Saturday, October 16, 2010

"All Systems Go" - All Means All

I just finished reading an interesting book called "All Systems Go: The Change Imperative for Whole System Reform" by Michael Fullan. I agree with the book’s point of view and the evidence cited for the reasons we have not been able to enact a whole system reform of K-12 public education.

Nova Southeastern University was able to make changes at the university level because it was a new institution with a vision that started with its leadership. The whole institution bought into that vision and was able to implement it within a few years. In order for change to occur and take hold in K-12 public education, reform must start with a vision for all K-12 schools, rather than those that are government-created and supported for specialized populations (such as children with low socioeconomic status).

The thesis of “All Systems Go” says it is imperative that education reform have a vision as well as a strategy for implementing the vision throughout the system. The implementation must start with the buy-in of the leadership (superintendents and principals), then the buy-in of teachers, parents, and all other members of the educational and geographical community. Changing a few schools at a time will not produce lasting change in the public school systems.

There are seven big ideas for whole-system reform, including:
1) All children can learn
2) A small number of key priorities
3) A resolute leadership/stay-on message
4) Collective capacity
5) Using strategies with precision
6) Intelligent accountability
7) All means all

Overall, this book effectively establishes that piecemeal reform will not work. We must be dedicated to changing the whole K-12 public education system at once. Next week, I will be posting about how some of these principles are being enacted by Jack Taub of Emaginos. More information is available at: and

Friday, April 30, 2010

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Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Beyond Memorization: Give 21st Century Students Time to Understand

We can all agree that it is important for students to graduate from high school. However, what happens when “graduating” from high school does not necessarily represent an understanding of the basic skills needed in college and the workplace? According to the Sun-Sentinel, more than half of the students entering public colleges and universities in Florida need remedial classes in math, reading, and writing prior to starting their college classes. The problem is NOT the amount of money we are putting into our public schools; rather, the structure and curriculum of public education needs reform. Memorizing information for the FCAT or College Placement Test is not going to equip students with the skills needed for the 21st century.

Students need to learn to analyze, understand, and explain rather than memorize, recite, and regurgitate facts and information. A student cannot be expected to master division if he or she does not know what dividing numbers truly means. Subjects—particularly reading and math—need to be taught on a student’s individual timeframe. Learning should be measured against each student’s past markers of progress. We must enable students to learn at varying rates so they come to understand and analyze information in a way that is useful and accessible both to them personally and for the 21st century.

We must change our expectations about time and make conceptual understanding (not wrote repetition) our first priority.

For more information, please see "College Students Lack Math, Writing Skills: 55% Are Taking Remedial Classes After Entering Schools in Florida" by Scott Travis. Sun-Sentinel, March 1st, 2010.

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Friday, October 23, 2009

Education Must Be Made a Priority Now

Education is a mandate for moving the economy forward.

See this New York Times article by Thomas L. Friedman, 'The New Untouchables'. It is imperative that we change the organization and structure of public education now.

With all the other priorities being discussed and addressed, it would be a shame to overlook this critical area that underpins and either fosters or impedes their success.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Time Must Be A Variable For Student Success

The Obama administration is now putting out a monetary package to encourage states to be a catalyst for change. In order for a state to qualify, it must demonstrate that it is tying student performance to teacher performance so as to determine effective teaching. But, where is the recognition that we need to modify the system rather that ask teachers and students to do more with something guaranteed not to engender success for so many?

Nowhere in my readings have I found encouragement and funds to reward systems that are trying to build an educational environment based on students’ mastery and making time a variable. As long as time is fixed, then student progress is what is variable within the fixed time frame. Thus, 30% of the student population is punished through failures.

If we moved in core areas - mainly English and Math - to Computer Based Learning ("CBL" or Computer Assisted Instruction “CAI”), the student becomes the class and each student is given time to master the materials. Further, what is learned becomes a tool for future learning. In science and social studies, projects that are meaningful to students can be agreed and assigned. Small groups then may use technology for research purposes as well as to make powerpoint presentations to fellow students. This transformation cannot be done without the community, without curriculum design and without teachers who are trained to utilize the environment correctly.

