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Aurora Institute

KM Global: Pedagogy, Curriculum, and Learning Design

CompetencyWorks Blog

Author(s): Chris Sturgis

Issue(s): Issues in Practice, Learn Lessons from the Field

This article is part of a series on personalized, proficiency-based education in Wisconsin and the fifth in a ten-part series on Kettle Moraine. Please read the first post on Kettle Moraine before continuing to read this post, as it will prepare you to fully take advantage of the ideas and resources shared in this series.

Image from the KM Global website

Once again walking into the large open space with small tables, couches, comfortable seating, and a few small offices and conference rooms, I had a hard time finding the teachers. That’s because they were sitting with a small group of students or talking one-on-one with a student. There was a gentle hum of conversation and, from what I could tell, everyone was on task – except it wasn’t the same task. As I walked around and talked to students, they were all working on their own separate research question. Some told me they had done everything they needed to do today, so were reading a book for English or working on some math problems they were finding really challenging.

As described earlier in this series, KM Global is a charter school, chartered by the Kettle Moraine School District and operating on the campus of the comprehensive Kettle Moraine High School. Similar to the other personalized high school campuses, KM Global is small, with 87 students and six teachers. Of the 19 students who graduated in the spring of 2017, 13 were accepted to four-year colleges.  

Each of the personalized learning high schools have a different theme. The vision of KM Global is: designed for a generation of global learners experiencing education with purposeful interaction and influence. The school provides a unique learning environment equipping students with the tools and experiences to contribute innovative thought and solutions to complex global challenges, and to Know, Be, and Do the work of global leadership. KM Global incorporates a unique curriculum, assessment framework, and delivery model to build a comprehensive learning environment that enables pupils to attain educational goals.

KM Global describes The Know, Be, and Do as a pedagogical framework (See page 3 of Annual Report):

  • Knowing: Attainment of specific learning outcomes guided by rigorous core content standards;
  • Doing: Participation in learning through projects; internships; travel; and other relevant experiences;
  • Being: Development of dispositions that will foster responsibility for personal leadership.

The curriculum is described as four pillars of learning:

Pillar 1: Global Perspective

Pillar 2: Leadership

Pillar 3: Field Experience

Pillar 4: Interconnected Standards Based Learning

Learning Design

At first glance, the course requirements at KM Global appear to be very similar to any high school: ELA, mathematics (supported by ALEKS software program), science, social studies, and a world language. I would imagine Wisconsin’s graduation requirements for a specific number of credits in specific domains will keep this course structure firmly in place.  

The difference shows up in in how students engage in their learning. Similar to the other personalized high school campuses, KM Global is organized for learning to happen in a variety of ways, including interviewing people around the world, internships (list of community partners), small group seminars with teachers, group projects, independent work, and high interest research projects. They describe their learning design as five options:

  • Personalized Learning: Students choose to investigate the answers to questions that match their interests and goals for the future through a personal inquiry along with the guidance of a learning coach.
  • Blended Courses: Course content is delivered both online and through small group instruction. This allows students to move at the pace that is right for them and prepares them to adapt to a variety of delivery methods used in college and the workplace.
  • Learning Outside the Walls: Through advanced technology, interviews, field trips, internships, and guest speakers, students learn how to communicate and interact with different cultures and industry professionals, extending their learning far beyond the traditional classroom.
  • Collaboration: Students work together through interactive seminars and community engagement. The small multi-age groups used in this model allow students to negotiate team dynamics, assume leadership positions, and collaborate around content.
  • Technology: Technology is used to support real time connections and discussion to foster collaboration and relationship building. A variety of online tools allow for personalization of curriculum content and activities.

As you can see, the primary focus of personalization at KM Global is on providing choice to students for how they learn and how they demonstrate their learning as well as on creating opportunities to broaden students’ horizons and explore high interest questions. (Note: Students earn credits for their foundation courses, capstone research projects, and field experience.) Students were most excited to talk about their seminars and inquiry-based projects. Principal Michelle Koper described these research projects as “deep dives that are similar to dissertations.” At the end of each semester, students participate in an “inquiry defense” by meeting with a panel of educators to present and defend their semester’s work.

