2020 Webinar Transcript: 21st Century Skills

2020 Webinar Transcript: 21st Century Skills

Agile Learning Centers Network Spring 2020 Webinar Series

“21st Century Skills and Self-Directed Education” with Crystal Byrd Farmer

 of Gastonia Freedom School



[00:00:00.060] – Crystal

So when I talk about 21st century skills and the way that that applies to our students, there may be different examples at your ALC. 


[00:00:16.490] – Title Card

21st Century Skills in ALC Land with Crystal Byrd Farmer from Gastonia Freedom School


[00:00:16.570] – Crystal

Here we have a factory worker and, of course, this is a recent picture. So there are still people who work in factories, but at one point, manufacturing was 40 percent of the US’s GDP. So a lot of kids were growing up and expecting to go into a factory environment. It wasn’t until I worked in a manufacturing plant that I realized the bells that you hear in school are what you hear at plants. There’s a bell for the beginning of the day. There’s a bell for lunch, and then the end of the day. So those bells, that kind of controlled thing, it comes from the factory and is helping to attune kids to what factory work looks like. So, part of doing that kind of work– you have a very set, a very strict, rigid schedule. You come in at eight a.m., you get a lunch break, you leave at a certain time – some people may work for a shift, second shift – but everything is kind of planned for you. Your day is already set. You know what time it’s going in. You know, everything’s pretty routine. You have very monotonous, repetitive tasks. So you’re doing one thing and you’re doing that one thing over and over. Now, you may need to be trained for that one thing, some machines you take a lot of training, but you’re still just doing that one thing over and over and over.


And part of the reason that manufacturing has left the United States is because those “one things” can be automated. I found the website – and maybe I’ll share it in the chat in a little bit – it was like, “how likely are you to be replaced by automation?” And a high likelihood is going to be things like people who work on assembly lines; people who do things, like, even if you’re talking about working at McDonald’s, if you’re serving food; people who are just typing up information, typing in data; customer service, people who are answering the phone and troubleshooting with you, all of that is being automated. And so the skills for people in the United States nowadays are a lot different. They are– you have a much broader range of responsibilities. 


[00:02:41.390] – Crystal

So another thing that we have in the 20th century is hierarchical management. So you report to a boss, that boss reports to a boss, and eventually there’s the CEO of a company somewhere. And so it’s very clear who’s in charge, who you report to, and who you complain to when you have problems. In the 20th century, a lot of people had just one employer, so they started with them when they were 17, 18, and then they retired with that same employer.


[00:03:11.560] – Crystal

And then there are limited sources of knowledge, only accessible through institutions. So you think about institutions — such as colleges and universities, training facilities, schools — they were they the source of information. Libraries! If you weren’t able to get to that source, you wouldn’t have the information. 


[00:03:36.470] – Crystal

So now in the 21st century, we have more responsibility. So you’re not just doing one thing over and over and over, you’re doing multiple things over and over and over. And some of those things overlap. Some of those things have to be done at the same time. Some of those things require working with other people are going out to this thing, to this person, and asking for help. 


[00:03:58.310] – Crystal

You’re reporting to different people, so you may have what they call  “dotted line managers” also: people who aren’t very direct, who aren’t responsible for approving your timesheet, but people that you have something that you need to report to them, or product you need to give them. So you have more of a flatter structure because it’s not going from me to my manager, to [their] manager. This is going from me to this person and that person to that person. Flat management structures are another kind of corporate buzz word thing where you’re not just seeing some one person as an authority figure. You’re feeling responsible to a lot of people, to your team because that helps spread out the accountability. 


[00:04:45.400] – Crystal

Another thing is that people of my generation and after– this is going to– we’re going to have more than one employer. So I’ve had about five employers in my career. This is much more common than it was in the 20th century and it’s something that I mean —


[00:05:14.530] – Abby

Crystal, your sound cut. Crystal. 


[00:05:25.470] – Crystal

I’m going to be a lot different, but previously people coming out of college had a lot of options. They had a lot of people fighting for them because they know that nobody is going to just be loyal to one company for 50 years. They’re going to look around and try and find a company that has the coolest perks and pays the best and stuff like that. 


[00:05:47.780] – Crystal

The other thing is that we have a lot more gig jobs, side jobs. So people are driving Uber, they’re doing Postmates. They are working on the side for things, getting other sources of income. And when you have a gig or freelance job, you’re your own boss. And that means you have to take care of your taxes, your IRA, your job responsibilities and customer service. So that’s that’s on you to do. And that means you have to have a lot more skills in that area. 