Student management also is important so that the teacher, the student and the parent see the progress of each student. This type of system provides accessibility to all partners, including the principal and state, as well as a vehicle to help determine the effectiveness of the learning environment in the classroom.

If you know of locations where the above model is being used, please let me know. Overall, appreciate your thoughts on transforming our educational system to treat each student as the class.

Monday, June 15, 2009

iSchools: Positive Changes in NYC

Certain instructional methods which I have mentioned in many of my previous blog postings, have recently been the subject of some positive publicity in the June issue of eSchool News. A new model being used in select NYC schools, called iSchools, seeks to integrate ‘innovative technology with project-based curriculum’ and early results indicate highly successful outcomes. In this model, groups of students utilize virtual resources on the internet to complete research projects and in doing so take pride in their work and ownership of final results. In this model, each student has his/her own laptop and access to a variety of online resources, which can be monitored by teachers and parents using a learning management system. These are all steps toward creating an environment in which time can be varied to accommodate the learner. As the student becomes more inclined to utilize technology and group-based project research, the skills gained will better prepare the student to enter post-secondary education and the 21st Century workforce.

eSchool News June

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Monday, May 25, 2009

'Disrupting Class' - Highly Recommend!

Just finished reading 'Disrupting Class', by Clayton M. Christensen, Michael B. Horn and Curtis W. Johnson, published by McGraw-Hill. I highly recommend this excellent book to administrators, teachers, politicians and others. The authors explain why major changes are required in public education if we are to educate every child of every parent to finish high school with the knowledge and skills needed either to go into the world of work or continue their education in the 21st century. This book appreciates the uniqueness of each student (referencing the Multiple Intelligences theory introduced by Dr. Howard Gardner) and recognises that we need to adapt instructional methods to match the learning styles of each student. Its 'disruptive innovation theory' explains why it is so difficult to move public education from its current focus on the 'class' to a new and needed focus on the 'student'. The authors' concept of a future classroom is one that incorporates technology and software to provide alternative methods and options for students to achieve the required objectives. They also encourage an environment in which students work together on projects and share and conceptualise learnings rather than memorise bits of information. Whilst this book recognises the need for flexibility within the organisation and structure of the learning environment to accomodate individual variations, it does not spell out sufficiently the need to vary time because students learn at different rates. I would not want to conclude without mentioning that the book is extremely well written and contains extensive research.

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Sunday, April 19, 2009

President Obama, Where's the Change in K-12 Education?

On March 11, 2009, President Obama spoke of his proposed overhaul of American education from “cradle to career”. I have waited for several weeks to see to what extent he was going to recognize the need for structural and organizational change of public education.

Proposals for change since March 11th have included longer school days and a longer school year, options which he recognizes as being unpopular. The only reference to organizational/structural change has been in his push for “innovation and excellence” by renewing his campaign pledge to support charter schools. He has called for States to lift caps on the number of charter schools operating within state lines. As stated in my last post, '[t]here is no reason that we cannot encourage public schools to have the same liberties as their charter school counterparts'.

The President has recognized that the current educational system is based on a model that is no longer appropriate -- yet the proposed ideas maintain this system. The President's ideas proposed thus far still hold students to a fixed time schedule; still assume that children of the same age learn at the same pace and in the same style during a given period of time; and, rather than use tests as diagnostic tools, tests continue to be used as summative tools that punish children who have not achieved what was expected during fixed time periods through selected methodologies.

What I propose is the use of technology in a computer assisted mode (CAI) to track the progress of each student. When each has demonstrated mastery of what s/he has learned through CAI, we then can seek validation through State-implemented examinations. In this way, time is varied and competency relatively fixed; a standard that should be applied to public schools as well as charter schools, so that all children will be given similar opportunities to succeed.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Charter Schools? Let's Not Forget our Public Schools

I have not updated my blog for a period of time, as I was waiting to see what President Obama and his team would do regarding K-12 public education; I am pleased with much of what has occurred thus far, yet I am still concerned.

