A different, valuable kind of teaching approach (that sounds very familiar!)

iD Tech in action

A blog post from GatesNotes - the blog of Bill Gates - was passed along to me the other day. 

The title of the post is “An amazing guidebook for raising and educating your kids,” and the content focuses on a book written by Diane Tavenner, founder of Summit Public Schools (which have grown to become some of the top performing schools in the country). 

The book is titled Prepared and, as Gates says, “offers amazing tips on preparing kids for college, a career, and life.” Specifically, the book details how Tavenner went about designing a completely new kind of school, explaining that she “wanted to teach kids not just what they needed to get into college, but what they needed to live a good life.”

Tavenner's model of teaching is fresh and different compared to the traditional schooling that most of us parents went through as kids (and what many kids are still experiencing themselves). 

The person who shared the blog post with me astutely pointed out that such an approach mirrors our pedagogy at iD Tech. In fact, as the world leader in STEM education for kids and teens, we’ve been emphasizing the following for over 20 years:

  • Self-directed learning
  • Project-based learning
  • Mentoring

We will get into the details of each of these in a minute, but I couldn’t help but notice other, relevant, and timely parallels between Gates's observations/Tavenner's approach, and a lot of what we have recently talked about on this very blog. 

(To see others getting behind the same methodologies is refreshing, reinvigorating, and a nice form of positive reinforcement.)

As Gates observed of Summit Public Schools:

“Instead of lecturing at the front of a class, teachers acted like coaches, providing one-on-one guidance to students. Everyone was engaged.”

Yes! It’s the same sentiment expressed in our coaching vs. teaching post from October. Teaching and coaching are vastly different approaches, each with their advantages and disadvantages. But when it comes to two-way communication, maximum engagement, and personalized learning, coaching is the most valuable way of going about it. 

Gates also goes on to say:

“Summit schools are rooted in the unshakeable belief that all students have the potential for success.”

Agreed! In September we zeroed in on this very fact–every student can learn, they just learn differently. Thus, their paths to success will vary. Some will take a road traveled by many, others will forge their own trails. In the end, no matter their route, success is attainable. 

And last: 

“What I love about Summit is that its vision of success is bigger than getting students to master skills in reading, writing, and mathematics. Those skills, of course, are incredibly important, but there are also other, very necessary skills that will serve them their entire lives, such as self-confidence, the ability to learn, ability to manage their time, and a sense of direction to help them determine what they want to do with their lives.”

Really, I’m not sure you can package the benefits of summer camp any better. This is exactly why parents should strive for alternative learning experiences for their children. Yes, kids will learn a lot in a traditional school system, but there are just some things they won’t even be exposed to unless they are purposefully placed in different environments. 

Now, back to Tavenner's model with Summit:

Self-directed learning - Students are “responsible for setting their own learning goals.” (The “personalized learning approach allows students to learn at their own pace.”)

Project-based learning - “Summit schools emphasize hands-on project-based learning, allowing students to dive deep into a topic and collaborate with other students, building skills that employers are looking for in today’s workplace.”

Mentoring - Students can meet regularly, one-on-one with dedicated mentors, building deep relationships that help them achieve their goals. 

Now, for those who are unfamiliar with iD Tech, read the above again, but picture your child experiencing all of it in a fun and vibrant summer camp setting. 

I say that not to compare school to summer camp, but because these three main points - self-directed learning, project-based learning, mentoring - are all key tenets of the programs we run weekly during the summer at prestigious universities across the world.

Here’s a breakdown of what I mean. 

Your student’s journey with iD Tech begins with you (with your child’s input, I’m sure!) selecting a specific course for them to dive into. 

Meaning, it’s not a general tech learning experience where everyone starts at the same square one. Instead, while students will be surrounded by a number of other campers, they’ll be working in small groups of 10 students max per instructor. So, this group might be doing Minecraft Java coding, and that group might be learning to code games in C++

Beyond that, though, within something like Minecraft Java coding, some students might be starting with Java fundamentals, and others might begin with integrating custom tools in their version of the popular game. 

And those customizations they’re implementing? One student might want to create and wield a powerful lightning hammer in their version, while another wants to figure out how to teleport across bodies of water. 

Some students will come to camp with project ideas, and others will have nothing but a blank slate. 

I can keep going to illustrate student freedom and curriculum flexibility, but you get the point. The student’s entire journey can be customized to fit their particular skill level, interests, etc. 

No tests, no grades. Just the freedom for students to learn what they want to learn on their way to completing a project they can be proud of. 

They get to that endpoint by working collaboratively with their peers; like-minded students who all share similar interests, and are engaged in their crafts because they are working on projects that reflect personal interests. 

And best of all, while it might not be readily apparent today, campers are learning the skills required of tomorrow’s workforce—coding, AI, cybersecurity, machine learning, game development, robotics engineering, and so much more. 

For our teens, that “tomorrow” is right around the corner after college. And for younger students? They’re getting a head start, resulting in a much-needed leg up when it comes time to compete for internships, college placement, and future careers. 

And last, mentors. Call them teachers, coaches, or instructors—they are camp staff members who possess the skills of each of those roles, and wear these different hats at different times throughout each camp session. 

We call them tech rockstars, but they are more formally titled as software engineers studying at Carnegie Mellon, industry disruptors attending Caltech, or digital artists from NYU. These are elite, all-adult educators; the same talent sought by companies like Google, EA, Tesla, and Disney (they hire who we hire). 

Who better to mentor your child than someone who has achieved the goals your child will soon be chasing? Someone who has experienced the ins and outs, the ups and downs, the good and the bad?

The learning environment Tavenner has created with Summit Public Schools is positively impacting students' lives. We applaud her efforts and wholeheartedly agree with her approach, as it is echoed in our own summer programs and year-round, Online Private Lessons.

Regardless of your stance on what kids should and shouldn’t be learning in or outside of school, or where they should be when they reach the real world, I’m sure we can all agree that all we really want is for them to be prepared when they get there. 

A photo of Ryan

Ryan manages blog content at iD Tech, starting with the company in 2008. He earned his MBA from Santa Clara University after obtaining his Bachelor’s degree from Arizona State. Connect on LinkedIn!

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