Educators Explore Personalized Learning at Punahou Lab School

"What are the core concepts and elements in our bold and transformative vision and definition of personalized learning?" This was one of the questions at the heart of the Punahou Lab School, which emphasizes teachers collaborating with other educators through facilitated inquiry and dialog.

Lab School is a cohort-based program designed to explore topics around teaching and learning. After a hiatus in 2016, Lab School was re-imagined for 2017 with a focus on personalized learning approaches within the K – 12 spectrum. Personalized learning acknowledges that each student "is on a unique and intensely personal learning journey," explained member of the Lab School planning team, Daniel Kinzer, who is co-director of Luke Center for Public Service.

The four-day conference ran from June 26 – 29, 2017. Instead of keynote speakers, a team of "coaches" were on-hand to share experiences and insight, and also participate in collaborative activities.

The coaches included Christian Long, co-founder of WONDER (By Design): A Learning and Design Expedition; Gever Tulley, the founder and Educational Architect at Brightworks School in San Francisco, California; Natalie Chan, founder and CEO of OWN Academy from Hong Kong; and Aaron Eden, co-founder of Eliad Group, an education transformation design firm.

"The coaches stepped away from traditional keynote and presenter roles and into the messier, but perhaps more interesting and demanding, roles of guides – working alongside the participants as collaborators, co-learners, mentors and provocateurs," Kinzer shared.

In addition to teachers from Canadian Academy, Kamehameha Schools, Hanahau`oli School, St. Andrew's Schools and more, other types of educators were present at the conference. Sienna Wildfield from Massachusetts runs a community-based education network. Her students span multiple generations. "I could offer a different perspective at the conference," she shared. Tasha Tavares homeschools her child on O'ahu and came to the conference to learn more about personalized learning and how what she's doing at home compares to what's being done by teachers at schools.

Punahou junior Micah '19 joined the conference to be a student voice and help inform teachers' discussions. Teachers could bounce ideas off him and he would give his reaction as a student. When teachers talked about the pleasure of learning being a motivation for students, Micah explained how he and fellow classmates want to feel more purposefully invested into learning. "The reality is, it isn't enough to learn for learning sake," he said. In return, he gained a deeper appreciation for his teachers: "They put a lot of thought into everything they do and are continually trying to improve."

Punahou math teacher Lei Wilmoth said the conference provided a safe place to explore ideas with others. She came to Lab School with the question, how can I incorporate social emotional learning in a content-driven class, such as math? "We had a three-hour discussion on it," she said, and discovered that she has been incorporating that type of learning but just on an informal level.

The rich conversations among the diverse voices at the conference resulted in many new working relationships that spanned disciplines, grade levels and educational organizations. "We truly co-created our learning journeys so that we were simultaneously learning about and practicing personalized learning, even as we were exploring and defining the term," said Kinzer.

At the conclusion of the conference, Athena Espania '96 Keehu from the Punahou costume shop was overheard enthusiastically offering to collaborate with Academy math teacher Susie Cooling '72 Field. "If you need a costume for a math class, come on down," she said. "When you think about theater production ­­– number of tickets to sell, how many seats are available and more – that's applied mathematics," added Dvorah Neubauer, who also works in the costume shop.

Nate Malinoski from SEEQS, a public charter school, reflected on the experience of Lab School: "We need time as educators to think and reflect, to wonder with each other, and become students. In terms of personalized learning, we need to let learning also be a journey that students take."

Kinzer concluded: "One of the more fascinating ideas that emerged out of Lab School is that in an age of rapid technological advancement and a growing educational technology industry, it is some of our 'ancient technologies' such as free play, human touch, eye contact and meditation that encourage our deeper learning experiences."