Cedar Rapids is only twenty minutes down the road from Iowa City, a center of the educational curriculum and assessment industry (ACT and Pearson both have offices there), but feels like a journey twenty years into the future. I had a chance to meet with Cedar Rapids Associate Superintendent, Trace Pickering, and visit Iowa BIG thanks to an introduction from Sandra Dop, competency education guru at the Iowa Department of Education.
In 2008, a devastating flood destroyed Cedar Rapids’ downtown and many residential areas. Community members came together and realized that rebuilding the city provided an opportunity to completely rethink how they did things, including redesigning education. As part of the planning process, community leaders conducted what they affectionately, but unofficially, called the “Billy Madison Project.” Adult community leaders attended high school to see how they would experience it with the hindsight of their own education, life experience, and knowledge of the skills actually needed to be successful in a career. They realized how ridiculous it seemed to ask students to sit through lectures, with bell schedules and silos between subjects. They agreed that the following key elements would be necessary in a new school model:
- Focus on kids’ passions: because most successful adults have passion for what they’re doing;
- Get kids out doing real work: the community has more problems and opportunities than the adults can address on their own. The Cedar Rapids area has 7000 high school students—an untapped resource for the community;
- Make sure kids are learning content in an integrated way: academic rigor is essential, but it must be relevant.
Iowa BIG was founded as a result of these findings and the superintendent agreed to include it in the district’s portfolio of educational opportunities. (more…)