I am pleased that funds have been allocated to schools within our state systems to help modernize the instructional process through investment in computers and software and to help educate students for the 21st century. At the same time, the President is encouraging increases in the number of charter schools. At this point we must ask: “Do we really need more charter schools?” as well as “What are the advantages of charter schools over public schools?”

There is no reason that we cannot encourage public schools to have the same liberties as their charter school counterparts.

Public schools tend to have a large number of children from low income families and therefore have an increased need for the freedom to accommodate 'each student as the class'. If children are primarily in a success-oriented environment, they tend to behave differently because they are rewarded in a positive manner. If they have access to computers that contain software for computer assisted instruction (CAI), then it is easy to vary time for each student and give all students the opportunity to be successful. If we combine CAI with a 'project approach' (i.e., working in small groups on meaningful problems) in the areas of science and social studies, students acquire the skills to use technology as a learning tool, a research tool, and a communication tool. Such improvements -- which may be available in new charter schools -- must be available in our public schools.

Welcome your thoughts on why we are promoting charter schools and not talking more about incorporating such changes into our existing public schools. Hope to hear from you.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Time for 'Change' in K-12 Education

This is an opportune time for President-Elect Obama. His commitment to 'Change' must be applied in K-12 education.

No longer can we afford to lose more than 30% of our high school students to the dropout pool. No longer can we tolerate the outdated agrarian industrial model. No longer can we tinker around the edges substituting book A for book B or modifying a time dimension within a few courses. No longer can we afford to leave the structure and organization of K-12 education the same.

This is the moment - this is the time for real change in the public schools of this country. We have the knowledge, the tools and the necessary technology to create a positive learning environment for the 21st century. We can focus on the student as the class and offer individualized instruction based on students' different learning styles. We can vary time so that those who need more time to master a concept have the opportunity to do so. The concept advocated in this blog (initial and subsequent posts) should be implemented now while the momentum for educational change is with us. The organization and structure of our current K-12 system must be changed to accommodate all learners.

The need is obvious. The opportunity is here. The lives of young men and women, and the future of the United States of America, rest in our hands.

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Tuesday, July 01, 2008

US Presidential Candidates - Impact on Education

We are approaching a very exciting time in American history and education. We are in the process of electing a new President, and the two candidates' views differ significantly in relation to how we should move forward in education.

Presidential candidate John McCain is prepared to perpetuate the existing school structure but proposes an assessment be done as to what is working in regard to President Bush's No Child Left Behind. He proposes to fund what has worked and to eliminate funding on what has not worked. He also believes that teachers should be rewarded for student performance. I intepret this to mean that he would retain the current structure of pay-for-time-served together with a merit system. Due to shrinking operating budgets and teacher shortages, he recognises that we may need to use technology to supplement the educator's daily lessons.

Presidential candidate Barack Obama is much more open to the utilization of technology. He believes that computers can help students to develop skills for problem solving, and that the Internet can be used to connect and enable students across the globe to communicate, thus helping them to better understand foreign cultures. He believes that we should be promoting more technology-based education, but that this has to be done through grassroots efforts.

Unfortunately, neither presidential hopeful is speaking about changing the structure of education to accommodate the diversity of learners, e.g., students who arrive in public schools with learning deficiencies which are related to economic conditions, students who require shorter or lengthier periods of time to master concepts and meet standards, etc. At this time, approximately 30% of 9th graders in the United States are not graduating from high school. The White House can encourage this much needed educational change, including the use of technology to connect our homes and our schools, and as a learning, research and communication tool. Using technology and a new vision for education, our next President has the opportunity to make a real difference.

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Wednesday, September 12, 2007

NYC Transfer Schools - Bravo!

I would like to share some good news with The Student is the Class readers. In New York City Schools, under the direction of Chancellor Joel Klein, there has been initiated a program wherein time is used as the variable and competency the expected outcome. Currently they are building 30 high schools (known as “Transfer Schools”) where at risk 9th graders will be given the opportunity to go through an assessment process from that point until graduation. If it takes the students five or six years to achieve the needed competencies, they will not be punished along the way; instead they will be encouraged to reach the goals through the reinforcement of personal achievements.