[00:06:23.530] – Crystal

And finally, the knowledge that we can gain is is much more accessible. So there are a whole college courses that are available for free on the Internet. Google is– has changed the world in terms of finding information. There are a lot more sources of information, and it’s a lot easier to get. And so that means that we individually have to be responsible about how we find information, and how we evaluate information instead of just trusting that whatever this source is, is important for us. 


[00:07:00.880] – Crystal

All right, so I’m – speaking of information-  I went and I tried to find a graph that shows what GDP had turned into and I didn’t find it. All I found was the Department of Labor site, and it had a list of all the 2018 contributions to GDP. So what I did is I put it in a table, and I made a chart. So this is showing the share of GDP, and GDP is Gross Domestic Product. That’s how economists measure what our economy is focused on, and what it’s doing. 


[00:07:38.340] – Crystal

And so you see this big blue area that’s called “services”. And it’s a couple, several different categories. But all of this service thing, all of these things are what you would consider to be “twenty first century type” jobs, so you have professional and business services: your accountant, your engineer, your lawyers. You have educational services: your teachers, a therapist. You have health care: so you have everything involved in the health care system, as far as nurses, doctors, technicians. And information is just a really broad category that I can consider anything dealing with a computer so: information technology, software developers, software engineers, programmers, technical support people, all of the things that deal with how information gets from one place to another. And then you have your finance, real estate and insurance people, our favorite people to deal with.  Just kidding. All right. 


[00:08:45.770] – Crystal

So this is — this is two years ago. This is what the GDP was. Almost 50 percent of it (the number is 47.4%) is in this services category.


[00:08:57.550] – Crystal

Manufacturing is only at eleven point four percent, nowadays. That used to be much greater, used to be a lot more involved– a lot more of the economy in the US was devoted to manufacturing. And this is why we need 21st century skills, because what we’re expected to do has changed. 


[00:09:20.860] – Crystal

So while the world has changed, education has not changed. When we think about what our kids are doing now, especially if they’re going to end up working in services, they need to have time management skills, customer service skills, teamwork, communication, problem solving; some of ya’ll mentioned these things, when you thought about about 21st century skills. Knowing facts — like in 1492 Columbus sailed the ocean blue —  facts like that are not as relevant. I have Google so I can figure out any fact that I want. I was an engineer; we use calculators all the time. It’s not necessary for me to figure out the hypotenuse of a triangle on paper, and that’s where these twenty first century skills come in.


[00:10:12.260] – Crystal

So before we get to – 


[00:10:15.160] – Antonio

When people talk about twenty first century skills, they so often are talking about exactly that, preparing them to be tech workers. And, but if you look at the jobs that are available in tech, those are the ones that are most often most easily achievable by opting out of the system. Right now, the traditional education, or the conventional education system is much more about credentialing and training. So even if the focus is just on jobs, if you’re talking about the tech space, you know, conventional schooling is hardly the best option for people.


[00:10:54.430] – Crystal

The first thing, the first kind of group of skills are things beyond academics. So, of course – well, maybe not of course – sometimes we do want our kids to know the basic A, B, C, Ds. In our ALC we do focus on reading and writing and math. You we do teach those basic skills. But besides just knowing the facts about world history or about how math works, you need to have an awareness of how all of that connects to what’s actually happening in people’s lives.


[00:11:27.640] – Crystal

The global awareness. You know, we talk about climate change, wars in different places, and now we have a whole pandemic. So understanding how countries are connected, how people live in different parts of the world, all of that’s important for us to know. 


[00:11:44.830] – Crystal

This has been a great time for our ALC to talk about what’s going on in the world, and how viruses work, and how something that started so far away can have an impact on our lives right now. And that’s what I think is really good about the ALC model, is that we have time to have those conversations. We don’t have to just say, “well OK, this is a fact, this is a pandemic and we’re closed, and move on because we have to take this test at the end of the semester.”


[00:12:15.020] – Crystal

It’s like, “Well, what is going on? How is it affecting us? What are we doing differently and how do you feel about that?” So that’s one way that we incorporate that financial, economic, business and entrepreneurial literacy. 


[00:12:30.880] – Crystal

What that means is that if people are more in charge of their careers, or in charge of their futures, they have to have some type of knowledge about how the economy works and how finances work. So you need to be able to make a budget. You need to be able to understand, if you take this job, how many hours you’re going to work, how much you’re going to get at the end of that, how much taxes is going to be taken out, things like that. 


