Maverick Learning Centre
“The mind is not a vessel to be filled, but a fire to be kindled.”
Living in an era where the world is changing at the pace of light, one objective of the education system is to equip students with one of the most important skills of “learning how to learn”. In an age where everything is just a click away, learning facts has been rendered unnecessary and useless. Keeping these concerns in mind, Fountainhead School has initiated the Maverick Learning Center (MLC) in 2019. This is a Self-Directed project based learning center which aims at providing a stimulating, encouraging and safe environment for children, where they develop necessary skills to keep up with the changing world while trying to find their passion and becoming experts at what they like.
We believe that every child is born curious and if given the freedom to explore the world without enforcing the walls of fixed content, they tend to indulge deeper into learning what organically interests them.
Through MLC we hope to create a place where there’s excitement in the eyes of the children, a place where you see their curiosity as the wick of the motivation candle, a place where students are neither bound by the bars of a set curriculum nor by the classes. A space where students do not follow a given roadmap but find their own clues in their treasure hunt of life, a place where they are not bounded by classroom walls but are free to explore and find their true passion. A place where students just don’t look at success as a hazy far end that is to be reached, but a journey where they explore what they like and become expert at it. A place where children experience the love and safety to freely be themselves.
Maverick Learning Centre (MLC) is a project based learning centre initiated by Fountainhead School, Surat in the year 2019-20. It is an experiment in the domain of alternative learning which began for students of Grade 7&8 who would be interested in this.
Rationale behind MLC
Living in an era where the world is changing at the pace of light, one objective of the education system is to equip students with one of the most important skills of “learning how to learn”. In an age where everything is just a click away, learning facts has been rendered unnecessary and useless.
Additionally, to be successful in life, children often need to become experts at something. With regular schooling and classes – there are many expectations from students such as adhering to a standard timetable, finishing assigned homework, scoring well in term end exams etc – which take away the opportunity of having concentrated time to focus on the one thing they are passionate about. MLC was created with the intention to give at least some students the time and flexibility in schedule and in expectations to really focus on what they wish to learn/do.
The set up began with an understanding that textbook learning might not be the only way students learn. In fact, it stemmed out of a belief that children learn better when they learn by doing. They learn better when they are exposed to real life scenarios and challenges that they need to decode in everyday life. It is believed that children learn better when they see real life value and application of the knowledge they are expected to learn.
The Maverick Learning centre is a place where 31 students and 4 facilitators (year 2019-20) stay together for the entire day (in the absence of any class schedule), in the same space for more or less the entire year. The lack of any structure resulted in a few challenges.
First was that each child’s day looks different depending on their interests and motivation levels – resulting in different end products and results. To formalise it and to ensure at least some minimum expectations met by ALL students (even if at their own pace) we introduced the Credit System.
The second challenge we faced was indiscipline and misuse of resources due to the increased informal and unstructured interaction with the space and amongst the students. To develop accountability in students and bring some discipline we introduced the Governance System.
The third challenge we faced was keeping track of all things that all students did. There was so much variety not only amongst students but even the things that one student did. Along with that, sometimes it was difficult to know if all students were involved in meaningful activities most of the time. To ease this as well as other issues, we introduced the Mentoring System.
The fourth struggle we faced was communication with parents. Unlike regular schooling, evaluation in MLC is not on the basis of marks – therefore it became difficult for parents, students and teachers to evaluate if the child is doing well in the space and if a set up like MLC is helping the child. To communicate with parents and students effectively, as an extension of your credit system, we came up with a regular Reporting System.
The final struggle we faced was ensuring daily productivity. While the credit system ensured that over the period of 1 year most students would do the bare minimum, it was still tricky as students couldn’t divide their tasks effectively by themselves, got overwhelmed at the last moment and therefore did not produce quality tasks. To solve this issue, as well as ensure daily productivity, we came up with the Goal Setting System.