Link Transfer High Schools

Friday, August 03, 2007

How much longer? High School Graduation Rates

Can the US really afford more of the same? The pace in improvement for this minimum credential of high school graduation is too slow and often overstated. The time is now to change to a system of personalised education year round to enable each student to succeed and graduate high school with skills necessary for achievement in this fast-changing world.

Education Trust Report: Graduation Matters: Improving Accountability for High School Graduation

Education Trust August 1, 2007 Press Release: GRADUATION MATTERS: How NCLB allows states to set the bar too low for improving high school grad rates

Sunday, July 15, 2007

Steven Wolk on 'Why go to School?'

The May 2007 issue of Phi Delta Kappan has a wonderful article written by Steven Wolk entitled “Why go to School?”. It is a critique of what we are teaching and how we are teaching. In the article, he states the following: “If the purpose of our schools is to prepare drones to keep the U.S. economy going, then the prevailing curricula and instructional methods are probably adequate. If, however, we want to help students become thoughtful, caring citizens who might be creative enough to figure out how to change the status quo rather than maintain it, we need to rethink schooling entirely.” Mr. Wolk outlines what he considers to be the essential content for a new curriculum. The essence of what the article states is similar to the essence of the early writings found in this blog.

Phi Delta Kappan - 'Why go to School' by Steven Wolk

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Teacher Training Vital to Hybrid Education

I just read a terrific article on how hybrid education engages students and promotes learning autonomy, and why teacher training is critical to this methodology that combines classroom and online learning. I strongly recommend reading T.H.E. Journal May 2007 - Hybrid Learning: Challenges for Teachers by Ruth Reynard. In this article, Ms. Reynard describes how "[h]ybrid [course delivery] is presenting teachers with an opportunity to increase student participation and maximize the learning potential of each student" and explains why "teachers need the professional development support in redesigning instruction and modifying their teaching methods accordingly."

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Monday, May 07, 2007

Don't Blame The Computer!

Some schools are dropping the computer because they failed to get the results they wanted. This is a mistake. A computer is a tool which must be integrated into the fabric of the instructional process. By itself, it will not change nor improve results. The curriculum must be modified; the teacher must change his or her role from presenter to a catalyst for learning. Opportunity must be given to students to work on real world problems.

The computer can be utilized in many ways, including:
• as a learning tool
• acquiring and organizing information
• communicating within a group
• helping to analyze data
• creating powerpoint or other presentations to the class

Remember: Do not blame the tool…the learning system must be changed, and teachers must be trained in a new learning paradigm.

Let me hear from you regarding your successful use of computers in your classroom.

Monday, April 30, 2007

Engaging Students is Critical in the Age of Creativity

I recently read an article in T.H.E. Journal (March 2007) entitled Speak Up Survey: Is Technology Missing the Mark? by Dave Nagel. The nationwide survey polled approximately 270,000 students, teachers, and parents on "subjects ranging from technology, math, and science instruction to communications, collaboration, and self expression". The findings were very interesting.

The article quotes Julie Evans, CEO of the non-profit group Project Tomorrow-NetDay as saying that "[m]ost importantly, this survey shows that technology presents a unique opportunity to engage students in their core-curricular subjects, such as math and science, by providing them the high tech tools that raise their levels of interest in this coursework." Students also expressed interest in the integration of real-world problem solving, talking to professionals, and using multimedia and interactive simulations.

We, as educators, must prepare the youth of this country to creatively address problems and challenges -- some that may have happened before and others undoubtedly that will be unprecedented. We have gone through many ages as a nation and world: agricultural, industrial, technological, information, and now we must enter the age of creativity. Creativity involves imagination, innovation, and entrepreneurship along with reasoning, problem solving, and critical thinking. Listening, memorizing and regurgitating learned information is no longer sufficient. We need to do more in our schools through personalised education. And, in fact, it is time even for us to consider how to integrate the home environment into the fabric of the learning process.

T.H.E. Journal - Speak Up Survey: Is Technology Missing the Mark?

