A important lesson from last June

Summer is coming to an end and I realize that I haven’t provided an update on the new high school during the past few months. I want to share a bit about a meeting that I held with last year’s group of 7th graders during the final days of classes in June.

Since this class will serve as the inaugural freshmen class for the new high school, I wanted to meet with them and begin to honor their voice in the planning process. I spent a bit of time sharing some key aspects that we had been considering for the new high school and then answered their questions. I also wanted to learn what interested them as we continued our planning.

The significant insight that I took away from my hour with the students was acknowledging their interest over student life activities. They weren’t overly concerned about the range of courses that they will take or the type of instructional format for their classes (although they were excited about using either a personal laptop or tablet!). No, they wanted some reassurance that high school would include opportunities for clubs, sports and activities outside of regular class time.

For me, this meeting will serve as a reminder to keep the student experience central in all our considerations.

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The Vancouver Symposium on Christian Education – Day 2

This was a good first day for the ‘official’ symposium. By the time I was back at the condo, I was both tired and rejuvenated from the interactions of the day. Each session was worth my attention and focus. I think this was why I felt so exhausted by the time I left the discussion center! Rather than address each session directly today, my biggest take-away was the realization we are actually talking about my daughter’s graduating class when we talk about the class of 2025 and whether or not they will be ready and equipped to face their future. This personal perspective hit home for me. I want to help prepare this next generation for academic success and to equip for service in God’s world as ‘salt and light’ (Matt 5:13-16). We are working together here for children like my own.

The Vancouver Symposium on Christian Education – Day 1

Today was the pre-conference day to discuss specific elements of digital learning strategies and methods as applicable to the Christian School. It was a good day together. Unlike other conferences that I attended, I found that the day included quality breakout sessions and meaningful conversations all around. I was impressed by the sense of collegiality that permeated the various sessions and I had a chance to meet some very dedicated professional educators. I chose to attend three specific sessions.

Success Strategies for the Business of Education helped us reconfigure the business and marketing end of schooling. Of the many insights I gained, I thought the most simple and practical was to get students involved in the touring process for prospective students and families, especially at the middle and high school levels. This can definitely help students see themselves “fitting in” which is so important when families enroll or transfer to the school. I realized that we do this on our university campus, so it makes sense here. I wonder why we didn’t think of this before.

Physical + Virtual = Space for Learning challenged us to reconsider our use of physical and virtual space in teaching and learning. This was a brilliant presentation of what can be, especially with regards to self-directed, competency-based learning. I like the emphasis to keep relationship and community deeply centered in the learning landscape.

Change Leadership for Dynamic Times offered some insight into leading change in a school where some resistance may be encountered. An eight stage approach to ensure effective change was shared. I found the first step, namely “creating a sense of urgency in what needs to be done” as one of the more important steps since it helped focus energies on initiating the process of necessary and better change in the school.

This was a good day to start the symposium. I will definitely need to review and consider my notes and ideas a bit further, especially as they apply to the high school project.

The 10:5:3:2 rule in technology funding

Fundraising has been on my mind lately. I first started thinking about the challenge of funding last summer. Now, as we move from the ‘visioning’ stage to the actual ‘planning’ stage for a new high school, the question of start-up funding has been one that I have been thinking about and brainstorming with others.  Today, I spent some time reviewing Funding your 1-1 vision, a K-12 Blueprint e-book from techlearning.com.  Among the various insights that I gained, one significant take-away focused on a recommended funding distribution for the technology budget.

The 10:5:3:2 rule can be used as a guideline for the equitable distribution of funds across four different technology domains: hardware, professional development, software, and maintenance and support services. According to this rule, for every $10 spent on hardware such as computers, printers, and other equipment (50% of the budget), $5 should be allocated to teacher technology-based professional development to ensure implementation success (25%) , $3 on software (15%), and $2 on maintenance and support services to fund imminent repairs and upgrades (10%).

I like how this distribution acknowledges the need for on-going professional development in support of the technology initiative. Allocating 25% of the budget in support of the teachers and their abiilty to support learning through technology is a wise investment of funds. I can see how this is a critical component of a technology plan.

The Cloud and the Classroom

Cloud computing is gaining the attention of building leaders and classroom teachers, alike. Using the cloud to access, create and/or store information and classroom products is gaining momentum as a viable, and even cost-effective, solution to different challenges that educators are facing today.

The challenge for many new users is understanding how to access and use the cloud appropriately in the classroom. Indeed, it may appear that everything is “more like a thick fog” rather than a cloud!  (I like this analogy that the authors offered.)

THE Journal provided an in-depth guide to cloud computing for a school. It provides a good definition of the cloud, differentiates among types of clouds, suggests six ways that the cloud may be used for a school, and offers some challenges to be consider during a cloud implementation process.

Reference:

O’Hanlon, C., Schaffhauser, D., Raths, D. & Ramaswami, R. (2012, Jan. 4). Diving into the cloud. Accessed through THE Journal, Jan. 9, 2012.