All of these systems combined helped us bring some structure and discipline in the space which helped students become more productive and also ensure that MLC runs rather smoothly. Below is a detailed account of each of these systems.
This is the Credit System we have developed over the course of the year. The system is largely divided in evaluating a child’s Character and Competence (as per the school Mission statement).
Briefly – students have to do 8 projects in a year. They have to minimum do 1 in each category (Language and Arts, Design and Technology, Sciences, Humanities, Leadership, Passion) and they can do +2 projects in any of their desired categories. Look here to know the different kinds of projects they can do in each category. These categories aim at a holistic development in the child. These categories ensure that students explore something in each of these different fields and then get an opportunity to dig deeper in their interest area. The second evaluated part is Language and Mathematics. These are believed to be core skills and are therefore taught in MLC, their performance in these units taught is then evaluated and scores are given accordingly. Please read here to know more. The third part focuses on their contribution as a community leader – which is expanded further in the governance system. This mainly evaluates their character and ability to take up leadership and responsibility in the space. The third category also focuses on ‘Norms’. This is a co-created list of behaviours and attitudes that influence the space either positively or negatively. Based on a student’s actions in the space outside or within projects, facilitators give them points for their behaviours and attitudes. The list of the norms can be found here. The fourth category deals with whether the child is well behaved, well prepared and well disciplined in all the classes/sessions/meetings that take place in MLC. It also evaluates the ability of a child to set SMART goals daily and whether he/she is able to achieve those goals. This system is further explained here. The final and most unique category is that of a “Maverick Tag” – where the purpose and intention is to give the child motivation, space and time to become an expert in a field the child is extremely passionate about.
The total credits go up to 80+ and it’s expected that students at least earn 50 credits in a year to qualify and pass for the next year.
The MLC space is huge with a lot of resources to be taken care of. To instill a sense of discipline and accountability in students, we felt we should build a governance system and make students in-charge of different responsibilities to ensure smooth functioning of the space. Students were given options (as can be seen below) and were asked to give their preferences for the category they would like to lead:
- Space manager (Corridor and shoe rack)
- Space manager (Chairs, Shelves and Lights and fans)
- Space manager (Mats and Bean bag)
- Space manager(Voice meter, movements)
- Space manager (Lost and found)
- Space maintenance
- Helping hands to MLC facilitators
- Library (Books)
- Library (Games)
- Announcements and Updates
- Techno Cops
- Techno Pros
- Resources (Stock Keeping)
- Resources (Issue and return)
It was ensured that all 31 students were leaders in at least one of these categories. Their role as a community leader involved making rules for their assigned category, as well as developing a system for maintenance of the resources involved, and to ensure that the rules made are followed.
The work differed from category to category, each of these categories had a facilitator mentor in-charge whose job was to assign weekly tasks and give suggestions, as well as help students ensure proper work is done. For evaluation of this (for the purpose of the credit system), students were given time each week to finish their assigned tasks and then were evaluated on the quality, effectiveness and timeliness of this task done.
In order to track and monitor each student’s progress, we came up with the idea of assigning teacher mentors to each student. In the academic year 2019-20, two types of mentors were to be chosen by students:
Well-being and overall mentor – Out of the 3 facilitators in the space, each child had to give their first and second preference for this mentor, which would remain for the entire academic year. This would be the primary mentor they would report to about their progress in MLC, and also go to if the student was facing any issues of difficulties. This mentor would deal with all the things pertaining to that student such as ensuring the child is okay and on track with his/her projects, consult as well as be a point of contact to the parent of that student, ensure all required and relevant announcements and updates reach that student etc. The ratio of student:mentor this academic year was 10:1.
Project Mentor – This was a more short-term, project oriented choice of mentor. As all kids would work on 8+ projects throughout the year, they could choose to do different projects with different mentors available in the space. So a child primarily reporting to mentor X, can choose to do one or more of his projects with mentor Y. This ensures that the child gets expert guidance from the mentors for each of their different projects in different domains.
