From Spare Parts to Real Change

CEO, One-to-One Institute

Passion and commitment of caring educators, the power of numerous technologies, self-directed/driven learners and many support levers created perfect conditions for the unlikely results showcased in an upcoming movie, “Spare Parts”. The story is as good as it gets when exemplifying how to transform ‘school’ into a student-centered, personalized learning experience.

It turns out that the ESL students at Carl Hayden Community High School (some undocumented immigrants), from the inner city and nArizona desert, had incubated engineering genius, in theory and practice, to achieve the highest recognitions in the third annual Marine Advanced Technology Education Center's Remotely Operated Vehicle Competition . 

I had the privilege of listening to the project’s founding science teacher, Fredi Lajvardi, at the California Education Technology Professionals Association (CETPA) last month.  He told the moving story of his and the computer science teacher’s, Dr. Cameron’s, transformation of low-achieving, bored, disenfranchised high schoolers into motivated, driven learners.  In addition, the team had four undocumented youths.  In Arizona, considered ground zero regarding immigration matters, this was an incredible feat for whom some would call ‘unlikely achievers’. It turned out that these teachers not only believed in the abilities of each young person- they ‘knew’ and understood the ‘person’ of each learner.  They understood their lives, their stories, their challenges and their strengths.  Thus, they were able to organize the effort around that knowledge and the variety of focal points.

Cameron and ‘Ledge’, as Lajvardi was coined by his learners, brought real world challenges to the ‘classroom’. Students had to seek workable solutions over time and space.  They had to troubleshoot a myriad of last minute failures before launching their bot at the University of California at Santa Barbara, in the ocean, waters that none of these desert high school students had ever experienced.

Every core discipline was integral to these West Phoenix students.  Maths, sciences, technologies, English language arts, etc., were addressed daily in each aspect of project work and when required ‘just in time’.  Algebraic equations had real bot consequences. The laws of physics were central.  Reading comprehension, written expression and cultural mores were paramount in describing who, what, where, when and why of the project. It was amazing that these ESL students performed at higher rates in the literary categories than all of their non-ESL counterparts from other colleges, including Massachusetts Institute of Technology, who were also competing.

The students found this effort compelling and deeply meaningful to their lives. Project objectives were pursued as a collaborative team while each person had established priorities and tasks crucial to the end project.  All is detailed in the book, also named ‘Spare Parts’ by Joshua Davis,

Honoring the Learner

My examination and excitement for this story stem from celebrating these students’ academic achievements while pushing the envelope of the American Dream.  At a time when we play political football with the lives of immigrants, young and old, we witness students and teachers who take the democracy of education and turn it into a real hotbed of personal best in an uncharted STEM experience. When we remove or walk through barriers that prevent change in the education ecosystem, authentic learning can and will occur.  When we risk doing the right thing in lieu of cow-towing to bureaucracies and fear mongering, we honor the learner above all else.  This is courageous work.

Kathleen McClaskey and Barbara Bray, co-authors of “Make Learning Personal”, 2014, say,

“Our current school culture rewards children when they are ‘good students.’  Children are considered good students when they follow directions, complete their homework, study for tests and earn good grades. The current culture often does not recognize or value when children are ‘good learners’.  Let’s dive a little deeper into how we can begin to create a culture where all learners are valued.”

The Carl Hayden Community High School teachers and principal turned the tide by valuing and personalizing their learners’ experience of ‘school’.  McClaskey and Bray outline what it takes, and in fact what this high school did, to create and focus on real learners and learning.

Creating Real Learners and Real Learning

  • Guide learners to think deeply about their learning
  • Teach them how to make sense of their learning
  • Help them set learning goals to support their learning
  • Understand the tools, resources and strategies each learner needs
  • Assist learners in developing the skills to be independent and self-directed
  • Nurture their talents, interests and aspirations so they can realize their hopes and dreams.  

The Role of One to One

Those who employ a one-to-one learning model have the tools at their fingertips to further drive and power up the personalization focus.  When each learner can self-direct learning activities, receive feedback around progress, and chart a course for remediation, research and personal best, we have hope of really changing our education system.


Leslie Wilson, founder and CEO of One-to-One Institute, has served education for 38+ years  in top level, key decision-making roles at state and local levels. Recognized as an international expert in education technology, Wilson is a frequent writer, presenter and interviewee. Among her many publications, she co-authored, “Project RED-The Technology Factor, Nine Keys to Student Achievement and Cost Effectiveness” which is the most broadly used research around successful implementation of 1:1 technologies in schools. 

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