Prisma is the world’s most engaging virtual school that combines a fun, real-world curriculum with powerful mentorship from experienced coaches and a supportive peer community
A few years ago, a meme blew up online about what we learn in school. There were several variations, but the joke was that school didn’t teach skills like how to do taxes, buy a house, get good credit, or find a job, but it did teach...that “the mitochondria is the powerhouse of the cell.”
The meme was relatable to anybody who has ever reflected on whether or not they learned useful information in school. Do you ever remember saying, "Why do we need to know this?" while doing proofs in geometry, learning about ancient civilizations, or analyzing Romeo and Juliet?
Whether traditional school prepares us for real life is a genuine concern many have about the education system. Especially in the wake of the pandemic, when parents got a direct view into what their kids were learning, many have wondered if the current model of traditional education should be completely rebuilt. Some have taken matters into their own hands, choosing to withdraw their children from public schools and switch to homeschooling, worldschooling, or innovative virtual schools, such as Prisma.
At Prisma, one of our learning values is that education should prepare learners for the real world. 98% of Prisma parents say that our school does a better job preparing their learner for the real world than their last school. “The real world problem solving the learners do is unlike anything they do in more conventional schools,” says one parent. “If anyone tells you kids aren't ‘ready’ to consider meaningful topics like the world refugee crisis, neurodiversity, building a business, or scientific research, don't listen!”
In this blog post, we will explore what it means to prioritize real-world learning, and provide concrete ideas from our program for making learning more real-world at different grade levels.
We hear a lot about the need for real-world learning, but what does that really mean?
Here are some of the ways traditional schooling doesn’t prepare kids for the real world:
Real-world learning is an approach that equips students with the knowledge, skills, and experiences necessary to succeed in the world beyond the classroom. This involves teaching students how to apply their learning to real-life situations, exposing them to various career paths, and providing opportunities for hands-on, project-based learning.
There are several reasons why traditional education may not adequately prepare learners for the real world:
What would it look like to redesign education to focus on real-world learning?
This was our approach at Prisma:
Education has focused on knowledge (learning facts & information) for a long time, but in the 21st century, when all the world’s knowledge is accessible at the click of a button, we believe skills are more important. To design our learning framework, we consulted research from organizations like McKinsey and the World Economic Forum on what skills will be needed in the future of work. These skills included critical thinking, problem-solving, collaboration, communication, and adaptability. We designed our curriculum to build those real-world skills over any particular piece of content knowledge.
How does this work in practice? For example, instead of forcing every learner to learn a certain set of facts about a historical era we decided is important, Prisma learners get to choose which historical eras they’d like to research, and use hands-on project-based learning to create podcasts, museum exhibits, websites, and more inspired by history.
To see the value of learning, students should know the purpose of their learning experiences, rather than being told, "you need to do this because I said so." Teachers should explain how academic subjects connect to real-world experiences and students' future lives.
How does this work in practice? At Prisma, we begin each live workshop and project with a chance to explain how the activity is relevant to learners’ goals and lives. We ask kids to reflect on how they’ll use the information or skill in the future.
Schools should provide opportunities for students to engage with professionals, exposing them to diverse career paths and broadening their horizons. This could involve inviting guest speakers, organizing field trips, or establishing partnerships with businesses and organizations.
How does this work in practice? At Prisma, we invite parents & other experts to serve as mentors when one of our interdisciplinary themes aligns with their area of expertise. For example, we had a Pulitzer-prize winning journalist speak to learners when they were working on a news article, and had engineers volunteer to help on projects when learners were working on engineering inventions.
Not all real-world learning opportunities are appropriate for all ages. To make learning more real-world, different approaches should be taken at various grade levels:
Implement project-based learning that is hands-on and engaging. Project-based learning brings more real-world relevance than traditional education because it is collaborative and more focused on building problem-solving skills rather than regurgitating information.
Learners of this age are ready for curriculum that addresses real-world problems. For example, students could work on a sustainability project, learning about the environment and collaborating with experts to develop solutions for their community.
Real-world learning is the most important at this stage, when kids are about to enter their adult lives. We offer work experience and learning opportunities where students can explore different career paths. At Prisma, all 12th graders spend a significant portion of their week engaged in a virtual or in-person internship.
A real-world education should involve hands-on learning experiences, a focus on problem-solving, and opportunities for students to engage with mentors and authentic audiences. By redesigning education to emphasize these elements, we can better prepare learners for the challenges they will face in higher education, the workforce, and life in general.
By providing students with real-world learning opportunities and fostering critical thinking skills, we can empower the next generation of entrepreneurs, nonprofit leaders, and innovative thinkers to make a meaningful impact on the world.
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"Carolyn is a miracle worker in math. Piper's attitude towards math has improved so much this year. It's never been her favorite subject but Carolyn's patience and encouragement has made such a positive impact." -Alexia A., Prisma parent
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“Lauren is fantastic and has struck a nice balance of connecting with Cooper and keeping him on task. I'm impressed to see real growth in Cooper around self awareness, reflecting on his “glows and grows,” and goal setting.” -Kym J., Prisma parent
“I've seen growth in my kids, and most importantly a solid relationship between them and their coaches. We feel so grateful for these amazing humans that have entered our kids' lives. My kids' words exactly: ‘These teachers actually want to be here. They really care!’ ” -Katie M., Parent in Kimberly’s Cohort
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“I’m so happy to have an opportunity to call out Javi. As a math educator myself I am really impressed with how he presents math concepts, differentiates for and challenges learners as needed. From a social-emotional perspective he is so kind, patient and invested in the kids as a whole. I am so happy he is Brynn’s math coach.” -Chandra S., Prisma parent
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