An experiential learning opportunity for all students at Pathways High is our weekly entrepreneurship session and partnership with the UW-Milwaukee Lubar Entrepreneurship Center.
Professors from the Lubar Entrepreneurship Center come to Pathways High each week to teach our students the steps for developing their own businesses, including the creation of a value proposition and identification of customers and end users which are not always the same people. All students are working in small groups and to date each group has established an idea for a new business, identified customer segments, created value propositions for each customer segment and developed a 30-second “commercial” or elevator pitch for their business. The next steps are developing prototypes and websites, understanding the costs and revenues of the business and perfecting their pitches. All students will be presenting their startup businesses to the wider community during Wisconsin Startup Week on Wednesday, November 8 from 10:00 a.m. - 11:45 a.m. at Pathways High. All family members are invited and community members can call in to attend as well.
Dr. John Tharp, Director
While it’s fairly common for a group of people to dream about improvements to a large public system, like education, it’s not common for people to follow through on those dreams and found a school. However, that’s exactly what a group of six women from the Highlands has done by collaborating to develop Pathways High, a UW-Milwaukee authorized public charter high school opening August 28 at 336 W. Walnut Street in downtown Milwaukee. Inspired by their work with students in the Destination Imagination program and the documentary, Most Likely to Succeed, Amber Regan and Julia Burns submitted their concept for a personalized, project based learning high school to the XQ Super School Project, a $10M multi-phased grant challenge, in November 2015.
As a regional public high school, Pathways High is diverse by design, intending to attract racially, culturally and socioeconomically diverse students from Milwaukee county and the four surrounding counties. The inaugural class of students includes freshman through seniors from the city of Milwaukee and suburbs as far away as Cedarburg and Sussex as well as nearer suburbs like Wauwatosa.
In the early phases of the school’s development, Amber and Julia were joined by Highlands’ neighbors Mary Cook, Jody Lowe, Elizabeth Meyer and Rosemary Wirth. Several of the women are longtime residents of the Highlands (17 - 25 years). “We have known each other socially through our children, book clubs and other activities over the years,” commented Julia. “It’s inspiring to work with so many accomplished women whom I’m also privileged to call my friends.” Each woman has contributed their expertise to Pathways High. Mary is an HR leader at WE Energies and chairs the HR committee of the Pathways High Governing Board. Elizabeth Meyer is the founder and president of Fund Development Corp. and a Pathways High Board officer. Rosemary is a veteran teacher and Jody, president of the Lowe Group, has provided media training and messaging advice.
All six women are passionate about Pathways High’s mission to provide personalized, real world education that prepares diverse students for career and life in the rapidly changing 21st century. “I think a high school like Pathways High is very much needed in our community to maximize the talents of our youth and build Milwaukee's future,” Elizabeth stated. According to Rosemary, “As an educator for the past 30 years I had seen changes to the education system but none as potentially impactful as what Julia and Amber were proposing. I had grown so frustrated with the excessive amount of standardized testing taking place in schools that I felt I needed to get involved in the Pathways High movement to, if nothing else, learn how education could be improved for students.”
Julia’s oldest son, Jack, and Amber’s oldest two children, Declan and Delaney, will be in the inaugural class at Pathways High this fall. “Developing a school that would enable all students to pursue their unique talents across science, engineering, business and the arts was very important to us,” commented Amber. “I’ve seen both my own children as well as others’ children thrive in a project based environment because they can pursue their passions. Too often students who don’t conform to the traditional school model become disengaged and marginalized. Our community can’t afford to squander the many talents of our youth simply because they don’t fit the industrial school model developed over 130 years ago.”
“There’s an unfortunate irony with secondary education,” stated Julia. “We live in a rapidly changing world, where innovation occurs at an accelerating pace, however the majority of people largely tolerate the status quo in the education system that is supposed to prepare our youth for success in this diverse and dynamic world. We need more high schools that mirror the real world and engage students in real work, providing students opportunities to earn credentials such as college coursework and industry certifications earlier in their educational careers.”
Most of the women initially engaged with Pathways High due to the XQ Super School Project. Mary stated, “I thought it was a really innovative and exciting exercise to imagine a new high school concept. By the time the contest was over, I had really bought into the need in our community and the idea that this school could really happen and have an impact.” Jody commented, “When Julia and Amber undertook the project to apply for an XQ Super School grant, I became involved and was hoping for that our school district could see the great potential to help our schools evolve to serve the needs of a changing economy. Although it did not work out in our Wauwatosa community, it spurred me on to become part of the Pathways High project.
I continue to advocate for Julia and Amber’s leadership of this school.”
