OPENschool is a concept that can be implemented in any middle school. Its purpose is to provide orientation and guidance to 12-15 year-olds as they decide what further educational careers to pursue.
OPENschool does not require an entire school to change. Instead, 2-3 classes (years 7-8 with an optional year 9) form a semi-autonomous OPENschool unit within the larger school, operated by a group of 4-8 teachers who are exclusively assigned to this unit.
Within this unit, learning is structured in terms of projects rather than subjects. Students acquire and train basic skills in an open learning format called the “learning office”, then apply them in projects with real-life goals. Many of these projects take place outside the school, usually in cooperation with local businesses and institutions. This ensures that what students learn is relevant and connected to the real world.
By working with experts and practitioners from many different fields and directly experiencing a wide variety of occupations and activities, students gain a realistic idea of their own talents, interests and career options. The first year at OPENschool focuses on broadening students’ perspectives in this way. During the second and optional third year, students increasingly focus on the next steps in their personal journey. Students who aim for a particular upper school, vocational school or apprenticeship are specifically prepared for those. Students who want to pursue a particular talent or interest are connected with mentors from these fields and are supported in building their careers. Students who require further orientation do another round of trying out different things.
This level of personalization is only possible because each OPENschool unit consist of no more than 50-60 students supported by 4-8 full-time teachers. OPENschool scales not by increasing the size of individual units but by starting additional semi-autonomous units with their own teams. OPENschools work together by sharing materials, expertise and experiences. As the network grows, the creation and evaluation of materials will increasingly happen in a dedicated distributed research-and-development group. All materials as well as guides to implementing an OPENschool unit will be distributed as Open Educational Resources for use by teachers in any school. (For sample projects and lesson plans that we are already developing in the run-up to the prototype school, see http://openschoolmaterials.wordpress.com.)
The first OPENschool launched in September 2018 in Vienna as part of a public middle school. It is being evaluated by the OPENschool team as well as a variety of external observers. Additional OPENschool units at various schools in Vienna and Lower Austria are planned for the future.
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