Finding the Right Model

Sans obstacles, gliding ahead with personalized learning.

GUEST COLUMN | by Maurice de Hond

CREDIT Steve Jobs School NetherlandsTwo points stood out at the recent ASU/GSV edtech summit in San Diego: there were three times more visitors than two years ago in Scottsdale, Ariz., and the number of new businesses and products in the field of edtech has now grown strong. The majority of those companies and products focus on personalizing education, responding to the level and possibilities of the pupil.

So long as your students are organized into age-based groups as has always been done, the best technology will deliver little return with respect to a personalized approach. It’s like trying to ice skate on grass.

I’ve been active in this field since 2012, like Max Ventilla of AltSchool. I got involved because I have a young child who started using an iPhone and iPad at a very early age. However, when I visited my old school, it looked just like it did 30 years ago.

I don’t imagine such a school will well prepare my child for life after 2030, and that’s why I’ve started a new school in the Netherlands with several others, for my daughter and countless other children born and growing up in a world of tablets and smartphones. In tribute to Apple’s co-founder, we named it the Steve Jobs School. Given the Dutch constitution, the school is paid for with public money; parents don’t pay anything.

The school became an overnight success.

Already, 35 public schools in the Netherlands are now using this school model. Tech Insider chose our school as one of the 13 Most Innovative Schools in the World. There is great interest worldwide; South Africa and Spain have begun replicating this model with further talks happening in more than 10 other countries.

In creating this school, we’ve learned something that should be a major warning to anyone who is interested in using edtech in schools:

So long as your students are organized into age-based groups as has always been done, the best technology will deliver little return with respect to a personalized approach. It’s like trying to ice skate on grass.

The essence of personalized learning is that a student, for each subject area or topic, develops at his or her own speed without limitation from any peer group. The way it has been, the better ones are curbed, and the slower ones can’t keep up—a considerable problem for both students and teachers.

We’ve broken the old model through clever use of technology and a smart structure. We reinvented the elementary school. Our model offers ample space for those personalized developments, some with and some without technology, and of course gives much attention to 21st-century skills and social-emotional development.

With a 24:1 student-teacher ratio and for children aged 4 to 12, our school does it like this:

– Each student has a teacher as coach. Every six weeks the coach, student and parent meet to review an Individual Development Plan (IDP).

– The IDP is based on the talents and abilities of the child and the requirements of the government/school.

– All children have an iPad, which they are allowed to take home.

– Each day, students spend one hour in their base group with their coach and other children.

– The rest of the day, teachers are specialists (language, math, geography, creativity, etc.), offering classes and workshops (30-45 minutes each) from their own classrooms, or are available for guidance.

– There is a quiet area where children can be active for part of the day, practicing with interactive adaptive programs as offered by various companies on the market.

– Via a special app, children (with help from parents) choose in advance from a range of next-day activities based on their IDP and weekly duties. Thus, during a typical day, a student makes their own way through school on the basis of supply and their plan.

In this way, students are both engaged and empowered, and the results are overall quite impressive. Not only are they happy to go to school, but problems such as ADHD and ADD melt away like snow in the sun. For children with dyslexia, this is also a workable approach.

So, if you want your school to really get started with personalized learning, and you want to choose from the many great edtech solutions out there, then you’ll also need to adapt a model like ours to ensure your school truly fits the 21st century.

Maurice de Hond is founder of the Steve Jobs School in the Netherlands. Write to:

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