- Education & Catastrophe
- Visiting Athens With A Traveling High School
Visiting Athens With A Traveling High School
Education & Catastrophe 55
Think Global School students Diego, Marily and Dhruv
Think Global School (TGS) is a traveling high school where students live and learn in four countries each year. I have been keeping the school on my radar ever since I met TGS’s lead educator Chung Man at ISTE six years ago. TGS spun out Think Learning Studio (TLS) about a year ago to offer professional development training that helps educators and schools inspire interdisciplinary project-based learning.
I attended TLS’s inaugural Hakuba Forum earlier this year and connected with many progressive educators from around the world. When I found out that TGS’s current semester in Athens coincided with my travels in Europe, I took the opportunity to finally visit the school and meet with TGS students and educators.
Such a crazy, life changing experience for someone to have at such a young age.
Having spent the past couple of days with TGS students and faculty, two words that summarise the TGS learning experience are personalised and agency. They go hand in hand. TGS provides highly personalised learning that demands a high degree of learner agency.
TGS’s Changemaker Curriculum focuses on mastering skills and concepts through interdisciplinary, project-based learning (PBL), where the learner’s environment informs their studies and their studies give meaning to their environment.
Acropolis in Athens
PBL is not unique to TGS. What sets TGS apart is how personalised TGS’s PBL curriculum is. In each location, learners select from one of several teacher-led modules to participate in for the eight-week term. Each module revolves around a driving question relevant to learners’ surroundings. Teacher-led modules combine multiple academic subjects at once and are designed to help learners answer key questions about the world around them.
Modules for the current semester in Athens
Food For Thought: How can we use our understanding of the complexity of the Greek diet to be more conscious of our own food heritage and eating habits?
Euro Just Being Dramatic: How can I create an effective and realistic government policy to improve my home country’s economy using the lessons learned from Greece’s recent economic history?
Living in Vertical Segregation: How might an in-depth study of vertical segregation guide us to a complex understanding of the social stratification in modern day Athens?
Wear Thy Beauty: How might we create a wearable art piece that demonstrates an understanding of ancient Greek philosophy on beauty in a modern context?
Set In Stone: How can I track and celebrate my progress as a climber and a member of a climbing community?
Sense Of Culture: How can I design a sensory experience that highlight the culture of Athens?
Driving questions are open-ended, allowing learners to explore the world through their unique perspective and build upon their knowledge base. Two learners doing the same teacher-led module answering the same driving question will end up with vastly different outcomes, depending on each learner’s interpretation of the question and their individual interests and lived experiences.
Every learner does a one-hour one-on-one advisory session with an academic mentor once a week. In addition, group advisory sessions of four learners to one academic mentor over lunch or dinner are held occasionally. During advisory sessions, academic mentors keep track of where each learner is at, offer advice on how to improve on their personal projects, and guide learners on the overall TGS process and experience.
There is a lot more trust and respect between student and advisor.
I want to do good work for you.
I sat through a one-on-one advisory session and saw for myself how much more personalised the learning experience is at TGS compared to traditional education. During the one-on-one advisory, academic mentor Matt gave TGS student Esha detailed technical explanations of ISO, aperture and shutter speed as he guided her through her personal project related to film and videography. Afterwards, I asked Matt if he read up before the advisory session. Turns out Matt studied film production in college. Matt explained that with the incredibly low academic mentor to learner ratio of about one to four, there is a reasonably good chance one of the academic mentors has some expertise a learner needs.
Personal projects where learners formulate their own driving questions and select the learning targets and 21st-century skills they like to focus on are a big part of the TGS PBL curriculum.
Mastery project focused on a wearable collection showcasing beauty of coral reefs
Development of a wearable art piece that communicated the conservation message
Marily, a third year TGS student from Mexico, shared with me her personal project with the driving question:
How can I represent the coral reef ecosystem's beauty through a wearable collection?
