At Driven, learning in parallel means that when we explore a concept, we are not bound in teaching only those that apply to the grade a student is at. By removing the constraints of sequential based learning, our students explore content in a way that combines content that enables richer understanding. For example: 5th graders understand the area of a rectangle well. Why not immediately explore something interesting like the area under a curve from calculus? Yes, wait on the details of the integral and derivative, but teaching area under a curve when you teach area of a polygon is the right thing to do. Teach these concepts together, rather than waiting for a student’s senior year in high school to learn calculus deepens understanding and engagement with concepts. That is learning in parallel - not waiting until a certain age or grade level to pull out elements of learning from the larger body of mathematics.
Associative learning means breaking subject silos and combining disciplines. STEM/STEAM education in middle and high school does this to some extent. At Driven we go one step further and go cross-curricular while being parallel - advanced concepts like the calculus example above get much richer when we get out our multimeters out and start gathering unit-rate data on amps, volts and watts with real electric motors while exploring the area under the curve. Parallel and associative at the same time. A Driven student can handle this and seeks out this kind of challenging lesson. Students are operating in the real world where challenging problems are rarely siloed by subject or neatly labeled by difficulty level.
To really pull together the concepts of parallel and associative learning, let's take a look at a real lesson that grew out of exploring Pi and circumference in 5th grade. Students go deeper and explore sine waves with the idea of amplitude and frequency using a physical spirograph-style models. Students work in Fusion 360, a professional CAD program, to generate gear teeth along circular and straight paths. Along the way we examine triangles and get proficient at visually estimating values for Sin, Cos & Tan without a calculator as a crutch. By pulling in concepts from trigonometry years before students would normally encounter it, and combining the discipline of engineering to build models, the students gain the ability to work complex problems via visualizing and prototyping. The ability to “ish” a problem's solution before doing the calculation or committing to a final design comes from this approach. From this point after building the spirograph we can design several different lessons for different academic levels. The 5th graders might be tasked with designing a flat line gear (rack) and round gear (pinion) that will produce an exact number or rotations, but with a different gear spacing (pitch). At the same time 8th graders might be tasked with making hole patterns in the pinion gear that will produce certain amplitudes and frequencies along that same rack. Students are also encouraged to do work beyond their grade level when they show mastery of the work presented at that level.
If you put a school within a makerspace and limit class size we believe it is possible to do this parallel and associative learning well if the teachers are generalists and have a breadth of knowledge and experience to pull from and curate the learning experience for each student.
Students should be able to understand what each term in a formula actually does. Rote execution of the formula is not acceptable at Driven. Understand the formula, then use it. For example we should be able to envision a parabola with y = ax2 + bx + c because we deeply understand what each term is doing and start to think about those terms as analog dials on a machine. Put in values for the a, b and c terms and be able to draw the parabola with reasonable accuracy before doing the calculation. This is where curation and direction from the teacher comes in. What parts of a standard geometry course should be amplified and what parts should be addressed at another time and in another context?
Paul Lockhart wrote an amazing piece on this called Mathematician’s Lament. It is a quick read and recommends a very different approach from that of a standard geometry text. He focuses on mental constructions in his book Measurement that we take at Driven and make into physical constructions.
With 1,800 hours on tap in the Driven school year we can cover most of the content for a specific grade at a much deeper level. Students will also be prepared to absolutely crush trigonometry and calculus when they get there later in high school.
We have the Texas TEKS as a guide of core content to be explored in class and our teachers then curate and direct the classroom study. There are clearly defined units of study and we will check off those TEKS boxes to a level where students entering high school in 10th grade will test well. What do we do with the bulk of our time? We choose to go much deeper with more hours in the school year on topics that are the most valuable.
When we are diving into the current research around the biology of glass frogs we empower our students to access the original research on the topic with the aim of being able to extract the high level questions and concepts being explored. The expectation is not that the student will know everything in the research paper, but the aim for Driven students is to break down the barriers of what may have been perceived as above their grade level. Students at Driven are accepted to the school with some of the grit and love of learning already installed at home. Here is an example. In a paper on tokamak and stellarator plasmas and reactors students need to be able to extract out the main points of what the machines actually do, how they are different from each other, pros and cons of each design and how this relates to current science. That takes some grit. While not every student is planning to be a physicist, at Driven we pursue knowledge across disciplines, with maximum effort.