As each child was onto something new and different in MLC, it sometimes became difficult for parents to exactly know what their child was doing. In the absence of a curriculum, homework and regular graded tests – parents often wondered if their child was involved in anything productive. To ease these worries a little, in the first term we came up with a report format that summarised all the activities, explorations, projects and their reflections on the term they had had. An exemplar of the first term report can be found here.
In the second term, with the credit system in place, evaluation became much more standardized and convenient. To give parents and students a constant update on how the child was doing as far as the requirements of the credit system were concerned, we started generating a monthly report, wherein the child was assessed and the report was updated on all the achievements the child had made till then – and highlight all the areas where work could either be improved, or was pending all together. A sample monthly report can be found here.
The final report of the child would include the entire year’s achievements, detailed mentor comments, and an evaluation of the child against the credit system put in place.
Goal Setting System
To ensure daily productivity and progress, we introduced a goal setting system which involved the following two parts:
- Ruminate: This is a 15-20 minute time at the start of the school day where students sit in solitude and make SMART (S- specific M – measurable A – achievable R – realistic T – time-bound) goals. They then have to get them checked and report to their overall mentor for the same. For the following day then the child is expected to work on fulfilling those goals.
- Closing the loop: At the end of the day for the last 15 minutes, each student has to go back to their overall mentor to report progress on their goals and provide evidence for the same.
Students are regularly marked on making as well as completing these goals. This goes to their credit system.
Student Led Projects
|Project Category||Sample Student-Led Projects|
|Humanities||Understanding the Human Development Index and rating of different countries. The child felt that the parameters to rate the ‘best’ country were not enough – and that aspects like environment and technological development were neglected. Therefore he undertook a study to find these parameters, undertake his own study and come out with his own improved rating and ranking of countries.|
|Sciences||A child was curious about ‘How eyes see color’ and undertook a detailed study of the same. He researched and understood concepts like reflection, refraction etc. and performed experiments to prove his understanding.|
|Troubled by the increasing issue of plastic in the world, this child focused on understanding how bioplastics can be made. She met experts and worked with different chemical combinations to understand the nature of plastic and determine how bioplastics can be made and used.|
|Leadership||Two students decided to organise an MUN in the MLC space. After gaining experience at one of the school level MUN’s they decided to do it with a twist – by taking a local issue instead of an international one – and ensure that the resolution made is action oriented and actually worked upon. They figured out all the logistics as well as formalities and registrations of this MUN.|
|One child – very good at coding and programming, decided to teach programming to 3 other students in the space. He designed and held about 20 hours of classes with the other 3 students, and taught HTML and CSS step by step to these kids. The project concluded with the 3 students making their own websites by the concepts they had learnt.|
|Language and Arts||A student undertook a simple project about designing a real fully functional bunker. The project was preceded by research on bunkers and the proper original design of a bunker in a limited space of 100m^2. The child created an online 3D model of his bunker describing the features it will have, the material it will use and the correct dimensions of the space.|
|A student extremely passionate about Architecture decided to explore if his interest in architecture was only theoretical or if he actually enjoyed working. He decided to do a 1 month internship in his father’s architecture office where he learnt softwares like AutoCad and was a part of the designing project the firm had undertaken in that duration. The experience was very practical and hands-on for him, after which is concluded that Architecture was indeed his passion area.|
|Design and Technology||One of the students, again very passionate about coding decided to work on and make a chat bot for school. He worked on making an interactive page which would answer regular student and staff queries like “what’s for lunch today”, “which bus number does my bus-stop fall in”, “what’s the intercom number of xyz teacher” etc. He worked on linking all of these databases and coding this site as well as debugging it.|
|Another student – very passionate about automobiles and cars decided to design and make his own car using metal parts and welding them together. He began with a short internship at a makers lab, worked on his skills and then designed this.|
|Passion||Many students in the space were very passionate about cooking. About 6-7 students undertook different kinds of projects under the umbrella of cooking. Some learnt and cooked a 7 course meal for teachers, others cooked and sold sandwiches, some held a cookies workshop where they learnt and made chocolate-chip and chilli cheese cookies, whereas some simply learnt new and basic dishes to cook for their family.|