[00:12:57.160] – Crystal

When it comes to business literacy, if you’re going to be working for different companies, you might want to know what that company’s performance on the stock market is doing. What does that mean if a company’s losing value over time? What changes do you need to make if your 401k has sunk to however much percent? Things like that. So that’s some of the awareness that you need to have. 


[00:13:27.300] – Crystal

Civic literacy: so we need to know who our leaders are, what decisions they’re making, and how those decisions affect us. So, one of the big things that, well, that I was excited about was talking about the impeachment of the president a couple of months ago. I don’t think our kids were as excited about it as I was. But that’s OK. That’s the nature of self direction. You just kind of throw it out there and see if they pick up on it. But, talking about what it means to vote, how what our representatives do, what our president does, and how we hold those people accountable is important to know. You’re not just having your preacher tell you who to vote for. You’re making those decisions yourself. And that requires a lot more critical thinking skills.


[00:14:13.210] – Crystal

Health literacy, that’s what this row example is illustrating. You need to be able to know, if there’s a pandemic going around: What are the symptoms? Do I have the symptoms? Where can I go get tested? Am I going to be immune after I get Covid-19? So those kind of things are not always things that you can just, like, read a book and find out about. We have to –we have to find the sources. We have to evaluate those sources, we have to understand if that’s a good, a good source of information, if it’s telling things accurately, if it’s from people who are trustworthy, and then we can apply it to our lives. So that’s health literacy. 


[00:14:59.530] – Crystal

Environmental literacy. It’s kind of like the global awareness where we have to understand our impact on the environment around this. And so we have to understand how we live in the world and how that impacts people around us, whether it’s just on the local level, or the global level, and is more important to to know how your life impacts other people’s lives than to know specific numbers about what– what size particulate is the worst pollutant in the environment and stuff like that.


[00:15:31.870] – Crystal

So it’s important that when we are wanting kids to learn these twenty first century skills, that they’re seeing the context of it. They’re not just learning facts without any context. They’re learning what it means to know this thing or to be aware of this thing. 


[00:15:53.710] – Crystal

One thing that’s not on here that I could talk about — that I like to talk about — is being aware of race and culture. So understanding what their race can experience in the context of the world, in the context of America in the South, understanding that being a black person in the United States can be a different experience than being a white person. Having that knowledge means that you can move through the world a little bit differently, you can also apply some critical thinking to things that happen to you. You can start advocating for things that are important to you. You can have an impact on the world by understanding– by understanding who you are, and how you– how that comes out in being inside the world. 


[00:16:46.840] – Crystal

All right, so my real world example, you have to make changes to your finances, you have to adapt to your workplace changing. You have to deal with the fact that the parks are not open, playgrounds are not open. You have to find that health information, and use it to keep your family healthy. And then a lot of people will want to volunteer, because a lot of people are making masks nowadays. You have to be able to to understand what a need is, what somebody’s need is, and then apply that and help other people. Not just learning by rote. 


[00:17:28.470] – Crystal

One of the biggest things that technology companies want from their young employees – or future employees – is to be creative, innovative, to have initiative. You can’t teach creativity by giving multiple choice tests. You can’t sit someone down and say, be creative. You have to give them the opportunity to try things, to fail, to explore. And that’s how you develop those creativity skills. When it comes to creativity and innovation, if you have a kind of free form materials — so think of Lego, those building blocks, Play-Doh — those are things that inspire creativity because they start out as just a lump of thing. You have to envision in your mind what you want it to be and then you have to make it into that. And that’s a skill that you practice. And kids practice this all the time as they grow up. It’s just that when we get to school, we think, “oh, well, the only way they’re going to learn it is if I give them a book and tell them to read these lines about creativity.” 


[00:18:44.500] – Crystal

So that’s why our ALCs usually have a lot of materials around. We encourage art sessions, news sessions, writing sessions so that kids can explore things. They can try it without worrying if they’re going to get a good, good grade or not. They can just say, you know, “I’m just throwing it out there and see what happens.”


[00:19:06.990] – Crystal

When we talk about critical thinking and problem solving: this is the skill of not knowing how something should end up, but working toward it. So there are several cycles of problem solving. One is called Think, Plan, Do. So you have a problem. You think about what the problem is and what potential solutions are, you plan a solution to it, and then you do that solution. But that’s not where it ends. It goes back around to Think, Plan, Do. 


