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Teaching Today’s Students for Tomorrow’s Jobs

by Liza Long

“If we teach today’s students as we taught yesterday’s, we rob them of tomorrow.” –John Dewey, 20th century American philosopher and educational reformer

In this divisive political season, there’s one thing nearly everyone can agree on: Our nation’s schools are failing our students. A new nonprofit is trying to change the way we think about educational success. Idaho Loves to Learn is a partnership between parents and educators whose goal is to help Idahoans see beyond the traditional classroom to the type of education students need in the 21st century.

“All kids learn in a different way, so we need to adapt the classroom to fit their needs,” said Jeff Johnson, a volunteer with Idaho Loves to Learn.

Johnson, working with Travis Hawkes and parent volunteers, has arranged free community screenings of the acclaimed education documentary Most Likely to Succeed across the state. Johnson and Hawkes both have extensive public policy experience; Hawkes was the Idaho Finance Chair for Mitt Romney’s 2012 presidential campaign and is now a managing partner of Riverwood Strategies, an Eagle public affairs and business development firm.

Most Likely to Succeed was born from director Greg Whiteley’s frustration with his own daughter’s public school experience. The film traces the development of our modern education system, with its set curriculum, standardized tests, and passive, rote memorization, to the Prussian model created 125 years ago. The world has since changed—but our education system hasn’t, to our students’ detriment. “Most public school graduates just aren’t prepared for the jobs of today,” Johnson observed.

One increasingly popular alternative educational model explored in the film is project-based learning. Eric Walton, a tenth grader at Sage International School in Boise, participated in a year-long project-based learning activity that culminated in the donation of two Conestoga huts to Interfaith Sanctuary, a community center that serves Boise’s homeless population.

Walton told me that three classes of Guy Falconer’s Design Technology students designed and built the huts while reading a book about design principles. When asked what he liked about the project, Walton said, “I feel like I will now retain more of what I learned. We were learning design by actually doing it, and we made a difference in our community. Overall, it was just a better learning process than sitting in a classroom and listening to some teacher tell us about how to design stuff.”

Project-based learning isn’t the only solution. Sometimes teachers can adapt a lesson to a student’s individual learning style. A parent of four children, Nicole Christensen of Idaho Falls experienced challenges with her 11-year-old son that were solved when administrators and teachers collaborated to find a creative alternative.

“For the past five years, I had tried everything I could think of—two public schools, homeschool, Montessori,” Christensen told me when we spoke by telephone. “I saw Most Likely to Succeed, and thought, that is exactly what my son needs—a student led, project-based environment. Sitting still in front of a classroom white board all day doesn’t work for him.”

Christensen’s son, who reads far above grade level, was allowed to pursue an individual structured research project while the other students had reading instruction. “He loves it!” Christensen said. “He used to fight me all the time about school, and now he can’t wait to go. It’s because we have allowed him to be successful using his strengths.”

Every child wants to succeed. That is the message of Most Likely to Succeed, and it’s a message that is resonating with Idaho parents and educators.

For more information about best practices and resources, follow Idaho Loves to Learn on Facebook or visit www.idaholovestolearn.org.