|Another popular passion amongst students was sports. About 10-12 students decided to dedicate more time to train in their sport of choice. They joined Grade 9 classes of football/frisbee/table tennis etc. to hone their skills and achieve mastery for their sport sooner. They dedicated about 8 hours a week of school time for these sports.|
Facilitator Led Projects
|Project Category||Sample Facilitator-Led Projects|
|Humanities||The Humanities facilitator led project looked like a research process wherein students were divided in 3 groups with 3 different Humanities topics (a. To what extent is sustainability important and how can our school practices become more sustainable? b. To what extent can humans and nature coexist? c. Understanding the stages of any religious conflicts through the lens of the case study of the Ayodhya Dispute). The project was divided in 3 stages – A. Pre-field work– researching and understanding all secondary information available on the topic. Making a plan for on-field research (making questionnaires etc.) B. On-Field – conducting interviews, observations and collecting primary data on their chosen topic. Gaining an insight on the topic through lived experiences and personal journeys of people involved and expanding their understanding of the topic at hand. C. Post – Field – compiling and assimilating all knowledge gained through both the processes. Deciding a plan of action based on the new-found knowledge and presenting the information through a research report. Each of the 3 groups were led by a facilitator that closely monitored the progress of their students and guided them in the right direction.|
|Sciences||The science facilitator-led project was divided in 2 parts. The first part focused on a fixed number of pre-decided experiments in physics, chemistry and biology being guided and done in the labs – to teach students the scientific process, how to work in and be safe in a lab, understanding the experimental process, and learning some important theoretical concepts through these experiments. In the second part then, students were asked to choose a scientific topic (in either the domain of physics, chemistry or biology) that they are naturally curious about – and undertake a deep study of that topic by conducting 7-9 experiments and making some conclusions about the topic they had chosen. Example of a topic – “How does a car work with gravitational force, kinetic energy & potential energy”; list of experiments done to understand this topic – 1. Trying different weights on the Lego Car, 2. Trying 60 grams weight on the Lego car by different heights, 3. We tried our Lego car on different places like: mats, marble tables, etc. ,4. We put 60 grams of weight on the front, back, right side & left side of the Lego car & checked if the weight hampers the car’s process, 5. Different types of wheel on the Lego car, 6. Tried different weights on the metal car, 7. Tried the car on different slopes & angles.|
Students then had to fill a detailed project journal about each of their experiments, explaining the entire scientific process they undertook, the observations they made, the results they deduced and the conclusion they made.
|Arts||The facilitator-led arts project was a Play Production. About 22 students got together to work on making a play from scratch. From writing the entire play till the final execution, students were in-charge of the entire process. Students took up all and different responsibilities such as being a writer, director, producer, costume designer and makeup artist, actor, back-stage manager and crew, light designer and manager, sound designer and manager, communications and marketing head etc. All students took up 1-2 roles of their choice and worked hard by collaborating and co-creating a 25 minute play – then presented in front of the school teachers and parents. The idea of the play was to mix characters of 2 comic indian TV serieses “Tarak mehta ka Olta Chashma” and “Khichdi” – and to show the interaction of these comic characters with MLC students and staff when they come looking for a ‘new and interesting’ project based school for their kids.|
Core Skills: Language and Math
Language in MLC took the approach of working on ‘core’ skills. The core being – LSRW (Listening, Speaking, Reading and Writing). Rather than focusing on literature and literary analysis of selected texts – students were made to work on the above stated skills. We had a Language Speech Unit, wherein students were exposed to different forms of speech such as spoken poetry, stand up comedy, extempore, TED talk etc. They then chose topics of their choice along the topic “How can I change the world” and chose a speech format of their choice – and presented it in front of parents and teachers. For the writing unit, they were taught ‘Persuasive Writing’ – as it would be helpful for them through their projects. They were asked to pick a topic of their own and write a 350-500 word persuasive essay on the same. The final unit they had in Language was a reading unit. It comprised several different challenges and tasks. It began with a book tasting event where students were asked to ‘taste’ books of different genres to find out their ‘reading type’.They had to read a book of 200 pages minimum (bonus points for books above 350 pages), they were taught Skimming and Scanning technique of reading, they were taught summary writing and finally had challenges quizzes and presentations to culminate their learnings. Other than these classes, we laid down an exhaustive list of benchmarks students had to meet in LSRW. We intended for students to meet these benchmarks through authentic contexts ie. real life situations that they dealt with for their projects. The focus of Language in MLC was highly on bettering language skills in a way that it can directly help them in real life.