[00:19:38.470] – Crystal

So once you’ve done a couple of solutions that you think will work, if you go back and say, “Well, did that work? Can I make changes to it? Can I improve it – can I improve it?” That’s how the problem solving loop goes. And when you’re in the real world, that’s what you’re doing all the time. 


[00:19:58.330] – Crystal

Like if we went fishing [all] morning, and I’m not catching any fish, I can say, “Well, OK, the problem is I’m not catching any fish. Maybe I should change my bait.” So I change my bait, draw the line out, see if I catch any fish. OK, not catching any fish. Then, maybe I need to go to a different part of the lake. 


[00:20:19.260] – Crystal

So practicing these skills is what helps our kids get better at them. If we’re just putting them in a room saying, “OK, here’s a puzzle, and here are the instructions to it, just to follow the instructions and then you’ll get to the end and you’ll get a good grade.” That’s not encouraging problem solving skills; that’s encouraging “follow the instructions” skills. And that’s actually not what employers want for their employees, nowadays. They want people who think outside the box, as it’s called. 


[00:20:52.300] – Crystal

Alright, communication and collaboration. Now, since we work with so many, in such a dispersed world, you have to be able to communicate with people who may speak a different language, may be part of a different culture. Even if they’re just in a different department, they may have their own set of acronyms that you don’t have. So being able to communicate is an important skill, and if you’re in a traditional classroom, you know, the only communication you’re doing is the right answer, the wrong answer, and “can I go to the bathroom?” So having space for kids to try out ways of communicating, to talk about what they need, is important to encourage those skills. 


[00:21:36.700] – Crystal

At Gastonia Freedom School, we have a lot of kids who are autistic and one of the symptoms of autism is difficulties in communication. So that can mean verbal and nonverbal communication. That means, if I say something, I may say it in a way that somebody misunderstands, or if somebody is really mad and they have their arms crossed and they have a frown, an autistic person may not catch that, that person is mad. So understanding those communication signals, and being able to say what you want to say, or hear what the other person is saying, is important and we have to, with our autistic kids, we have to teach that explicitly. We don’t just expect them to pick it up. 


[00:22:24.890] – Crystal

So a lot of things we do – they’re called social skills – is what we work on: listening, hearing other people, repeating back what they said, understanding if somebody is upset or not. And these are skills that all kids need to have. And if you’re sitting in a classroom, facing forward the whole day, and not allowed to talk at lunch, you know, you don’t get to practice  those communication skills. You don’t get to figure out what works for one person versus another person, or the ways that you like to hear information, or take in information. 


[00:23:02.230] – Crystal

And finally, collaboration. Being able to work with other people, to get over your differences, to work with somebody when you’re mad or upset. All of these are important skills to have. As adults we know that this is important! We go to potluck dinners, we go to church and do a Bible study – we know it’s important to collaborate with people, but a lot of times when we go to school settings, we say, OK, here’s your work, but here’s your irony. Now you sit down and and just do that all by yourself. You know, they call it– they call it cheating when you’re asking somebody else for help, or to get answers on a test. Whereas in the real world that’s what we would do. 


[00:23:50.880] – Crystal

So the example I have is taking a road trip: you need to know how a car works, and how to make sure your car’s in the right condition. You need to be able to read a map or at least use your phone to figure out where you are.


[00:24:04.950] – Crystal

You need to know how much fuel your car holds, and when to stop for gas. So there’s your math skills. You have to communicate with people about how far you are away, and when you’re going to get there; you have to agree with the rest of your family on where to eat dinner. You know, a lot of times the parents may make that decision, but you can be more collaborative by having everybody voice their opinion, and then figuring out some kind of consensus. 


[00:24:31.820] – Crystal

And then improvising – so how many people have been driving and just like, “OK, let’s stop and go south of  the border there’s this cute little town in South Carolina.” You have to know, do I have enough gas to get there? How much time do I have as far as our plans for the trip? Are we going to run out of daylight if we take this side trip? Do I need to have extra money in case we want to buy some kind of knickknack thing?


[00:25:05.800] – Crystal

All right, the next one is uniquely 21st century in that there’s a lot more information out there, and you have to understand where that information comes from, whether it’s reliable. You have to know where to get the information, and then you have to be able to apply that information to your life. So information literacy, media literacy. And then this ICT is what we deal with when we’re talking about marketing or branding things that corporations do to kind of influence us. 