Meeting with an admissions counselor

I had the opportunity to meet with a university admissions counselor earlier today. I was interested in getting a sense of what counselors may be considering when they review an application from a student who recently graduated from a new or relatively unknown high school.

I was pleasantly surprised that they were not necessarily looking for the number of honors or AP classes that a student took, per se, but, rather, that applicants could demonstrate that they attempted to challenge themselves in school, especially when considering the various courses that could be taken in the school curriculum. Did the student choose the “easy credits”? Or did the student attempt to engage in a variety of classes throughout the curriculum? Is the student a well-rounded student as a result of the high school experience?

The counselor advised the need to let the university know of the school’s graduation requirements at least a year in advance of the first graduating class. This notification should highlight the minimum graduation requirements and expectations of the school’s students. This was especially important should the school expect the students to participate in service learning, internships or offer other learning opportunities for credit. Based on this provided profile, careful decisions are made regarding admission status.

The counselor didn’t even flinch when we talked about a hybrid high school graduation diploma. To her, this was part of the reality of admitting students in the 21st century.

Overall, I appreciated the opportunity to discuss what a new school needs to consider from a university admissions point of view. Clearly, the need to explicitly express minimum graduation requirements is important. Even more important is to articulate the vision and expectations that a new Christian high school may have for its students as graduates and representatives of the school when they leave to go to college.

The shift in thinking patterns of digital kids

In addition to the four implications discussed in my post on a foundation for 21st century schooling, I wanted to highlight a fifth, significant implication for the classroom that Kelly, McCain and Jukes (2009) associate with the reality of the online digital world and its relationship to schooling. Simply put, there is emerging evidence that today’s kids are thinking differently than their teachers. As a result, schools need to address the shift in thinking patterns of digital kids. This is, indeed, a novel observation that I had not considered before.

Kelly et al. discuss the theory of neuroplasticity, which refers to the brain’s ability to modify the organization of its neural pathways, thereby effectively rewiring itself in response to new demands placed upon it by the external environment. Neuroscientists suggest that such brain plasticity underlies the brain’s ability to learn, unlearn and relearn.

Neuroplasticity is the brain’s ability to reorganize how it processes information based on new input. If the brain encounters a new kind of input for sustained periods of time on a daily basis for an extended period of time, it will reorganize neural pathways to handle the new input more effectively. This is what happens when a child learns to read. With sustained exposure to textual input on a daily basis, the child’s brain reorganizes how the brain processes this new input so the brain can make sense of it.

In the same way, kids growing up in a digital world are being exposed to new kinds of input from digital experiences for sustained periods of time on a daily basis. Consequently, their brains are reorganized to handle the digital environment more effectively. This is creating a huge problem in our schools. Kids are quite literally thinking differently than those who teach them. (p. 23)

As a result of growing up in an increasingly digital world, it appears that the neuroplasticity of the brain has impacted student learning preferences. Kelly et al. suggest that the digital generation prefers:

  • receiving information quickly from multiple multimedia sources
  • parallel processing of content and multitasking
  • active, engaged learning
  • processing pictures, sounds and video before text
  • random access to hyperlinked multimedia information
  • networking simultaneously with many others (p. 23-24)

These learning preferences are more often than not in direct contrast to teachers who have learned, and therefore tend to teach, differently. They prefer slow and controlled release of information from limited sources, favor passive learning models such as lectures, choose to provide new information linearly, logically and sequentially, and ask students to work independently before they interact in groups.

Kelly et al. highlight the following implications for quality teaching and learning to reach the digital generation:

  1. Classroom instruction must shift from a predominantly lecture format to one that focuses more on discovery learning. Students should be provided with hands-on learning activities that allow them to master the digital tools for learning.
  2. Teachers must make a shift from the text-based instructional tools to include pictures, video and sound as appropriate media to convey information.
  3. Teachers must provide students with more access to hyperlinked information that can be navigated randomly. This ‘random access’ approach to navigating information in the World Wide Web is a mode of learning that students are already used to. Guided opportunities to develop these skills further are essential.
  4. Teachers must allow students to network and collaborate with each other and with experts from around the world on an ad hoc basis. (p. 24-25)

Without a doubt, these implications will impact teacher preparation substantially. Today’s students are developing skills from using new technologies that should be incorporated into the classroom. It is imperative for schools to provide the necessary professional development and appropriate collaborative planning time to help them succeed. Unfortunately, it appears that far too many of today’s teachers focus, instead, on of the skills that the students do not have because of the technologies.

Reference:

Kelly, F. S., McCain, T., & Jukes, I. (2009). Teaching the digital generation: No more cookie-cutter high schools. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin.

Wesson, K. (2010). Neuroplasticity: Experience and your brain. Retrieved from http://brainworldmagazine.com/?p=717 on Feb. 1, 2011.