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Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Longer Day is a Bandaid; Not a Solution

An article in the New York Times on Monday, March 26, 2007, refers to longer school days being used to solve our failing schools. This is a bandaid approach. While this additional time appears to be used in part to offer students individualised attention and opportunity for learning material, the majority of the day continues in the same class-oriented manner. The 'student might be the class' during the extra period, but not during the majority of the school day. We must vary time as part of learning to accommodate all students and we must change the structure and organisation of the classroom -- not just for an extra hour but for the entire school day.

NY Times - Failing Schools See a Solution In Longer Day

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Monday, March 26, 2007

To Jobs and Dell: Technology Alone Without Restructuring Won't Work

I just finished an article entitled "Jobs, Dell appraise technology, schools" on eSchool News online. Both Steve Jobs and Michael Dell make references to changes and the encouragement of the use of technology as a tool for learning, research, and communication. However, neither speaks to the restructuring and reorganizing of a school system so that “each child becomes the class”. By using computer assisted instruction (CAI) for the core areas of English and math in a self-paced mode, students are able to receive the next appropriate objective. While working on projects in a cooperative learning environment (groups of 3 or 4 students), they utilize their core competencies to do research, solve problems, and make presentations using computer programs such as PowerPoint to involve the rest of their classmates who listen and ask questions. By learning these skills, students develop the ability to acquire information via the computer, use it to analyze and synthesize information related to the problem, and share their findings with their student colleagues for the purpose of discussion. I am sure that you all would count these among the critical skills required to succeed in today's world.

Jobs, Dell appraise technology, schools

Thursday, March 22, 2007

'Tough Choices' Skills Commission Report Worth Reading

A report by the Commission on the Skills of the American Workforce (National Center on Education and the Economy) entitled 'Tough Choices or Tough Times' has some wonderful recommendations that should be taken in serious consideration. Therein, Richard W. Riley, the former Secretary of Education states “The question this report raises is whether our country has the kind of education system that is needed to maintain America’s standard of living for our children, our grandchildren, and future generations. I very much hope that it will spark the kind of tough, honest debate on that topic that it so richly deserves.” Another notable quote from the report is by Thomas W. Payzant, Former Superintendent of Boston Public Schools. He states “Piecemeal reform of public education in America is insufficient to deliver the promise that every child will receive an education that leads to a good job, productive life, and responsible citizenship. The New Commission Report is a coherent, comprehensive, systemic plan for how to enable public education in America to be the best in the world.” The report concludes that our current public K-12 education system cannot be fixed, and therefore it must be replaced.

The generalization which emerges relates to what I have been advocating for a very long time. Every high school graduate has to be competent not only in the two languages (English and mathematics), but also must be able to analyze, synthesize, use value judgment, and be able to communicate effectively using modern technology. In addition to these outcomes, every student must graduate with a saleable skill to be employed, should he or she choose not to go on to higher education. In order to achieve all of the above, we must reorganize and restructure public education to accommodate every learner.

For the executive summary of the report: Tough Choices or Tough Times - Executive Summary

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

State and National Exams - Are they Needed?

Some interesting articles have appeared lately regarding the inflation of grades as compared to state and national exams. Students seem to be passing in subjects without receiving the competencies one would expect. On February 23, 2007, in an article written by Amit R. Paley, a staff writer for the Washington Post, Kati Haycock, president of the Education Trust is quoted as saying “The core problem is that course titles don’t really signal what is taught in the course and grades don’t signal what a kid has learned.” This is becoming a major problem and should be of concern to educators as well as those who fund public education. It is important to demonstrate why it is essential for those in need of accountability at the state and national levels should use a test that all students take to comparatively measure the outcomes. Because grading varies from teacher to teacher and from school to school, this is necessary for comparability. Do you agree?

Washington Post

Thursday, December 28, 2006

Our Classrooms Need Changing .. Now

On December 16th, 2006, we read the following headlines: “More Teens Drop Out” in the Miami Herald and “Dropout Rate in Broward Increases” in the Sun Sentinel. This did not surprise me, nor should it surprise you. The higher the standards, the more difficult it is for students to achieve their goals if the structure and organization of the learning environment is not changed. In my previous blog entries, my theme is consistent- “Children learn at different rates and have different preferential learning styles.” Time must be the variable and mastery the goal. If students do not fully understand algebra, they will have a difficult time learning trigonometry. If they have not mastered reading, they will have a difficult time comprehending high school science textbooks or the New York Times. The consequences of not making this change leads to an increase in dropouts and eventually to an increase in the poverty-level class.

