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The Digital School House

Updated on May 15, 2016

The 21st Century One Room School House

Does the idea of grades, 5th grade, 7th grade, 11th grade, etc., have a place in the classrooms of the 21st century? I don't believe so.

Every student has to meet specific requirements to earn a high school diploma. By removing grades, I believe students can meet these requirements and learn more. Let's look at two fictitious examples.

Sara is a bright, enthusiastic student who has a special talent for mathematics. She does well in her classes except for English. Writing and literature are her weak subjects. Sara has a good attitude. She understands that while she can do her Math homework quickly, she has to spend more time to complete her English and Literature homework.

Sara attends a classroom of the 21st century. It is a physical school but her Math classes are virtual. She is a sixth grader but is comfortable doing eighth and some ninth grade math. Her English and Literature classes are supplemented with some virtual classes. She's more comfortable at the 5th grade level for these classes. Her teacher keeps track of her progress and makes sure that her English and Literature requirements aren't ignored.

Let's meet another student. Philip is a fun student to talk with. He has a great sense of humor and likes going to school. That is surprising. Based on his age and time spent in school, he should be in the 9th grade. Based on his classes, he is in the 7th grade. In a traditional school, he would feel out of place; he'd be two years behind - the class dummy, the slacker.

Philip is not stupid. He's a talented musician and quite the comedian. It just takes him longer to learn. He plans to get his high school diploma. He probably won't achieve this at 18, but more likely at 20 or 21. He questions, "Why is 18 the magical age to get your high school diploma?" His dad went back to college at the age of 40 to get a certificate for his new job. His mom got her Masters degree when she was in her 30s.

Philip attends a classroom of the 21st century. He knows what he must achieve to get his high school diploma. He attends traditional classes. He also views related videos on Khan Academy and on other online resources. Listening to related material presented in different ways helps him learn.

Sara and Philip represent two types of students. I placed them in a different type of learning environment. In life, everyone is a beginner, intermediate, and advanced student. It depends on the subject, job or task.

Physical grades are useful in setting expectations and determining requirements. However, I don't believe they are needed as we currently use them. I believe an open approach that lets students learn and advance at their own pace is a better alternative.

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