[00:25:49.540] – Crystal

So understanding how someone is communicating with me, or how I’m being influenced by a particular piece of information, is very important. So when it comes to our ALC, you know, we do a lot of filtering of information because our kids have access to YouTube. But when something comes up and if I think it’s relevant, I can say, well, that’s not exactly how I see how things go or, you know, I can talk about what I think is important and then I can give them resources- books, Web links – to say, “these are ways that you can figure out more about what you want.” We talk about evaluating sources so saying, OK, did this come from the first page of Google? Did it come from an encyclopedia? Did it come from a misinformation site? Being able to know what is good information versus bad information is really important for people who have so much coming at them because of a device in their hand. So screen time is a big topic of debate in a lot of ALCs.


[00:26:59.470] – Crystal

I’ll tell you Gastonia Freedom School is very pro-screen. So we have devices for all of our kids to use. And we are– I wouldn’t say it’s unlimited, but it is very liberal as far as their ability to access those devices. And that’s because we have kind of this dual purpose of helping lower income kids, or kids who may not have that access to be able to to learn those skills and be able to access technology. But also, I feel like– Information is free and everybody should be able to find information on their own. 


[00:27:37.320] – Crystal

So when I was growing up, we had one family computer. You know, we didn’t have our individual phones and we had a set of encyclopedias. But there was so much that I gained by going to the library, and picking out books myself, and reading, and exploring is that– that’s how I learned who I was and what I wanted to do and how I saw the world.


[00:28:02.020] – Crystal

So we need kids who are able to take in information, and then understand how that applies to them, and what they want to do with that information. That’s why I’m pro-screens, because that’s how you get information. And it may not be information that you want your child to have right now, but that’s kind of where parenting comes in. 


[00:28:24.130] – Crystal

Alright, so my example, if you have a brand new child, you want to know, is it safe for my child to be on screens? Should I put limits on their screen time? How can I put filters on YouTube or browsers? You have to be able to find sources that appeal to you. A lot of people are critical of mainstream media and mainstream sources. So you might have another set of sources that you feel is reliable. You have to examine your values and say, “OK, this is what’s important to me and this decision I’m going to make for my family.”  You know, you’re not sitting in a pew waiting for a pastor to tell you what to do. You’re not reading a book by Dr. Sears where he tells you the appropriate amount of screen time for kids because they didn’t have screens when Dr. Sears wrote his book. And then if you want to download an app, you just have to be able to navigate an app store to read the reviews to find out which app is the best. To download it to figure out if it works for you, and keep it if it does. That’s how information becomes a skill that you need to be able to, to process information, store information, organize information and use it to your advantage.


[00:29:53.860] – Crystal

All right, and then this was mentioned when some of y’all talked about flexibility and adaptability. All of these are what I would call leadership skills. And this is one thing that definitely doesn’t get taught in in most traditional education settings. You know, you might have five kids who are like your student council. And so, yeah, they get they get some some experience being leaders. But really, when it comes to 21st century world and future employers, everybody needs to have those skills to take the initiative to change something, to communicate about what’s important to them, and to convince other people to go along with what they want. So flexibility and adaptability is important. You need to be able to say, “OK, I was planning on this, but something happened, and now I’m doing something different.” 



And in our school, with autistic kids, that can be hard sometimes. And so that’s one of those places where we add a lot of support in for our kids and saying, “OK, this is why it’s changing. It’s OK that it hurts, that you don’t like it. But we’re going to change this and we’re going to be fine.” 


[00:31:04.780] – Crystal

A lot of ALCs, since they’re small, things can kind of move with the flow, you know, with the student’s interests. So we don’t have to say, “Well, we set the week and we have this one schedule for the week and that’s what we’re going to do. No questions asked.” We can say, “OK, well, we were planning on this, but there are a couple of kids out sick.” Or, you know, “as a facilitator, I’m not really interested in that subject right now. And if nobody else is going to show up, then why am I going? So I’m going to do something else.” 


[00:31:35.010] – Crystal

There’s a lot of times when I come to school and I have an offering and the kids are like, no. And it’s just like, “OK, well, now I’m going to do something different because they said they don’t want to do that.” And that’s a challenge for me because — why? Because. [laughs] So that adaptability is important, and it’s very important when we live in a world that has technology that changes constantly.


