child in reading, writing and math. It is more of an RTL - response to learner type of plan. As a learner goes through a plan, the next one is revised to show either the next step or a continuation of a goal that is yet to be met. 

Habits of Mind 
At KM Explore, we know that the whole child is important and there are certain skills and mindsets that are simply not traditionally acknowledged through academia. These habits of mind play a vital role in life-long learning and the ability to meet goals as well as create new ones. We are currently focusing on the habits of  persisting, managing impulsivity, thinking flexibly and listening with empathy and understanding.  Currently, our guidance counselor helps with these habits and the terms are common place in the classroom.  Each week, the learners also listen to "Mission Monday". An example can be found here.  Through these videos the children have a mission each week, and for the rest of their lives to think about the message that is given and to apply it to their daily interactions with peers, family and the community around them. The goal is to also employ these habits to their daily goals in learning.

Collaborative Teaching and Learning  
Learners are encouraged to collaborate with peers to meet their learning goals. There is much talking and collaborating throughout the school. The noise level sometimes becomes higher than in a traditional classroom, but is also embraced as evidence of learning through collaboration. It is exciting to hear and be a part of! 

Teachers also model and work as a collaborative team with themselves as well as learners. No learner is thought of as an individual teacher's "responsibility", but rather we work as a team to create the best learning environment for each child. We see the daily modeling of collaboration come through in our learners actions within the classroom. 

With these 5 foundation pillars we can undergo the important work of personalizing learning for each child. When we think of a learner "building" their knowledge, these pillars are the foundation that holds everything up and the roof then becomes personalized learning. Under this roof, the learning is designed and all that the children do is a unique design of their goals and aspirations.  

Our goal at KM Explore is to help a learner be an architect of how their learning will look. Just as each building in a community looks different, each plan the learner builds will look different as well. If we start this "blueprint" right away in kindergarten, their is no telling what their "building" of learning will look like into high school and beyond!

Join us in a Connected Educator Webinar with Lisa and Wanda so you can hear in their own words what learning is like at KM Explore along with David Truss from the Inquiry Hub.
New Personalized Learning Models Webinar
Tuesday, October 29th, 2013 5pm ET 

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