It’s evident that the camaraderie amongst the six women has been a driving force behind their success. Elizabeth stated, “Pathways High has a terrific team and it's even more fun to work with neighbors and see their terrific talents and passion to build a transformative school.” According to Rosemary, “Collaborating on the development of Pathways High enabled me to get to know my neighbors better and realize we all want something better for our children and together we can work toward that goal. My respect for Amber and Julia’s accomplishments is so great that it can't be quantified. Their hard work, vision, and unwavering determination is an inspiration to our entire community. I'm thrilled to have a front row seat to watch their dream become reality.”
Amber and Julia enthusiastically concurred, “The most rewarding part of this journey continues to be meeting incredibly talented and passionate people, both adults and students. As part of our ongoing research, we are traveling across the state and country talking to people who are pioneers in innovating education. Their work inspires us to continuously refine and improve Pathways High and we’re proud to say it all started right here with a group of friends and neighbors from the Highlands!”
Students at Pathways High will learn important soft skills that will care them through life. We call these our EMPOWER traits. Today we defined what those mean to us as a school community.
E, Evidence, Selects relevant data or documentation to prove mastery of personal or group goals.
M, Mindfulness, Develops an awareness of their personal strengths and motivations to understand their effects.
P, Problem Solving, Demonstrates the ability to use critical thinking to form, evaluate, and implement solutions.
O, Ownership, Accepts full or shared responsibility for the success or failure of work.
W, Working Together, Uses written and verbal communication to create consensus in high risk situations.
E, Exploring Perspective, Incorporates multiple points of view to support and develop work.
R, Refinement, Integrates critiques and peer reviews as part of improvement process.
Milwaukee Visionaries Project
Looking for a creative outlet? We encourage you to join us on Thursdays from 4-6:30 pm at Acosta Middle School, 615 W. Washington St., Milwaukee. For more information contact Jen at 414.795.5366 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Milwaukee Visionaries Project is a community based project that seeks to connect and collaborate with young people attending middle school and high school, in order to create short films that allow for expression of their personal experience and life in the city.
In last week’s blog post, Enthusiasm and Lifelong Learning, I wrote about needing education for this generation that is Rigorous, Relevant and Responsive. I attribute credit for these new three “R’s” to a leader from Colorado Succeeds who spoke at the ExcelinEd conference Amber and I attended in Washington, D.C. in early December. This leader stated that these three R’s do not replace the original three R’s (reading, writing and arithmetic), but instead build on them. The overriding message was that mastering the original three R’s is no longer sufficient to ensure successful outcomes for students. During the panel discussion on innovative educational models, leaders from many states, including Colorado, Georgia, Minnesota and Rhode Island, described how they were preparing students for success in postsecondary education, career and life by making education Rigorous, Relevant and Responsive.
To explore this idea further, we must first establish a common definition of the new three R’s. What do we really mean by rigorous and furthermore how is rigor measured? For many of us, standardized tests, AP courses and multiple hours of nightly homework are examples of rigor in education. Although certainly these examples can be arduous and stressful, do they really tell the whole story of rigor? Furthermore, if students become highly skilled at standardized tests, AP courses, and completing long hours of homework will this translate to success in college, work and life? I would argue that today’s world requires a broader definition of rigor in education.
To illustrate this point, I’d like to use a sports analogy. If you consider today’s best athletes, most would agree that their training is rigorous. However, regardless of their chosen sport, they all cross train. No high performing athlete is just running sprints, just lifting weights, or just working on their endurance. They are doing it all. Their training goes well beyond achieving physical excellence and extends to the creative and mental aspects of the sport or game. It’s not enough to be the fastest or strongest. They watch other athletes and teams in order to develop winning strategies. They work with their coaches and teams to craft creative solutions that will lead to successful outcomes. They look at themselves holistically and take great care about their nutrition and emotional wellness. So I would argue that rigorous education for today’s students must consist of cross training. Otherwise, we end up with students who are great test takers, but not great problem solvers. We also run the risk of losing out on the contributions of those who are not good “sprinters,” but may be amazing “weight-lifters” if we limit our definition of rigor to “sprinting.”
As I’m still reveling in Green Bay’s win over Dallas this past Sunday, allow me to make the analogy specific. Mason Crosby’s ability to kick not one, but two 51-yard field goals after being “iced” by a last second Dallas time-out is equally attributable to his laser focus and mental toughness as it is to his physical kicking strength and technique. The rigor of Crosby’s cross training is undeniable. Go Packers!
We sell our students, ourselves and our country short when we define rigor in education too narrowly. Therefore, the definition of rigor must extend beyond the traditional model to encompass wrestling with open ended challenges where solutions are not known, analyzing different perspectives on a problem, collaborating with others in the identification and pursuit of solutions and publicly presenting our work to authentic audiences.