STEAM lessons need to combine disciplines at different points in the lesson. For example: pick up leaf. This could be a Bahia grass leaf, a Laurel Oak leaf or a black tea leaf. The leaf becomes a starting point to teach. Chemistry, cell structure, surface area vs. volume, capillary action and art. Yes, art too. Our first task might be searching for the Fibonacci sequence in the leaf and extracting those vectors to edit and then produce laser cut art. At moments the teacher is curating and directing a steAm class and 30 minutes later it is a STeaM class. Engaging STEAM lessons are dynamic with the capital and lowercase letters in the acronym shifting emphasis to maximize learning.
At Driven, we read across disciplines and take the time to write about what we’ve learned. The term literature at Driven is taken to mean a body of written work of high value to humanity. In addition to reading great works of literature, we expand reading assignments to include excellent science non-fiction and the above mentioned research papers. In fiction we might be extracting social, cultural or historical lessons - or just chewing on delicious prose. With science books we are reading for full understanding; all of the details. With research papers we might be looking for the big ideas and skipping many of the details in order to build lifelong reading skills
At Driven, one unique way that we curate reading assignments is through book pairings. The idea of book pairings, built with associative learning in mind, helps students explore topics from many points of view. Below are some example book pairings:
For Whom the Bell Tolls paired with The Old Man and the Sea
Of Mice and Men paired with The Grapes of Wrath
Lonesome Dove paired with All My Friends Are Going To Be Strangers
The Genius of Birds paired with The Soul of an Octopus
The Human Cosmos paired with Cosmos
Fuzz paired with Silent Spring
We use a wide variety of tools at Driven. From the oxy-acetylene cutting torch to rough out mild steel plates to using sharp knives to make a meal in a commercial kitchen. There is a right time to pick up a tool; when the students can appreciate the danger and bring the respect needed to stay focused and use the tools correctly and safely. The compound miter saw, soldering iron, exacto knife and belt sander can induce serious injury. At Driven, our students are trained to use and respect these powerful tools, and from day one, students work in a classroom with these tools.
Students at Driven can be able to navigate the world they live in. From time to time we take long walks/hikes in Austin. We might hike off-trail along a creek with our younger friends at the Green Dome Project or we might spend a few hours navigating the urban environment without GPS to get to a downtown museum. We might elect to take the public bus back to Driven after that experience or walk a bit further and stop at a restaurant that looks interesting. At Driven we spend time learning to navigate our city geographically and socially.
Think of a nautilus shell shape with five parallel lines of inquiry spiraling out from the nexus. Learning arcs mapped to each student’s interest and drive. There are five core learning arcs at Driven. These arcs are run in parallel during the school year. It is with these arcs that we can map many parts of our learning journey to interests our students already have.
Arc #1 is called Evolve:
We forge a knife
Read the Natural History of the Heart
Shepard a chicken from living to dissected with our knife
Cook the chicken in our kitchen with our knife
Serve a chicken dinner to family and friends.
(life sciences, chemistry and humanities.)
Arc #2 is called Pitch:
Threads on a bolt as pitch
Doppler as pitch
Redshift / Blueshift as pitch
(physics, classical mechanics, history, astronomy )
Arc #3 is called Red Team / Blue Team:
Deviant Ollam / Locksport
Biological, mechanical, and social systems
(Systems thinking / Social / Hacker Mindset / Microcontrollers)
Arc #4 is called The Hero’s Journey:
Comparative Literature -
Your life’s play
Props and costumes
A play at City Theatre
(SEL, Literacy, Story Telling, Community)
Arc #5 is called Driven Outside (the door):
Observe the same 100 sq. ft. of creekbed every school day
Journal journal every day
We grow (plants)
We raise (fresh water shrimp)
We decompose with (mushrooms)
Study a future pandemic
(outdoor education - ecosystems, life cycles,)