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WHY NOT? What if we don’t go back to the way things were?

Why do we keep doing something that is NOT working? WHY NOT try something different?

Photo of Mary Kohl
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Written by

I am a.....

  • Teacher
  • learning designer

Tell us about your idea

In March, with 1-day notice, we STOPPED what we had always done. Testing was cancelled, requirements for curriculum, assessment, attendance all vanished. And we had a chance to redesign school. The criteria for this redesign were tight and not ideal. But it showed that it is possible to STOP what we were doing and DO something different, very different.
So WHY NOT? WHY not do this going forward?

My idea is that we DON’T return to:

curriculum that is too wide

grouping children by age

class communities that start and stop every 90 or 180 days

moving through learning by time not mastery

assignment to learning based on “what age or grade or class you are in”


We create a viable curriculum in the basic skills of reading, writing and math needed to be literate.

We design, with students, projects with purpose and passion for all other areas of learning: science, social studies, music, art, physical education and so on.

Students are “grouped” or “assigned” to basic skill learning based on where they are and where they need to go. Tech based teaching is harnessed where appropriate for basic skills learning, so teachers are freed to facilitate projects and build relationships.
For example using a program like Zearn for Math, students would be pre-assessed and placed in the curriculum based on their current mastery and then move up as able, not placed in 2nd grade because they are a 2nd grader. Teachers or teaching assistants would be available to offer feedback and troubleshoot. Students’ placement in curriculum that is matched with their current level of learning would enable more independent success.  Students then may spend time with another group for Language Arts based on their current level of learning.

Students are “grouped” and SELECT (with input from families) and even design the projects of passion and purpose, they want to participate in. Project selections include a criterion that throughout a student's K-12 experience. they would have opportunities with all subjects.Students would be connected to a learning community based on their interests or passions not by age or “grade”. In this community, students apply and strengthen their basic skills to solve problems and create.
For example a group may be learning about the trees around their school and making recommendations for planting new trees; another group may be promoting wellness in the school learning about healthy lifestyles and promoting them with a marketing campaign and still another group may be studying famous citizens of the past to determine what shared characteristics are exhibited by leaders who create change. 

These 2 kinds of learning: basic skill and passion/purpose projects enable students to develop the WHAT and HOW needed for life and fulfill the WHY that drives us as humans.

Learning communities don’t start or stop every 90 or 180 days, but last as long as they need to complete the learning of both basic skills and projects.

Relationships are built through success in learning and project completions.

School is a place of JOY where students can become the best version of themselves.

What part(s) of the pre-COVID school system do you wish to leave in the past? Why?

I have been a learning designer (teacher) of young children ages 3-9 in a public school setting for 34 years. Each year children, because of their uniqueness as learners and their life experiences, enter my class and some are substantially behind and some are substantially ahead of the required curriculum. We have 180 short days to build relationships, learn skills and experience learning that feeds our innate human passion to create and grow. We are given the “GOAL” of students all leaving this experience with the same set of skills. It is NOT and NEVER has been an achievable goal. But we never stopped, we just kept pretending somehow it was possible. Then we were told to quarantine and suddenly requirements that were always in place were lifted. And so as I detailed in my ideas above, I ask WHY? Why do we keep doing something that is NOT working? WHY NOT try something different? Really Different? We can BE the CHANGE that education needs. Right now.

Tell us a little bit about yourself and what inspired you to share this idea.

I love designing learning and experiencing the JOY that comes from learning and seeing others experience this same JOY when they learn.
I also see the defeat that our current system creates, the unwinnable game we have created and continue to pretend works.

I want to design something DIFFERENT. 

It won't be perfect, it will need to be forever redesigned.

But it will be based on this belief: Learning starts where the learner IS and happens when the learner has passion and purpose for the learning. When the learner says, "WHY NOT?"

What region are you located in?

  • North America

Where are you located?



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