Now the skeptics reading this post might argue that this broader definition of rigor sounds good in theory, but how realistic is its achievement when we still have difficulty getting many students to master the original three R’s. The leaders on the panel at the conference would argue that the answer to this question is Relevance. All of us, as parents or teachers, have heard students ask the question, “When will I use this information in the real world?” This question should be a wake up call to all of us to make learning relevant. Larry Rosenstock, founder of High Tech High in San Diego, noted early on in his teaching career that carpentry students sought out learning geometry when it enabled them to build a better chair. Students saw the relevance of understanding and applying geometry in their carpentry work. We know from the studies of short and long term memory that context matters a great deal for retention of information in long term memory. If we simply memorize a formula or date absent of a meaningful context to us, the information will never move from short to long term memory and therefore will not be available for recall at a later date.
Educators can create meaningful contexts or relevance for the learning students need. One way to create relevance is to stop compartmentalizing information and promote multi-disciplinary learning. Math becomes much more relevant and interesting when applied in the context of solving scientific problems. English and History can be learned in the context of each other. The separation of the subjects is an artificial construct that has outlived its usefulness given ubiquitously available information via technology. Another way to create relevance is through student-driven inquiry or project based learning. When students are empowered to pursue knowledge by asking the questions they want to solve and developing solutions to real world problems that affect them, learning takes off like a rocket. A consistent response from students we interviewed for the XQ Super School Project regarding their greatest learning experiences was that they occurred when the students were making a contribution to the community. Learning was meaningful.
A third way to create relevance is to enable students to pursue and acquire business and industry certifications (wisconsinfastforward.com) on a broad range of topics. One of the panelists at the ExcelinEd conference was a recent college graduate who acquired 30 industry certifications before he graduated from high school. He saw the value of these certifications as gateways to jobs that paid a living wage directly after high school as well as colleges that could further enhance his career prospects. Too often in our culture and education system, we have believed that the acquisition of wisdom is separate from the acquisition of skill. Not only is this belief a fallacy, it’s detrimental to students and our economic growth. I would concur with the panelists from across the country that when education is truly relevant students are gaining both wisdom and skill.
Now let’s turn to the third new “R,” responsive. The definition of “responsive” is reacting quickly and positively. I think most people would agree that our education system is not known for its nimbleness or fast reaction time. Unfortunately, the best intentions are often stymied by layers of bureaucracy. The other complicating factor is innovation is occurring at such a rapid and accelerating pace that it seems impossible to prepare students for careers when they graduate. In fact, according to a reference in Most Likely To Succeed by Ted Dintersmith and Tony Wagner, 65% of students entering grade school this year will work in jobs that don’t exist today. With this staggering data how do we create education that is responsive both to the needs of students and the needs of the world? The answer lies in helping students develop the skills to flourish in complex, rapidly changing environments with diversity of people and thought. The good news is that we know what these skills are and we know they are developable. Specifically, some of these skills include critical thinking, collaboration, creativity and communication. These skills as you’ll recall are also necessary for developing rigor so I would argue the new three Rs of education are highly interdependent. Developing rigor and relevancy makes responsiveness in education possible. And, like the legs of a stool, all three are required to create a rock solid base from which students can thrive and pursue both existing and yet to be discovered pathways to success.
For additional exploration:
When Amber and I embarked on the journey of creating Pathways High, we became voracious researchers. We aren’t formally trained as educators, but we saw a need for an engaging, empowering education that enables students to acquire knowledge in personalized, real world contexts. We saw this need in both our own children and the hundreds of students we’ve coached over seven years in Destination Imagination. So when the call to the nation to reimagine public high school was made by the XQ Institute, we set to work to learn everything we could about the science of the brain and learning, human development, the history of education and the strengths and weaknesses of different educational models. Together we read hundreds of articles, research papers and books (see our recommended reading list), spoke with students and parents, business and government leaders and a myriad of experts on all facets of education. The more we learned, the more we wanted to know. We became passionate learners. Or perhaps we were always passionate learners, we just needed to find the topics to unleash that passion. Perhaps that is true of all people. The comment we hear most often from those we talk to about Pathways High is the enthusiasm we display. Comments like, “you demonstrate incredible passion,” “you’re bubbling over with enthusiasm,” or “your energy is contagious,” remind us of the excitement of learning and the natural high that accompanies it. I believe this is one of the main reasons people become teachers.
