Edutouring 2.0 - Learning by Doing and Design Thinking at Nueva School

Nueva School is a private California School that provides a constructivist education for gifted students. That said, what they actually provided was a programme that could (and should) be offered to any student. The school's motto is to "learn by doing, learn by caring" with students engaging in project based learning, integrated and thematic studies and as much real world learning as possible. Across the programmes students apply a Design Thinking process that insure learning is built around inquiry. 

Nueva School has been open for 45 years and has traditionally been an elementary and middle school only (same as a full primary in NZ), however they are just about to launch Nueva High School so as to provide a complete educational journey for their students.Students take a range of seemingly traditional subjects such as Maths, Science, Technology (IT), Literature Studies, Humanities and PE. They also take Design Engineering which seemed comparable to the equivalent of all NZ Technology subjects being integrated in a single monster Technology course delivered in a Maker Space (woot!).

I have to declare at this point - I loved this school. Particularly as it was the first school on this tour where they approached technology (and actually the whole curriculum) in a way that I relate to - this school wasn't an Apple school, they weren't a school that put the technology up front all. This school was about outcomes for learners. Technology (in its widest sense) was a tool to be used when it makes sense, as the Principal said - don't try to fit a square peg into a round hole. 

This didn't mean technology wasn't being used, it was, a lot. All students used MacBooks, they also had an incredible iLab which struck me as the ultimate "maker space" with 3D printer, laser cutter, desktop computers, sewing machines, glue guns, paints and a range of hard technology tools and work spaces. Work tables were on wheels to allow quick rearrangement of spaces. 

Nueva School is passionate about Design Thinking and Design Engineering. They have a Design Thinking Institute and Innovation Lab led by Kim Saxe. To me, this aspect of the school was the key to its success. It was also the aspect of the school which in a sense really exemplified what the NZC is all about. Students in this space developed Key Competencies. Their focus on real world learning and focus on empathy meant that it covered the Values and Principles as outlined in the NZC as well. The Design Thinking process they use has been developed by Kim Saxe, based on the Stanford model. It is a inquiry model and thinking process, not unlike the one used in our Technology curriculum. It is however a process that can be used across the curriculum. The real point of difference (for me at least) was the inclusion of empathy in the cycle. A great example of this was the 6th grade Health Innovation programme where students work with a person with health issues, identify needs of health care. Whilst students are not expected to find cures, they do focus on the human experience and identify issues that may have solutions. In one example given, a number of students happened to be working with people with similar illnesses and discovered that each suffered as a result of having to work through a number of different treatments to find which one suited needs, the students identified that if the patients had been informed of all choices up front and able to choose, this could have prevented much of the "trial and error" the patients experienced. 

The focus on empathy and social action is woven throughout the curriculum at Nueva. Students don't just take "Business Studies" they instead learn and explore Social Entrepreneurship. They also learn a language of choice throughout using this as a platform for exploring world issues and social action on global level. Students learned about the country of their language and even engaged in a longterm in depth inquiry around designing and building an Eco house in the country they were focusing on. In the final year of the middle school, all students then spend two weeks in that country, one with a host family and the other exploring the country itself.

Inquiry was everywhere at Nueva. All students engaged in inquiries for each of the subjects, with much of the final two months of the school year being dedicated to inquiries in preparation for their "culmination" presentations which (I think) were basically an opportunity for students to present and celebrate their learning. Another core value of the school is collaboration and "collective knowledge", therefore presentations may be in groups or individual depending on how the learning took place.
Students also engaged in a passion project in Middle School. The project was based on something the student is passionate about and also betters the world (that component is optional but 2/3s still opt in).
Students have a mentor outside of the school and the project is very much based in the "real world". Students also participate in self-initiated projects that they engage in at lunchtime.

In summary, this was (to me anyway) genuine 21st Century teaching and learning in practice. Forget the fact that it is pitched at gifted students (it needn't be) or the fact that it is private (this could easily delivered in any public NZ school) - this school put their learners at the centre, put inquiry at the centre, put social action at the centre and they provided educators that worked alongside learners as facilitators of knowledge rather than teachers. 

We could all afford to do a whole lot more learning by doing and especially learning by caring. 



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