Julia Helps Us to Connect Some of the Dots…


A few weeks ago, Judy Enright asked if someone could help her begin to connect the dots to all of the current change efforts being promoted in Maine, including mass customized learning. As I read an article in the Morning Sentinel this morning about an impressive eighth grade student from Waterville, I wondered if her story might help us to connect some of those dots.

In a nutshell, the young woman, Julia Bluhm, used social media and her involvement in Spark a Movement,  “…a girl-fueled activist movement to demand an end to the sexualization of women and girls in media”,  to create and distribute a petition asking Seventeen magazine to commit to printing “one unaltered — real — photo spread per month. ”  The article goes on to describe Julia’s passion for changing how media negatively influences the self-image of young women.

If this had been part of Julia’s school curriculum, here is how it might connect to some of the current “educational dots” being promoted in Maine today:

Common Core, Learning Results and/or District Standards:  Clearly, Julia’s language arts skills could be directly applied and assessed through this real-world project.  Connections could also easily be made to history, civics, government, and even some mathematics.

Mass Customized Learning, Personalized Learning: Since the topic is one that is of interest to Julia, it serves as the basis for personalized learning.  It then becomes the role of Julia’s teachers to connect the required content and performance standards to her chosen topic.  Teachers would work with Julia (and her others, such as her parents)  to identify more specific (and relevant) learning targets and the assessments of those targets.  In this case, a professional editor might serve as one of the assessors for Julia’s writing, using the Common Core and/or other relevant content and “real world” standards as part of the assessment.

The role of the teacher changes pretty significantly in this way of designing learning opportunities.  Instead of teaching discrete, isolated facts geared for high stakes, grade level exams, the design for learning really starts with the student and his/her interests and passions at the core with the assessments as a way of determining to what degree s/he has met the standards.

One of the concerns I hear frequently from teachers is that personalized/mass customized learning seems to be going back to tracking students by ability or performance. With truly personalized learning, even within tracked groups, students will be pursuing a variety of topics at the same time in different ways.  In fact, if one were to group students, it might make more sense to group by interests, thus allowing students with common interests to learn from each other.

This way of organizing learning is very difficult for some educators and most parents to understand and accept. There is much work to be done in building awareness and curiosity if these dots are truly to be connected for student learning.

True educational change will not happen quickly or easily.  But as Julia would likely tell us, something as important as this change will take time, effort, passion, and commitment.  Hmmmm… maybe we should engage the students in helping move this change forward?  I’ll bet it could serve as a wonderful personalized learning project!


2 Responses to “Julia Helps Us to Connect Some of the Dots…”

  1. Jill Spencer Says:

    Mary, I enjoyed reading your vision for how this type of learning fits the profile of the personalization and customization of our students’ education. It’s refreshing from what I usually hear which is all about data bases that track student progress on the standards. The teaching and learning involved is so much more important than a data file. Also, the technology helps her achieve her goal rather than being just the raison d’etre.

  2. Mary Callan Says:

    I agree… I am hearing so many teachers talk about the continued pressure to focus on the discrete standards vs the learning… so the real shift hasn’t really happened yet!

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