I saw this thrilled reaction in my fifth grade son yesterday when he excitedly asked me if I knew why our bodies ache when we’re sick with the flu. He proceeded to explain to me how our body sends out armies of good cells to kill pathogens (his word) that enter our body when we get a virus or bacterial illness. These good cells send messages to our brain to raise our body temperature and contract our muscles, giving us an achy feeling. “So, Mom, it’s not the pathogens that make us feel bad, but our immune system’s reaction to the pathogens,” he summarized. He was clearly enthusiastic about this newfound knowledge and eager to learn more. You couldn’t hold him back if you tried. When I asked him why he was learning about the effects of illness he said it was for his inquiry project, an enrichment activity where he was allowed to select the topic because he had tested out of the regular curriculum. My son’s level of engagement with this self selected and self directed inquiry project was higher than anything I’d seen him display with the standard curriculum. And again I found myself asking the question why this level of engagement in school couldn’t be the norm instead of the exception. It reminded me of the statement in Salman Kahn’s The One World Schoolhouse that I had just finished reading. “Nurturing this sense of wonder should be education’s highest goal; failing to nurture it is the central tragedy of our current system.”
Does this approach to education seem too idealistic or impractical to implement? Is a high level of engagement and enthusiasm for learning a luxury? I would argue it’s an imperative in today’s complex and rapidly changing society. As Kahn writes, “To be successful in a competitive and interconnected world, we need every mind we have; to solve our common problems regarding relations among people and the health of our planet, we need all the talent and imagination we can find.” We know based on the science of the brain and personal experience that a high level of engagement is necessary in order to make multiple connections to a concept and achieve deep, lasting learning. According to Kahn, “It is the connections among concepts -- or the lack of connections -- that separate the students who memorize a formula for an exam only to forget it the next month and the students who internalize the concepts and are able to apply them when they need them a decade later.”
Acknowledging the limitations of our traditional education system in fostering deep learning is the first step in the journey to improve student outcomes for all regardless of geographic location, race, ethnicity or socioeconomic status. Many don’t move beyond this point as they believe the current education system is too entrenched, too long-standing, too enormous to change. Still others throw up their hands and complain about the lack of available resources -- money, time, talent -- to make positive change. To be sure our traditional education system is a dauntingly large and multifaceted system that won’t holistically change on a dime, but that doesn’t mean we can’t make positive changes to components of the system that directly impact students this year, not just in the distant future. Remember our current education system is a human creation. Well intentioned and intelligent people envisioned and developed the system to be relevant, rigorous and responsive to the needs of society 125 years ago. In its time our education system delivered on its goals and fueled the industrial revolution. However, the world has evolved dramatically. Evidence abounds that our traditional education model has exceeded its useful life. The vast majority of our schools don’t mirror the diversity of the real world and don’t prepare our students with critical thinking and problem solving skills.
The good news is that we have the talent, technologies and successful models to make education relevant, rigorous and responsive again. It should be noted that many of the successful education models -- personalized, project based, mastery based and apprenticeships -- have existed for a century or longer. The difference today is that these models are highly economical and scalable due to information technology. Also, students can be exposed to broad career options early in their education and empowered to own their education and pursue unique pathways to success.
We can learn a great deal from the successes of others in our state, across the country and world. Amber and I were fortunate to attend the ExcelinEd conference in Washington, D.C. in early December and heard presentation after presentation from school district, business and state government leaders who were successfully leading the efforts to improve the life outcomes of their students. Next week’s blog post will highlight some of these successes. Of the 1100 conference attendees from 49 states, only seven were from Wisconsin. We have much work to do and the time to do this work is now. This generation of children needs it.
So if the traditional education model leaves you wanting more for your student and others to better prepare them for the future, believe that you can affect change. If you want schools that create an environment where enthusiasm for learning flourishes and students become lifelong learners, you can help make this happen. Keep in mind that doing nothing is not benign inaction. It actually is detrimental as it perpetuates the status quo. When the status quo holds us back from achieving excellence on a broad scale, change must start with each one of us. In the words of Margaret Mead, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it's the only thing that ever has.”
For additional exploration:
We’ve been inspired and informed by many thought leaders in the process of developing Pathways High. Some of these thought leaders and their books will be highlighted in our blog posts. In today’s post, Salman Kahn and his book The One World Schoolhouse are highlighted because Kahn does an exceptional job distilling the key issues related to the shortcomings of our conventional education system and the positive student achievement outcomes of thousands of students who use the free and ubiquitous Kahn Academy everyday around the globe. This blog only scratches the surface of the information covered in the book. Kahn points out that many of the principles upon which the Kahn Academy was based have been around for over a century, but are now implementable on a large scale due to technology. Kahn is incredibly humble in his description of the creation and growth of the Kahn Academy and gives credit to everyone else besides himself. I never viewed this book as an advertisement for Kahn Academy. If you’ve heard Sal Kahn speak in person or on a TED talk, you’ll recognize his straightforward and humorous approach in his book. The One World Schoolhouse is easy to read with no statistics or jargon and likely you’ll find it hard to put down once you start.
Come join us at one of our upcoming parent information sessions! No need to leave your children at home as we will be having a maker activity for them to participate in.
Seats are still available! If you are looking to enroll for 9th and 10th grades this fall please fill out an application.