Friday, March 23, 2012
These are my rambling thoughts as we depart for home. I do not intend to offend anyone or to be negative in any way. I believe that Project Based Learning has a place in the education of our kids at WSR and I am anxious to see where this journey leads us.
I don't know if the blog is the right place for this sort of post but I feel compelled to try to wrap up my thoughts and try to decompress from the amount of information I have taken in over the last 4 days. It was truly an incredible experience and one that I will never forget and one that has changed me for the better:
As we leave San Diego I would like to take some time and reflect on what I have had the privilege to witness first hand. All of the schools were unique and served their targeted clientele very well. Money was a huge concern from every school I visited. Even Hi Tech High struggled to make its ends meet.
In every school that we visited, the kids, teachers and administrators were there by choice. They were not forced to go to the school they were attending or forced to be given the type of instruction that they were receiving. They all knew what they signed up for when they did so. I believe that this is a vital key to their success and I would not recommend forcing this type of instruction on any teacher or student. In my opinion, we would be setting that teacher or student up for failure.
All of the schools are purposefully small. None of the schools we visited had the enrollment that Waverly-Shell Rock has. Their reasons for this vary but much of it boiled down to the fact that by being small the teachers can get to know their students much better and they can do a much more effective job of educating their students. In the California Public School System, due to budgetary reasons, class sizes have reached an average size of over 42 students per class! At the schools we visited many of them have class sizes at a much more manageable 20 or fewer per class. With this smallness, the schools are not able to offer electives like we do at WSR. We saw no band, choir, orchestra, business, or ag classes. Only the schools that specifically targeted constuction or engineering had any sort of Industrial Tech program. Of the schools I personally visited, only Hi Tech Hi offered art. Industrial Tech and business were infused into some of their projects. There were no separate Business classes at any of the other schools I visited.
I was truly astonished at the number of Charter schools that the state of California has. In Iowa, there are only a few and those are in part, an attempt of certain districts to attract more students. I believe that meeting the needs of their current students was a secondary reason for their Charters development. Considering the state of education and the class sizes as they are in California, it stands to reason that these schools have popped up. My guess is that this trend will continue as things worsen, budgets continue to tighten in California, and parents continue to search for an effective and safe way to educate their children. My hope is that the people of Iowa will continue to make educational funding a priority and use California as a cautionary tale of what could happen if our priorities change. You truly get out what you put in to things and the California Public School System is living proof of it.
All of that being said I was truly inspired by the teachers that I met wherever I went. They were all dedicated professionals and supremely gifted at their craft. No matter what school I was at I got the impression that the students, teachers and administration were all on the same page and truly connected with one another. More than once the word "family" popped up when describing the climate of a school. At Hi Tech Hi most of the students called their teachers by their first names. I remember when I first started teaching the students called me Mr. Steck or Steck and the Principal called into his office and let me know under no uncertain terms that this was not acceptable. My guess is that he would not have been a very good fit for HTH and their philosophy of education. The students I spoke to on this trip admired their teachers and looked to them for more than just instruction. Many of the teachers out of desire and necessity, acted as emotional and career counselors, disciplinarians, support staff, and a number of other duties that needed to be done to properly educate and support their students. The support they got from home was equally impressive. It is my belief that the parents of Wsr students are very supportive and appreciative of what we do here at WSR as well. Some of the students we met have to ride the city bus for over an hour in order to get to school and some parents drive an hour and a half just so their child can attend this particular school.
Like many states, California has exit testing that is required before a student is allowed to graduate and even in the Charter schools this emphasis on testing drives much of what they do because of the money that is tied to the successful completion of the test. The administrators and teachers voiced their frustration with this situation and many believed that this emphasis on testing is detrimental to the learning process that takes place in their schools.
