Saturday, January 28, 2012

Square Block: Educating Without Walls

A local art teacher strives to bring down learning barriers with an innovative education model.

Image by S. Bickmore.
By guest blogger Scott Bickmore.

In a climate of budget cutting, plummeting test scores, rising drop-out rates, unemployment, and just general educational malaise, Square Block: Educating Without Walls hopes to provide a low overhead supplement to standard education, which cuts out all the fat and marries home-cooked meals with world renowned careers.

Think home schooling on steroids. The neighbors are teachers too. Local businesses are resources. The park bench, a classroom with experts and academics adding to mom’s lesson, showing practical steps to success, and constantly striving to answer the age-old question students always ask: “When am I going to use this in the real world?”

The model is simple: Take a square block of a neighborhood and designate it as an education area, a school without walls.

  • Enlist its residents and resources in collaboration with different experts in industry and areas of academia to develop block specific curriculum.
  • Harness the resources of community initiative and engagement. Crowdsource the block's learning needs. Build a curriculum by consensus based on realizing the aspirations and needs of each neighborhood. I work with the Mural Arts Program of Philadelphia, which has been a great example internationally of this type of outreach.
  • Develop a template so others can start their own Square Block school. Square Block schools can start up concurrently across the city, interacting, being a resource and referral with site specific attributes and programs.
  • Use mentorship. If a child likes to build forts, connect him or her to a complementary industry -- an architect at PennDesign, for example, who is willing to foster the creativity of a new generation of minds. If someone has a propensity to work on cars, call on the great engineer schools here in Philadelphia to step up and spark a dream - show a young adult the possibilities of where that mechanical aptitude can lead.
  • Encourage students to branch out content and develop their own classes. Make it easy for them, starting with a short lesson or workshop at first, and empower them as a teacher. The best way to learn is to teach.

A child's list of of values.
Square Block is kind of like Netflix. Everything is based on a website--scheduling, curriculum, etc. Like your movie membership, the school can be “active” or ‘inactive.” Classes would range in duration, size and scope depending on initiative and demand.

Right now Square Block is in our laboratory. There is space for additional input and concepts. I am an educator and organizer of community projects, and have, with the help of talented minds, seen great things happen when communities come together with innovative ideas to solve issues.

I have seen evidence that this can work. It is a blueprint for successful mentorship, a supplement to an educational system that, I believe, has lost its edge recently in a global context. As evidence builds and calls for the "insourcing" of jobs back to America and as the need grows for a skilled workforce ready to embrace a new era of livelihood and prosperity, this kind of innovative curriculum design is critical.

Penn campusImage via Wikipedia
University of Pennylvania Campus

Block by block, the Square Block model can spread - from a neighborhood to a city to a nation - and in doing so, ignite a revolution of learning for the enterprise frontiers of our bold new century.


Scott Bickmore is no stranger to this blog. We've written about his endeavors in a few previous posts and thus gotten to know him well. He is the founder of SSEWARD LLC, a Philadelphia based company, which generates creative projects and offers a variety of tools, products and services, designed to empower groups and individuals.

Most recently, Scott has partnered with Designer in Exile and a fresh cluster of local artists, writers, educators, and coders, to launch a new community media access start-up designed for real-time, citizen journalism reporting on local arts events, politics, and perhaps more. His Square Block project adds an additional dimension to this effort.

With the use cutting edge technology and tools, partnerships with non-profit groups, and a "boots on the ground" presence, our Cluster Group intends to engage with our neighborhoods, to serve them by giving greater access to relevant local issues and events, and with a global sensibility, thus reinforcing the social fabric that keeps communities healthy, vibrant, and strong.--D.A. DeMers.
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