I was just at a high school football game, and I struck up a conversation with one of my senior students. It started out as a usual “how are things going?” conversation, but by the end of it, I knew I had to write a blog post about it. This senior of mine, who I’ve known since 6th grade, was telling my all about this model planes he builds. Now, I remember somewhere a previous conversation about his radio control, a damaged wing, and a few other pieces of information. But, I guarantee you I had no idea that he built planes with wingspans of sixteen feet, made of balsa wood and plywood. For twenty minutes, this senior told me about how he buys the plans for the planes, gets a sponsor for the materials, builds the planes, flies them, and then sells them. His last project took two and a half years to build, and the plane will sell for over $15,000!
Throughout the conversation, I asked a lot of questions about funding, licensing, plans, and equipment. He answered every question with no hesitation and a complete grasp of his work. So, I asked if he was taking physics this year – seemed like a natural fit for a kid telling me about designing his own air tanks to provide compression and hydraulic lift. He said no. He was taking three biological science or agriculture science courses instead because they were easier. I felt upset and ashamed in that moment. Here was a student rattling off several science and mathematical concepts in a very eloquent and sequential fashion (English/LA, too!), and he did not think he could handle physics.
In a competency-based, personalized learning system, this senior would have demonstrated several competencies and would have been well on his way to a solid high school diploma. He clearly is demonstrating several criteria for college and career readiness. But any scale or assessment, this senior is ready for his next step in life. He gave me an answer to how CBE can and should look, and he gave me the passion to keep pushing our system forward.