[00:32:04.450] – Crystal

The phone that I have right now? 10 years ago it was completely different. And so if I’m not able to understand what changes are happening and how to interact with that, then I’m going to get left behind. Initiative and self direction is important. So if you’re a gig worker, or if you’re working in a job that you have a lot of different responsibilities, you need to be able to identify problems and then apply– apply solutions to them to go and do something without somebody telling you. And when you’re in a traditional school environment, there’s nothing that you don’t do unless somebody has told you to do it. You don’t even go to the bathroom unless you raise your hand and said, “can I go to the bathroom?” So when you have a group of kids, you want to encourage that initiative and self direction by not jumping in when something goes wrong.


[00:32:58.870] – Crystal

A lot of times as parents, we want to make something go away: if the kids [are] arguing, if they’re having a disagreement, if they don’t know what they’re going to do as far as the game. A lot of times you want to jump in and just say, “OK, you have the red, you have the blue and that’s it.” If we let those kids kind of work out what’s going what’s going on, and what they want to do, they’re using their communication skills, their negotiation skills, they’re practicing listening to somebody, practicing, calming and regulating their emotions. So when you give them that opportunity to figure something out between them, you’re preparing them for a future world where there won’t be a boss, or my mom, standing outside and saying, “OK, do this.” You know, you’re preparing them to take the initiative on their own. 


[00:33:50.720] – Crystal

The other thing is that the world is changing and the people that we’re interacting with come from different parts of the country, different parts of the world, they have different native languages. They have different cultures. And being aware of those cultures is important because if you just go and act like, “OK, this is how middle class American culture is and that’s how it should be. And I’m just going to go and do everything in that kind of way.” 


[00:34:17.030] – Crystal

Well, some of those ways we know are harmful to other people. And so it’s important to teach your kids– to teach your kids that we grow up one way and there are people growing up a different way. And when those people grow up a different way, they also want to honor and value the things that they grew up with. Just because they’ve moved to a place that has a different culture, doesn’t mean they want to abandon their own culture, and we have to recognize that the culture I grew up in may have some things that are not useful, that are harmful, that maybe I should think about changing.


[00:34:59.670] – Crystal

Ultimately, accountability, so that– that goes back to the corporate world of measuring things, are you getting are you hitting your numbers every week or are you… meeting your performance plan? Things like that. Being able to know what you’re doing well on, and what you’re not doing well on, your strengths and weaknesses, being able to know that is really important because there’s not– you get– you get your performance review, but you don’t get a report card, it just has like, “OK, so you got an 80 on this skill and a 90 on this skill.” You have to be able to talk through what your strengths and weaknesses are, give examples about it, and then say what you’re going to do to change it if you need to change it. 


[00:35:48.420] – Crystal

And then, this real world example is talking about leadership and responsibility. So, if you are a part of a housing association and you take a leadership position, you’re communicating, you’re sharing information, you’re helping to resolve conflicts, you’re recognizing who the people are in your community. You’re advocating to the larger community to help people understand what your issues are. All of these are things that you can do as an adult that we may not get prepared for, as children. 


[00:36:24.130] – Crystal

So if you think about ALCs, a lot of the older kids kind of start seeing the world around them and getting interested in advocacy. They want things to be better, so they want to reach out and improve the world around them. So if you think about Greta Thunberg, who started the climate strikes on Fridays– you know, so she decided that she was going to do something different. She organized them. She did them. She got on social media. She learned how to communicate with people. She found a carbon neutral boat that could take her over to America. So she’s doing all these things because she had the freedom to to see a problem and and think of a solution for it. Nobody told her, “No, you your solution can only happen within these square walls of our school.” Somebody gave her the encouragement to really be passionate about something and to to step up and actually make something happen in the world. 


[00:37:29.260] – Crystal

Schools have become aware that they need to change their structure and that things need to be different. So, on the left are some of the things that schools have talked about now. Before we opened Gastonia Freedom School, I worked at as public school assistant teacher and a sub. So, you know, we can see some of the things that current public schools have done, they will do Genius Hour, which is an invention like, “OK, you have one hour to kind of play in a passion project or learn something or work on something.” And so you may have one hour a week to do something that you feel passionate about. 


[00:38:13.190] – Crystal

Another buzzword is Project Based Learning, so that’s where you give kids a goal, something that they need to accomplish, and you put them on a team and you say, “OK, this is what you need to do within three months.” And you can be– they can be very specific about the requirements and the tools they’re going to use for that, or they can be very broad. So Project Based Learning is a way that they try to encourage that initiative, leadership, communication, problem solving. That’s how they try to encourage those types of skills.


