Woman: There has to be exploration, and it has to be decided by the children, not by the teachers.
Narrator: In 2001, Edutopia visited the Key Learning Community in Indianapolis, Indiana, a school intent on doing things differently.
Woman: We talked about our symbol system, because we're going into the time now when we're going to put those marks, those symbols, on our progress reports.
Narrator: Founding principal Pat Bolanos led a group that created the K-12 school, whose curriculum is based on the theory of multiple intelligences.
Pat: This theory said people are not smart or dumb or someplace in between, but actually there are 8 distinct areas of intelligence, that you could be very strong and capable in one area of intelligence and very weak in one or two of the others. And so from our experience, we said, "Let's say that all of these areas of intelligence are equally important for all children."
Teacher: Does anybody know when the Civil Rights Act was passed?
Teacher: Good, okay.
Narrator: After determining that every child should develop their multiple intelligences, Key Learning founders like Beverly Hoeltke had to come up with a new way to assess them.
Beverly: Then anytime you see the shape of a triangle, those also represent the strengths that he has. Math is one.
Beverly: We needed to have some symbol system that reported out to others what we were looking for in children, and that first was the multiple intelligences. So on the progress report, they are highlighted in bold letters.
Narrator: Key founders also developed elective periods, or pods, a way for students to play to their strengths.
Geoffrey: Pods are one of our ways to approach multiple intelligences in a kind of individual basis, not only for the students, but for the teachers. And each of the teachers chooses something that we're really passionate about and designs a course around it, and they're unique and fun.
Boys [singing]: Chicken. Fried chicken. Barbecue chicken. Chicken ain't nothin' but a bird.
Geoffrey: One of the really interesting things is that some of the kids that struggle during the day are some of our most talented strummers, and it gives them a feeling of success and gratification that they may not get in a traditional setting. We've had some really, really great years. Key's Strummers evolved into a really mature group. We've played for Garrison Keillor on "A Prairie Home Companion" when they came through town. It's just been really great.
David: The skills that I learned here, you know, I don't think I would have learned at any other school. If you can learn your strengths and weaknesses early on, you get a better outlook for the future. If you can sit back and you can say, "Well, I love working on digital audio design," or, "I love working with a camera," "I love picking up that guitar and plucking around," and you learn your strengths early, your success in the future will only be furthered if you stay on track. And this school has done that for me.
Christine: We really work individually with our kids to help them understand their strengths and to help them understand how they can move into a career based on this strength. They develop a digital portfolio, which also highlights their strengths, and the admissions offices have been really impressed with the work that they've seen.
So you kind of just start making our movie.
Christine: A lot of people really appreciate the work that we're doing at Key Learning Community, so we are working very hard to maintain our authentic curriculum and our authentic assessment. We do really work hard to stay true to our mission and true to our vision, but it is a lot more difficult than it used to be.
Beverly: We're trying to just sort of stay alive, as opposed to what I would have hoped for, is that we would be putting lots and lots of research and trying lots of new techniques and new ideas, but we really haven't been allowed to do that, thanks to No Child Left Behind. And the testing has become so absurd that it's like every other week you're testing, you're giving some kind of test. And when you're testing, you can't be teaching.
And I have pictures of all this stuff.
Beverly: We need to be more politically savvy as far as trying to convince the business world and the politicians that we're going in the wrong direction on that test scores aren't everything, so therefore if they want creativity in children, they want originality, but we have to teach them processes of how to learn as opposed to information.
I'm going to take a trip to Venus.
Narrator: For more information on what works in public education, go to Edutopia.org.