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Conference focuses on real-world learning





Representatives of schools in six states met this week in Cleveland to find out how they can better connect urban students' learning to the workplace.

CMSD’s MC²STEM High School hosted fellow members of Schools That Can at the network’s second annual Real World Learning Leadership Academy. The three-day gathering drew about 75 administrators and teachers.

Schools That Can, founded in 2006, consists of more than 180 traditional public, charter and religious schools, primarily from the East Coast and the Midwest. The New York-based organization seeks to improve the quality of urban education and help underserved students close opportunity and skills gaps.

Schools in the network work with partners in education and industry to help students develop the skills they need to be successful in college and careers. The schools often emphasize hands-on, project-based strategies. 

“Researchers know that kids learn by doing,” said Ann Szekely, director of programs and partnerships for Schools That Can Chicago, a cluster of 30 schools.

“Sitting down and watching someone do a science experiment or reading a textbook is not as powerful as doing it themselves. And it’s a lot more fun.”

MC²STEM (STEM stands for science, technology, engineering and math) opened in 2008. The high school is embedded in the outside world, with classrooms distributed among the Great Lakes Science Center, GE’s Nela Park campus and Cleveland State University.

Principal Feowyn MacKinnon said the school also consults with sectors like manufacturing and information technology to help provide “authentic learning” for students and assist them in developing communication and other skills.

“We have real-world partners tell us what projects they are working on,” she said. “We design content around that.”

For example, one lesson was inspired by research that shows blue-hued light can soothe students who have attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, or ADHD. Students were asked to design a classroom where teachers could not only turn down lights, they could alter the tone.

The Great Lakes Science Center has begun serving food cooked to order, MacKinnon said. So, next week, the ninth-graders who attend classes and eat there will be asked to design an app that would allow ordering ahead or paying online.

As the conference wrapped up Friday at the science center, school teams concentrated on dealing with common challenges.

MacKinnon hoped to learn ways to reconcile the school’s mastery learning system with the state’s assessment schedule. Mastery requires students to thoroughly grasp a standard before advancing, but the state often makes them take tests before they are ready.

Schools That Can has opened offices in five cities and is studying expansion to Cleveland, said Casey Lamb, the organization’s chief operating and development officer. She said the real-world learning movement is building.

“We’re on the edge of a new focus,” she said. “Everybody seems to recognize that something needs to change.”