Problem: The NGO known as Big Picture Learning aims to remove aspects of the conventional educational system in the United States within which students are usually placed in crowded classrooms where the teacher is at the center and the students merely watch lessons, have school curricula that are based on textbooks and parental involvement is limited. The NGO also aims to encourage students to reduce their absenteeism. Dennis Littky and Elliot Washor, both American teachers, created the organization in 1995.
Solutions: The NGO creates and maintains innovative, personalized learning environments within schools via a comprehensive approach that seeks to adapt the learning environment, train teachers and support the implementation of teaching methods. Elementary and high school students are the focus, mainly kids from disenfranchised urban areas. Three basic principles are applied: learning should be based on the interests and needs of each student; the curriculum should be relevant to students and prepare them to work in the real world; and, lastly, the development of the students and their abilities should be assessed by the quality of the work they produce and how these activities transform them.
Students spend at least two days per week working on personal projects or completing internships. The method also incorporates input from a counselor, a mentor and the student's parents. Each counselor oversees groups of up to 15 students while working with teenagers individually to help them discover their interests and motivations. Every student has his own mentor, who are volunteers of varied professional backgrounds, such as engineers, lawyers or the owners of small businesses. Mentors help to guide students through their internships and parents are invited to give support and help the student engage more in his or her studies.
In order for the learning process to occur in the real world, an example of the application of this project is underway at the Los Angles Big Picture High School, in Los Angeles. There, students learn geometry by viewing building facades during field trips in the city. Instead of studying theater in school, they go to a theater, watch a play, and, afterward, are given class at the very theater they visited.
In Denver Colorado, for example, Jay Carter began to study botany and sciences in high school after speaking with his counselor. To further his studies, he earned an internship as a lab assistant at the horticulture laboratory at the University of Denver. During his internship, he learned to deal with new responsibilities and challenges, like having to present his research at a symposium.
Big Picture Learning
Outcomes: At high schools in the United States where the NGO is active, the graduation rate is 92%, as opposed to a 70% rate in schools where it is not active. More than 95% of the students that engaged in the teaching method that was developed by Big Picture Learning go to college. Studies involving the organization show that the method increases student motivation. With these results, the NGO aims to influence political decisions and local, national and international educational systems.