Designing a Place for Problem Solving: The
Center for Applied Technology and Career Exploration
At the Thomas Jefferson Center for Educational Design at the University of Virginia, designers have three missions: To identify and challenge sacred assumption, explore and evaluate possibilities, and think systematically.
Daniel Duke said there are eight assumptions about teaching and learning:
1. Central activity is teaching
2. The focus is the acquisition (not application) of knowledge
3. Students must be graded on performance
4. All students should have the same basic knowledge
5. All students should acquire knowledge in the same amount of time
6. All students should learn things in the same sequence
7. All students must acquire knowledge in the same space
8. All students must be under one roof.
He indicated that there are several schools that break from these assumptions. Among these schools is the Center for Applied Technology and Career Exploration in Franklin County, Va. Franklin County, located in a very rural area with a per capita income of $15,695 and a 40 percent rate of adults without high school diplomas.
The county wanted a new middle school, but the taxpayers approved only $7 million of the $14 million needed to build the facility. The school system responded by building a school that is used only half of the year, while the old facility is used the other half of the year.
Eighth grade is a critical juncture for dropouts, said Duke, and the designers and administrators weighed this factor heavily in the new building. Not only does it not look or feel like a school, but there are no bells, classrooms, or courses. The school has an electronic library, one computer per two students, workstations, commons, and a conference center. It does not have desks, a cafeteria, a gym, or lockers in the halls.
Students select three six-week modules, which include such subjects as environment, arts, manufacturing, legal science, or human services. Two people team up to lead each module, one a teacher the other a member of that field. The teachers and the 30 students present a problem, and the students resolve it during the six weeks. They then present their solutions to the board of supervisors, who must act on it. This approach not only gives students hands-on experience, it also allows them to give back something to the community.