[00:38:47.530] – Crystal

Career Technical Education is a word for kind of a track of classes. So nowadays in school, you may have an engineering class, or a technology class, or it may just be called a careers class where you’re learning about real world topics. So that’s where I learned how to use Excel. I took a CTE class and learned how to use Excel. Or you may learn how to give presentations in your Career Technical Education class. 


[00:39:20.610] – Crystal

And part of this goes into the school choice thing– that some schools now have different tracks that you can go into. So instead– back maybe 20, 30 years ago, schools would have been a preparing you for a trade like plumbing or welding. Nowadays your career technical classes are preparing you to be a programmer or to work in health care, you know, to work with information some kind of way. So that’s what CTE kind of does, is like it’s an extra elective that you can take so you can learn about real world careers. 


[00:39:59.950] – Crystal

And then we have this kind of movement for teaching social emotional skills, so teaching kids how to have a growth mindset, how to have grit. And those are those things that, unfortunately, get left behind in traditional schools. It’s like– analyzing why does somebody fail or succeed in the school environment? What’s going on in their lives outside of their ABCs? 


[00:40:25.360] – Crystal

And this is something that ALCs are good at incorporating automatically because we don’t just see it– see our kids as a student who has to learn this and this and this, and get it, and pass a test on it. We see them as whole persons who have feelings. They have emotions. They have dreams, you know, they have things that are holding them back. So instead of just saying, “well, OK, most of the time we’re going to work on our ABCs and 123s. But every once in a while, we’re going to talk about bullying or peer pressure, things like that.” Instead of just adding that onto a school curriculum, ALCs can spend a lot of time in that kind of that realm of skills. 


[00:41:09.870] – Crystal

And then magnet schools and choice programs. This is one of my favorite topics to read about and think about– is how the world has changed, the US has changed their education system so that now you can kind of decide what you want your kid to grow up to be, and then you can put them in a magnet school to become that.


[00:41:30.490] – Crystal

I mean, that’s where I got into engineering, is that I went to a high school that was like “we’re the first technology high school in the count, so I’m going to go into a technology career.” Where now you have that all the way down to elementary school, where you have the STEM elementary school, or the immersion– language immersion elementary school, or the arts elementary school. So we’re understanding that not everybody is going to go into the same type of jobs. And so the traditional school solution is to create these little silos of schools where you focus on one thing and kind of hope that the kids will get some value out of it all the way up to high school. 


[00:42:10.240] – Crystal

So they’ve they’ve done a lot of changes. They’ve tried to make changes to help incorporate these skills. But the problem with school, with traditional school, is that it’s still school. 


[00:42:23.820] – Crystal

So you have kids who have one test at the end of the year – and maybe you’ll add a senior thesis for the for the kids who are graduating, so they have to do a presentation on their project. Maybe you’ll add that. But at the end of the day, they’re just getting a grade. They’re getting a percentile out of end of course tests. You still have authoritarian discipline, so you have one person in charge of the classroom. And then that person, of course, is somebody who’s in charge of the school. A lot of times you have unequal discipline going to kids who may have disabilities, lower income, or minority kids who are seen as acting out when they’re just being their authentic selves. You don’t have a lot of differentiation. So you will have–you may have a class of high performers, of class of average performers and a class of low performers. But even with those three groups, you have kids who are doing well on one scale versus another scale and kids who need a lot of support versus little support. So teachers, since they have classrooms that are so big, and that may not have a whole lot of opportunity to differentiate, you know, they have to kind of just aim for the average and then hope that it catches most of the kids. 


[00:43:43.570] – Crystal

In traditional schools you have the school board and the school district that kind of controls the curriculum, what time lunch is, what you get for lunch and the grading policy, so you don’t have teachers or principals who are able to flex around their kids’ needs, or to make changes to their environment to help their kids improve. You still have classrooms grouped by age and ability. So one of the weirdest things in the traditional school system is single age groupings. 


[00:44:21.910] – Crystal

And in the real world – and when you had one one room schoolhouses, kids of different ages where were mixed together – and Peter Gray talks about this – when you have older kids and younger kids, the older kids can teach the younger kids things. They can show they can be a role model, an example, to the younger kids. The [younger] kids can encourage the older kids to play and to relax and to enjoy what’s going on around them. You have skill transfer when you have age mixing.


[00:44:55.170] – Crystal

But traditional schools are still very rigid in that you only have groups with the groups of kids who are like one or two years apart. And what that ends up doing is increasing bullying behaviors, increasing maladaptive social behaviors. So that means that kids are now competing with each other. They are not encouraged to collaborate, to feel sympathy for each other, because they’re all going through the same issues at the same time without a lot of good examples to look up toward.


