Blog | November 17, 2016

How Students Can Develop a DIY Mentality

An acclaimed high school in Oregon is preparing students for tomorrow’s jobs by helping them become self-directed learners through the arts

The Arts and Communication Magnet Academy (ACMA) in Beaverton, OR’s public school system integrates typical high school curriculum with performance, visual, and communication arts. While some may question how the arts translate to real-world jobs, U.S. News and World Report’s Best High Schools report has ranked ACMA among Oregon’s Top 25 public high schools.

Students at ACMA are enrolled in the same core classes as their peers throughout the state, but their elective courses are all focused on the arts. This includes filmmaking, theater, and orchestra, among several others.

But students do not just learn how to sing, act, or dance. Many work together to organize large-scale productions like a short film or a musical. This requires students to develop and execute a plan—nurturing the kind of skills or competencies that comprise deeper learning, which comprises critical thinking, self-confidence, collaboration, and self-directed learning.

According to ACMA Principal Michael Johnson, “We can no longer continue to assume that we can teach as we were taught. Students need to focus on how to be learners.”

We can no longer continue to assume that we can teach as we were taught. Students need to focus on how to be learners.

Arts and Communication Magnet Academy Principal Michael Johnson

Business leaders know that young people entering college and the workforce need deeper learning skills, including self-directed learning. When students work together to produce a short film, they set goals, monitor their own progress, problem-solve to overcome setbacks, and ultimately learn to adapt as their plan unfolds.

Denis Berberovic, an ACMA graduate and budding filmmaker, won a top prize at the International Silent Film Festival in 2014. In developing the winning film about a pair of treasure hunters who find a cursed mask, he had to acquire permits to shoot at an airport, oversee the lighting and filming, and work with local businesses to secure locations to film. He had to develop a plan, deal with hiccups along the way, and meet deadlines.

“The art will not work unless I understand how all these other things work,” Berberovic told The Oregonian. “It is incredibly technical.”

Deeper Learning blog: Self-directed learning

ACMA’s curriculum goes beyond textbook learning to provide students and workers with the skills now needed in a competitive global market. This type of project-based learning helps students make connections across myriad subjects and brings greater relevance to classroom learning.

ACMA is just one of many examples that demonstrate how deeper learning is being implemented in K-12 around the nation. Many of these programs spark students’ imaginations, provide opportunities to attain credentials, and help give their education greater, real-life relevance by demonstrating practical connections between what they learn in the classroom and what they might do on the job.

The global economy demands workers who are self-directed learners. Integrating deeper learning into our public schools will contribute to a strong workforce and economy.

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