Looking forward, I hope we are able to bring some of the PBL ideas we got from these schools. Selfishly speaking, I would love for my kids to be given this type of instruction. It is yet another tool in our box that can be used to effectively educate our kids. If we are to do it on a limited scale at WSR, inevitably, changes will need to be made in the approach we take to our school day. The most effective schools we toured have smaller class sizes. Instead of having 24-27 students in many of our core classes, it is my belief that we will need to reduce that number to less than 20 per class for those who choose to implement this type of instruction. That will have a ripple effect on the staff who are choosing to stay with their conventional style of instruction. If we choose to adopt this on a limited scale the number of students per class for those outside the program will begin to increase. I don't know if we would be comfortable with or if we had the space in our classrooms for 30 or so students per section. Would the district be willing or able to afford more teachers to keep the class sizes at current levels? How would these changes effect the climate of the school? Would some teachers think negatively about the other teachers who chose to teach this way and vice versa? What would the students outside of the program think of those who are in it? How could we make this work in our master schedule? Would this be something that we would adopt Pre K-12, 5-12, or just at the high school? What about funding for the projects? Would the responsibility fall on the school alone to fund things or would there be some sort of partnership with community organizations and businesses in order to make this happen? If so, who would head that up? There are lots of questions that need to be answered as we move forward with this. All I know is that if it can happen, the staff here at W-SR are the right people at the right time to get the job done.
Wednesday, March 21, 2012
Classroom at NCTT
Dehesa Charter School Background
Started by a group of home school parents that were seeking an environment where their children could collaborate with other students and prepare for college.
*Opened 2001 and served 1000 families at that time within their system
*Currently they serve around 12,000 families.
*11 learning centers
*Serve at risk, special education and TAG students
*Offer a hybrid education
*extracurricular options include mock trial, robotics competition, speech competitions,
and intramural sports
*All student, parents and teachers complete a learning profile to identify characteristics
*There are 2 paths to earn a high school diploma, one is a home school situation with a educational facilitator (this teacher is accountability piece for the state requirements), the other path is a studio learning approach. Students in this program attend school for needed classes. In both situations students have a personalized learning plan. Students enrolled in either of these plans can attend the community college for course work that is not offered at the school for college prep. Some of the methodology used in these programs are; face to face teaching, project based learning, online and home school material (extremely high parent involvement throughout)
Main Take-Away Ideas
*Learning profile survey for both students and teacher could be valuable (CORE?)
*Emphasize student choice in they way they learn (methods) which fosters their
motivation to learn
*There is not a "one size fits all" education...students should be given educational
options that enhance their natural learning styles.
*Online learning is most effective when blended with a school environment
Escondido Charter High School - Escondido, CA
Some general background on ECHS
* Opened in 1996
* Charter School/School of Choice
- enrollment NOT based on geography, but rather
* founded on the principles of american hertitage and
the appreciation of american civilization and United
* $6200 ADA per student
-total funding 30% less than public high schools
-20-30% free and reduced population
* 30% of graduates attend 4 yr. college, 70% attend
2 yr. college or enter career/military
* Currently 2 programs of study at the high school
1) Individualized Learning Program (540 students)
- a year round independent study program that is
2) Traditional Classroom Program (350 students)
- structured similarly to W-SR High School
At our visit to ECHS, the bulk of our time was spent
investigating the ILP program, described above.
The following are some of the main components
(for better or worse) of the program that we were
able to take ascertain from our visit.
*Teacher of Record (T.O.R.)
- each teacher serves as a counselor and academic
- each of the 18 teachers is responsible for a
maximum of 30 students
*they feel strongly in providing 1 on 1 interaction
and connections, as well as the reduction of the
number of students that a teacher interacts with
- each student meets with their T.O.R. for 1 hour per
week to ensure progress towards graduation
(checking 'homework' packets). Most academic
work is expected to be completed independently by
the student, outside of and prior to this once per week
meeting. The exceptions to this rule would include:
Science and Math labs, Spanish, and elective credits in
technology and other media courses.
- teachers have single subject credentials - but qualified
competent in all Core subjects
*Courses at ECHS-ILP
- typically are taken in the "one course at a time" method.
The average course length is roughly 10-12 weeks for
an entire years worth of curriculum. Students, however,
can advance to more than one course at a time, and can
complete courses faster in certain situations
- schooling occurs year round
- performance base/self-paced - course work must meet
minimum standards of quality and timeliness. Once both
of these are achieved, they may move on.
*Programs of Study
- time on campus depends on need
- students may attend traditional classes at ECHS-TCP, if
room exists in the class
- opportunity of earning community college credits
- 3 grad. plans: 210 credits(basic)
230 credits(general college prep)
260 credits(advanced college prep)
*Students at ECHS-ILP
- mix of students who need flex schedule for some reason
- do not take expulsions
- students can participate in virtually every extra curricular
activity that students from the ECHS-TCP can
Sent from my iPad
Classical Academy offers three different courses of study for its high school students. The Studio Program is most traditional and most popular, with around 500 students. These students attend classes four days a week in a "traditional" classroom setting with the chance to meet with teachers on Monday if they need extra help. The Independent Study Program has a very low enrollment but allows kids to complete their coursework on their own with a once a week check-in with their teacher. The third program is new this year and is called the FLEX Program. This is a hybrid online/traditional classroom program in which students attend classes two days a week and complete the rest of the coursework online. This program is only available for freshmen and sophomores.