Personal projects are self-proposed by learners and therefore interest-led. Learners are required to document the progress of every project in their process portfolio (screenshots from Marily’s above), process being the key word here. The research, thinking and exploration behind the final output is as important as the output itself.
Before enrolling in TGS, she wanted to be a doctor but because of a personal project on sewing she did with Chung Man, she decided to pursue fashion instead. With a process portfolio consisting of a body of work showcasing her interests and talents related to fashion, Marily has a place at Milan’s Istituto Marangoni next year.
Marily’s investigation related to saree in India
Dhruv is another graduating TGS student with firm plans for next year. Dhruv did The Knowledge Society’s 10-month accelerator programme during his final year at TGS, worked on a marketing agency for startups, met his co-founder, and pivoted to building a digital career advisory platform. He plans to take a gap year next year to work on his startup, finish the next level of The Knowledge Society’s accelerator programme, and see where startup life takes him.
Failing is so important. Don’t be scared to get out of your comfort zone. Don’t be afraid to fail. Reaching out of your comfort zone is a big opportunity to challenge yourself.
Social Emotional Learning & Future Planning
I spent some time talking to TGS counsellor Jac to learn about the school’s social emotional learning (SEL) programme and find out how the school prepares students for life after TGS.
TGS has a comprehensive SEL programme called Inside Out that focuses on self-awareness, decision making, life skills and relationship skills. Every week learners do a ninety minute class with Jac taking the entire cohort of about thirty students for the first half before getting learners to break out into smaller advisory groups for the second half. In addition to the weekly Inside Out class, Jac conducts regular one-on-one check-ins with learners during which learners share reflections with Jac and Jac counsels learners on how to use the TGS experience to propel them to the next path.
Passions, talents, life skills and mindsets
Just like how Marily discovered her passion for fashion through a personal project, another student who wanted to pursue engineering in college realised how much she disliked the subject after a mastery project focused on engineering. The ability to help learners discover where their interests, passions and talents lie is perhaps the greatest value TGS students get out of their traveling high school experience. Imagine how much worse it would be if the student had accepted a place for an engineering degree, spent four years getting the degree, another couple of years working as a junior engineer, then realise this is not what she wants to do. Far better to know at age fifteen than at age thirty, that’s for sure.
Discovery of interests and talents aside, there is also tremendous value in developing life skills and mindsets that become a lifelong source of strength. For Marily, the biggest change she saw in herself is her ability to think critically - non-binary view of things, problem-solving, prioritising, time management etc. For her twin brother Diego, he learnt to never be afraid to fail or be married to a single idea.
I’ve been telling my wife about TGS for the last six years, and she has remained skeptical about the idea of a traveling high school without a standard curriculum. Until this week. After listening to students, speaking to faculty members, attending a school huddle, and hanging out at the student residence, she is convinced TGS is the best option for our kids because the level of personalised learning and one-to-one attention from faculty members is simply off the charts.
In most mainstream schools, if a student gets a one-on-one hour with faculty, the student is probably in serious trouble.
Educators encourage us to be vulnerable without us feeling like we’re being judged.
Thank you Chung Man, Sophie and Matt for opening up the school to us.
I asked a few TGS students what advice they would give young people who are considering applying to TGS. This is what they shared:
Fall in love with learning
Lean in to every moment
Expect a lot of personal growth
Time management is everything
Have a strong sense of personal motivation
Use the people around you to get what you want
Be open-minded about how different cultures think
Learning at TGS is in many ways the education I wish I had, and the education I think every child deserves. The traveling high school model is unfortunately incredibly difficult (and expensive) to scale.
Without setting out to copy TGS in any shape or form, I believe Doyobi learners also learn about the world, discover their passions and talents, and develop life skills and mindsets. At least that is what my team set out to do.
Live online cohorts for US timezones now open for registration.
If you enjoyed this week’s issue, you may want to check out issue 11 of Education & Catastrophe No Such Thing As An Average Student.
Till the next issue!