[00:45:33.740] – Crystal

And then the goal of the traditional education system is still to get a diploma. That’s still the idea of what should I do with my education. The reason that I go to school is so that I can graduate and get a good job. That doesn’t have to be the goal anymore. There are still careers that require a diploma, require an advanced degree, but there are also skills that do not need high school math education that you can do without going to four years of college.


[00:46:11.520] – Crystal

And when we’re preparing our kids and ALCs for that type of world, we can help them understand whether they need that diploma or whether they don’t. 


[00:46:26.940] – Crystal

So here are some of the ways that ALCs are different. 


[00:46:30.750] – Crystal

We focus on real world learning, so that means that we don’t just do our ABCs and 123s; we are putting our kids in situations where we have to use those skills. If you have a group of kids and you want to go on a walk: “Where are we going to walk? How far is it going to be? Who’s going to get tired first. Are there stop lights that we’re going to have to cross traffic?” Things like that, so they can use some of those 21st century skills. 


[00:46:59.610] – Crystal

We have cooperative processes, so our kids are practicing giving input, being heard, suggesting changes. You know, we have formal tools to help them have a voice at our centers. The built in feedback loop – this kind of attention setting, doing and then reflecting on what we’ve done – is a way to help kids be aware of their development and understand what they’re learning and what they need.


[00:47:26.640] – Crystal

We are flexible for individual students, so that means that if one kid is struggling on one thing we can reach them there, instead of just aiming for the middle. And then we have mixed age groups so other kids who are more skilled at one thing can help kids who are less skilled. 


[00:47:44.130] – Crystal

We’re connected to the local community. That means we’re helping raise their awareness of local issues. We’re helping them get into leadership positions, if they’re interested in having an impact on their community. We’re talking about how different cultures interact and what’s going on in our world and how that affects us as individuals. 


[00:48:03.800] – Crystal

And finally, the biggest thing is just flexibility. When we see a need, we can move to meet that need. We don’t have to go through 10 layers of bureaucracy just to get that need met. 


[00:48:19.290] – Crystal

So it’s a big reason why we started this webinars is because of the coronavirus, we– a lot of our centers are physically closed and we wanted to keep offering things to our students. But we also recognize as a group of ALCs that we could offer things to each other’s students. And that’s one of the things that I’ve been enjoying these past couple of weeks, is that I get to play with kids who are in Texas, who are in New York, who are out on the West Coast. I’m meeting lots of other kids and I’m making offerings that maybe my kids at my local school ALC, you know, don’t want to do.


[00:49:05.160] – Crystal

So that’s been really fun. This is this is this week’s calendar. And we have a whole lot of different types of things, but it shows you kind of the variety of what ALCs offer. It’s not always going to be academics. And I guess you know that. But it’s going to be things that are what the kids are interested in, what the facilitators are interested in. These skills are being taught through all of this, not just because we said, “well, I need to find the one thing that’s going to teach them leadership.” 


[00:49:39.200] – Crystal

No, it’s like, “OK, I’m offering something. And along the way they’re going to learn some leadership skills.” So this is what our calendar for this week looks like. I’ve been offering Arduino.


[00:49:53.730] – Crystal

My favorite offering has been this thing called GeoGuessr, and that’s a game where you get on Google Maps and it kind of drops you in the middle of the earth somewhere. And you have to figure out where you are. So you can use the street view to see the signs and the see the roads and stuff like that and figure out where you are on the map. So I’m not sure what 21st century. Oh, that’s probably like wayfinding. That’s that’s how I would turn that into a skill.


[00:50:24.040] – Crystal

All right, so y’all may have gotten these questions when you talk with parents about what– what are they going to do with all of this, these things that you’re so-called teaching them? What about the basics? What if they don’t want to do anything? How will they learn? How do I get them to do hard work? How do you assess them? How would they prepare for college? And the answer that we give as ALCs is we trust them.


[00:50:55.710] – Crystal

We trust them to be human beings and to learn what they need to learn. And I have a suspicion that Abby wrote the FAQ, so if you go on to the Agile Learning website there’s a huge page, that has just a lot of good answers to this if you do have parents in your community who are wondering about these things. But the short answer is that we trust them, and we know that what the end result may not look like what we want it to, but it is going to be exactly what our students need.


[00:51:34.860] – Crystal

And I appreciate y’all being part of this movement, because it’s it’s really changed the way that I see education. I think it’s been really helpful for our kids.

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