We didn't necessarily leave there with big takeaways of things we could do at W-SR, but we know that students learn in different ways and in different settings and that we need to strive to accommodate all of our learners. We have more in-depth knowledge of how a hybrid program works and things we should do and avoid if we adopt a program like this. Students involved in a hybrid program must be highly motivated and self-directed, as well as have strong parental structure and support. We thought that three offerings seemed like too many options and that they could probably do away with their Independent Study program because all students could benefit from at least some type of peer and face-to-face interaction with a teacher. Additionally, the Independent Study program Is not centered around project based learning, which is our ultimate goal.
We did see some things that we thought were benefits of the FLEX program. They really emphasized the advantage of being able to have students complete work at home that doesn't doesn't lend itself well to a classroom setting or that doesn't make the best use of time when interaction could be happening (reading and taking individual notes). There is virtually no discipline, making classroom management and other things easier. The teachers are also able to develop strong relationships with their students because they work with a limited number of kids.
- The value of sustained thinking. Every school I’ve been to has developed their schedule in a way that keeps students engaged with a content area or learning experience for at least two hours at a time. As a team, we’ve experienced this value ourselves. Being able to step away from the hustle and bustle of every day life has given us freedom to sustain our thinking on a topic for long periods of time. How can we offer opportunities for W-SR students to sustain thinking to get to deep thinking?
- Reducing the number of students any one teacher is responsible for. This, again, has been central in every single school we’ve been in. We’ve seen two-teacher teams with 58 students, one teacher with 30 students for all content areas and all four years, and everything in between. How can we modify the schedule or arrangement of W-SRHS to reduce the number of students any teacher is responsible for?
- One size does not fit all. We’ve seen programs we love and programs that we don’t so much love, but what we have learned so clearly is that one kind of program does not meet the needs of every student. How do we re-imagine our comprehensive high school to offer different pathways and experiences for different students? ...and I don't mean tracking.
- Outsourcing rote learning to technology. If we identify the rote, but necessary things in our curriculum, we can use tech based resources to "teach" and "assess" those things, freeing up the teacher to engage directly with students on deeper and more engaging things.
Tuesday, March 20, 2012
WSR High School
What would it be like to teach in a transparent environment where the walls seem non existent? What would it feel like to unleash ourselves from limiting constraints? Do we, as educators, see the "finish line" as getting our students to college or through college and beyond?
Monday, March 19, 2012
- May Term/J-Term with a PBL focus--this is a conversation that's been bubbling under the surface for years in our district. When I hear about the mind-blowing things my friends at Spirit Lake did just this January during their LIVE J-Term, I know this is one of our next right steps. Everyone can involved in PBL this way--and it doesn't require throwing everything away and starting over.
- Teaming--create a schedule for a group of teachers who want to be able to throw everything away and embrace PBL every day. Figure out a way to let them share kids and time. Easier said than done, I'm sure--but not impossible.
- Seek and implement inquiry-based instructional practices in all content areas and all classrooms--this would make a great complement to May Term and J-Term and build nicely on some work with Science Writing Heuristic (SWH) and problem based math approaches we already have in place.
- Side note--If we do decide we want to jump in with both feet and just do this, I've decided that crazy hexmester schedule Steve Kwikkel (Middle School Principal) created is a great way to do it.
WSR High School
One of the key educational philosophies utilized in the schools we are about to visit is PBL. Using a real-world relevant project as the main driving force behind learning is very powerful. Due to the relevance that is continually present during the unit rather than just as an extra,, student engagement, curiosity and sustained learning elevate.
I found a terrific resource from High Tech High entitled "Work That Matters". I tried to attach the
PDF file through this post. I am uncertain if this will be successful or not. If not, this and a multitude of project ideas and publications can be found on the HTH home page under the "projects" heading.
Sunday, March 18, 2012
Thursday, March 15, 2012
What is PBL?
Main Course, Not Dessert
Essentials for Project-Based Learning
We invite you to read these too and post comments and questions for discussion.