Here are a few examples of the questions being explored by students:

  • Can alternative energy effectively replace fossil fuels?
  • How and why are North and South Korean cultures so different?
  • How and why has communism posed a threat to U.S. democracy?
  • How are beauty standards different for women around the world?
  • How can we help prevent concussions in youth sports?
  • How did aviation evolve from WWI to WWII?
  • How did the music of the 60s and 70s impact the time period?
  • How did the United States’ involvement in WWII impact the United States economically, socially, politically?
  • How did the views of the American public influence the outcomes of the Vietnam War?
  • How do 3D printers help with the medical field?
  • How do diet and exercise affect our bones, muscle, and fat?
  • How do invasive species affect the ecosystem?
  • How do traumatic childhood events affect mental health?
  • How does a presidential candidate’s character influence voters?
  • How does antibiotic resistance spread and develop across countries?

Although the areas of inquiry are different, students are all held to the same expectations based on their performance levels. Thus, someone working at the ninth grade performance level has different expectations than those at the twelfth grade. This obviously requires vertical calibration so teachers are sharing an understanding of what proficiency means when doing this type of research, analysis, and writing. KM Global is drawing on rubrics from the Asia Society and the Buck Institute.

Building Lifelong Learning Skills

KM Global has a number of strategies to help students build global leadership skills (including what some might call lifelong learning skills). First, every student is expected to take a seminar each semester called Global Foundations. In the seminar, students begin to build skills in looking at regional and global issues through multiple perspectives, and focus on professionalism, career exploration, leadership development, character development, and design thinking.

There is a strong emphasis on becoming independent learners. For example, students have classes two or three times a week with teachers coaching students in learning time management and planning skills. Rather than just being responsible for homework assignments given daily, students have to think ahead about how they will complete the work for their courses. Another example is that the seminars and internships allow students to practice and reflect on skills needed to navigate different environments. In the videos produced by KM, students describe their teachers as mentors, coaches, or facilitators. They describe how they are building skills and confidence to take responsibility for their learning. (See the second video where students describe their experience or this article by KM Global student Gillian Locke.)

Measuring School Quality

KM Global’s set of measurements that they use to drive their continuous improvement efforts are focused on a comprehensive and balanced set of qualities. Like all school districts, Kettle Moraine sometimes balances along a tightrope between personalized and traditional measures because high school is a transition point into the higher education system. You can see it with KM Global’s mission, which clearly identifies how the different qualities are measured:

The mission of KM Global is to cultivate a global perspective through academic excellence, active engagement, and development of leadership identity.

Academic Excellence as measured by:

  • Grades
  • Course completions
  • Graduation rates
  • College acceptance rates
  • Scores on common assessments
  • Scores on national, state, and international examinations
  • Quality portfolios

Active Engagement as measured by:

  • Student portfolio
  • Internships
  • Learning projects

Leadership Identity as measured by:

  • Evidence of civic engagement and local community or school leadership

College and Career Readiness as measured by students who:

  • Demonstrate independence
  • Build strong content knowledge
  • Respond to varying demands of audience, task, purpose discipline
  • Comprehend as well as critique
  • Value evidence
  • Use technology and digital media strategically and capably
  • Understand other perspectives and cultures

Along with measurement data, KM Global uses parent and student surveys, and identifies the highest and lowest feedback with an analysis that makes recommendations for changes in their annual report (see page 11).

Reflection: The personalized, proficiency-based approach is how students learn all these skills and develop these qualities. Yet, the academic measurements look very traditional. I would have anticipated a focus on growth (although growth may be harder to assess in the upper grades.) I didn’t hear students having difficulties navigating a proficiency-based approach to learning with more traditional ways of measuring academic achievement. However, in other schools I have visited, I have seen traditional grading or hybrid that maintains many of the features of traditional A-F grading produce frustration and undermine the school culture. This makes me think the small size of KM Global and its ability to nurture a very strong culture of learning is minimizing the impact of some of the traditional elements that remain in the school. Thus, two questions pop up for all of us to reflect upon:

  • How do we know when the school culture of learning and inclusivity is strong enough to ensure that the personalized proficiency-based approach is working?
  • How can we tell if traditional or hybrid grading processes are undermining the culture and need to be further aligned with a focus on learning and growth?

Suggested Resources

Read the Entire Series: