Thursday, May 17, 2012

Celebrating Academics

Tonight was our Academic Award night. My own daughter walked away with hardware for the shelf. It is an amazing feeling as a parent to see your child's value of education recognized, but even better, to celebrate and elevate the hard work of your own students.

My other daughter is a Senior this year so we are going through the ending of an academic era in her life. That is bittersweet. I am excited about the next step in her life, but sad that she is moving a couple states away. This is no small accomplishment for her. She struggled through and was a C student throughout. This year she really pulled it together and became the student I always knew she could become, but she regrets not taking it to this level sooner. She didn't get into her first choice for college, but she is going. I assured her that the taste of success she is feeling now will carry over to college. I think she'll find college the place where she'll bloom.

Next year I will have the largest AP Computer Science class that our high school has ever seen. A large APCS class in the past has been 6 students, next year I'll have 14. I'm very excited about this because it shows that our student body is starting to see a value in a more challenging class, and the competitiveness this course will afford them as they compete for spots in top notch colleges.

This year's graduation class had two students who made it into the first round of the Merit Scholarship competition, and one of them became a finalist. His reward for all his hard work is a full scholarship to Northeastern, which is his first choice school. The other student will be attending Yale in the fall, with a large scholarship from the college that will nearly pay all her tuition.

Tonight we announced that in our Junior class, a student has moved into the Merit Scholarship competition. I can't wait to see where it takes her as she is entering her Senior year.

There is so much negative in the media about our students not hitting the target. I think it is important not to forget that some are hitting the target, and others are creating that target. I'm so proud of them all. I can't wait to see where all this hard work takes them. This is the time of year we can truly celebrate our academics!

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

What Will Education Look Like in Ten Years?

I have been thinking a lot lately about what school will look like 10 years from now. I am finishing my 6th year of teaching right now and it has changed tremendously over those 6 years. Most of the changes are related to technology but I think the bulk of the changes are a reflection on how the world is changing around us.

The world is flat once more. We are able to connect in so many ways that we couldn't connect just a few years ago. Today at a PD presentation, another teacher told us about QuadBlogging. We can now enroll our student or classroom blogs into this blog exchange system with other schools throughout the world. We can get feedback from outside of our buildings. It is the digital version of our old penpal projects done when I was a student in the public school system.

So what will schools look like in 10 years?

I think school (the physical building) will be a place where students go when they are struggling, or need resources, or need to collaborate with people in person. School will provide offices for their teachers as a place where they develop curriculum or meet for professional development or to meet with students for individualized instruction. Schools could very well abolish their bells and become a place of computer labs and recording studios. Learning will become an anyplace/anytime venture. Students will be able to enroll in courses online from a menu of schools who employ highly skilled instructors. Students might be enrolled in multiple online schools so they can have their pick of classes as well as instructors. Their local institution may end up becoming a clearing house for their learning by tracking what students are required to do, testing their competency, setting them up with internships, referring them with online programs that meet their individual needs, tutoring services, learning portfolio and project presentations, etc. Texting their teachers might become as common to them as texting their friends. Accessing learning will be done on-the-go using cell phones and tablets with data plans.

This is just what has been rattling around in my mind. It makes me wonder as a professional instructor how I should prepare myself for this shift? I am currently developing my courses to be blended, requiring all my students to use an online component. I suspect that eventually I will have requests for my blended material be made available to students who cannot fit Computer Sciences into their regular schedule as a way to earn their credit in the subject area. They will become distant learners, but in the building with their online instructor.

An important aspect of this shift will live with the students. They will need to become managers of their own time. They will need to start planning so they can fit it all in. Right now we plan their time and direct that time with bells and a school year that ends on the 180th day. A student that has good time management skills can finish a course in half the time whereas a student that does not manage their time well could end up taking twice as long. Time to learn becomes rolling, and honestly, makes it necessary to have school year round. Learning could become what it should be, a natural process of curiosity and discovery.

Again, this is just what is rattling in my brain. In fact, 10 years from now, kids could still be required to enter the building, spend 6 hours a day there and go home at the end of the day. Maybe we will still have a bell system that moves them from one subject to the next throughout the day. But my gut tells me that the digital component that is entering our lives will force a change in the physical part of how we educate our students.

Grade Level Expectations

I read this post

Here is my response:

In 1999 I was not in education but I was a parent with students who were above grade level expectations. It was the Kindergarten teacher of my oldest who suspected her acting out in class was because she already knew how to read and write and was bored during those lessons. We lived in Arizona at the time and she suggested a Charter School for my daughter. My daughter had to go through testing during that summer before her first grade year to determine her placement. As a first grader she was changing classes throughout the day and working through levels (but never "grade" levels). She was promoted twice in her reading classes during the school year and then promoted (later demoted back) in her math class. She never saw herself as a "first grader" but she could say "I'm on level C for math and Level J for reading". She knew if she wanted to advance, she had to put in the work to do that and if she slacked off in the next level, that she could be sent back a level.

When we moved to NH in the middle of her second grade year, there was no grade level on her transcript so the school here had to call Arizona. Arizona told her that at their lowest level she would be in third grade. NH decided that she was too young to be in the third grade, so they put her in the second grade. The acting out began again. I asked them to promote her up so she would be challenged and assured them that if they did, the acting out would disappear. The school board did not agree with me and she has resented it ever since. Even now as she is getting ready to graduate with 7 more credits than our high school requires, she says "I could be in college right now".

So I agree, from experiencing it as a parent, and watching my own students, that grade level expectations sort of puts a kink in competency based learning. Students can be promoted (or demoted) based on real-time performance throughout the school year.