Mathematics in MLC did not differ in content from MYP but in the method it was taught. In Core Mathematics, We taught the same curriculum and covered either same or higher level concepts. We looked at various Mathematical concepts using 4 different lenses, a) Knowing and understanding, b) Investigating patterns, c) Communicating and d) Real life application. However, rather than having 1 hour classes spread throughout the year – units were chunked into math weeks. Being a self directed set up – most math units were turned into Flipped Classrooms or students led sessions. Flipped classroom sessions were where, unit resources and plans (The plan included relevant videos and readings. Once the student has watched the video, he was supposed to Solve worksheets and then take a check for understanding.) were given to students in advance to be able to do the units by themselves on their own pace, while during students led sessions, students were given topics and each one of them was supposed to lead a topic of the unit. For example, While teaching statistics, students were asked to Learn different types of representation. Students had to understand the form of representation assigned to them, using the resources. Students had to then teach that form of representation to the class(They were given pointers to prepare). This gave them an opportunity to learn by teaching it to someone. Students who were interested in Mathematics were encouraged to take higher level topics and co teach, while a different curriculum was designed for students with special needs. The Classes were mostly either practice/doubt solving sessions then. Math week meant that for that entire week, the majority of the time in the school day would be spent by students in doing mathematics.This allowed them to dive deeper into the concepts and master them with concentration. Students were asked to form Support groups among themselves.Supporting each other was encouraged and created a positive environment for doubts solving. If a Student Shows clear understanding of the topic, He could choose to not attend Math week and work on his projects..Assessments were mostly the same as in MYP. For some units like statistics, the assessments were more process based where they had to collect, represent, analyse and interpret,real time data on climate change and make an infographic of the same.
Other MYP subjects such as Humanities, Sciences and Language Acquisition (Hindi) were not formally catered to in MLC. However, our project benchmarks for Science and Humanities overlapped with MYP skills in those said subjects. As can be seen in our facilitator led projects, most of these skills were covered in the way students were expected to do these projects. We however did not focus much on content, and left that up to students to study from central presentations about each unit prepared by MYP teachers. Students could always approach either of the MLC facilitators or MYP teachers in case they had any questions about this content. Students usually studied it at their own pace as preparation for term end examinations. Students had an option to give the exam. Almost all the students decided to give exams for at least 2 subjects during the MYP term exam. They also had an option to choose the subjects for which they wanted to give the exam. Hence exams became a Self test, which was used by them to check their own understanding. The system was able to build a sense of ownership to learn in students. We also observed that over a period of year, students became Independent, self directed and confident, when it came to learning something new.
Sadhana Vidhyalaya– http://www.learnerscollective.in/
Swaraj University– http://www.swaraj.org/shikshantar/
You can explore more such spaces here – https://www.alternativeeducation.in/learning-spaces
Summerhill School – http://www.summerhillschool.co.uk/
Sudbury School – https://sudburyvalley.org/contact
Acton Academy – https://www.actonacademy.org/