TIME magazine recently ran an interesting article entitled ”How do we bring our schools out of the 20th Century?” by Claudia Wallis and Sonja Steptoe. It states “ The world has changed, but the American classroom, for the most part, hasn’t…kids spend much of the day as their great grandparents once did: sitting in rows, listening to teachers lecture, scribbling notes by hand, reading from textbooks that are out of date by the time they are printed.” This article also introduces a new commission on the skills of the American workforce. The commission reports that standards of living are being jeopardized by the current system. The report lays out a series of steps designed as an integrated approach to change the entire system. The recommendations include:
· Revamping the high school-college transition.
· Reallocating funds to high priority strategies for improving system performance.
· Pre-K for all.
· Redesigning how schools are funded.
· Redesigning how schools are managed.
· Educating the current workforce to a high standard.
· Creating personal competitiveness accounts.

I can agree with these recommendations, but the absence of computer assisted instruction in the core (and the use of the computer as a research and communications tool for all students), as well as a learner-centric approach with time and learning style as variables, are errors of omission. It is only through the use of technology as a learning tool that will enable us to vary time and allow each student to master the requisite objectives. Included below is a link to the total press release from the commission on the skills of the American workforce.

Miami Herald

Sun Sentinel

Time Magazine

Skills Commission Press Release

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Each Student Needs Creativity, Time and the Basics

On Monday, December 4, 2006, I read a wonderful article by Dorothy Rich in the Miami Herald. In the article, she incorporates much of what I try to say in my blog. For example, she states “there are no magic answers for the many teachers and students in our many classrooms…I would like to have a magic bullet.” She points out that in every classroom there are individual students, each with different sets of genes, learning at different rates, and having different strengths.

Because of the state’s emphasis on testing, teachers are under such pressure that there is little time for creativity, for allowing students to derive joy from learning. Learners need hope and optimism but unfortunately in our educational environment their natural imaginations are often stifled.

In New York City, there is an area superintendent by the name of Kathleen M. Cashin, who is responsible for one of the roughest areas in the New York City School System. In her schools she reinforces the opportunity for students to utilize their creativity through group learning. She encourages students to write stories and discuss their ideas. She also encourages the teachers to take the time to get to know each student. Through her efforts the scores in Region 5 have been steadily increasing.

I call this blog “The student is the class”. I reiterate that we must allow time for students to learn the basic core (English and Math), allow them also to acquire the ability for self-learning through working in groups, and finally do written and verbal presentations where they can utilize their higher learning skills and interact with their peers. The teacher is like a conductor blending all three modes in a classroom setting, while the utilization of computers facilitates in the process.

References: Miami Herald Link

Friday, November 24, 2006

Signs of educational change . . . How do we make these the norm?

It has been gratifying to read about teachers, schools and school systems that recognise how important it is to listen and respond to students’ needs, to use technology to enhance learning and teaching, and to involve students in addressing real world problems through a multidisciplinary and cooperative approach. Here are a few shining examples -- let’s hope that these approaches become the norm.

1) eSchool News Online’s report on the The National School Boards Association's 20th annual Technology + Learning. The description of Kyrene Elementary School District in Tempe, Arizona, which was named as one of three "Salute Districts" (“given to districts that effectively use technology to enhance teaching and learning”), said the following about the Kyrene Teaches with Technology Project (KTTP):

“One of the keys to the project's success is that district leaders started with the question of what students need for learning--and then designed an environment around these needs, instead of the other way around. Another key to its success is that teachers can draw upon the support of a "technology mentor" to help them integrate the laptops into instruction.”

2)’s coverage of the “School of the Future World Summit”:

“The conference, which drew 250 delegates from 48 countries, was held this week at Philadelphia's School of the Future, where all students have laptops, there are few books or pens, and teaching is done in multidisciplinary projects in which academic skills develop through work on real-world problems.”

3) See also the article by Neal Starkman in T.H.E. Focus, which discusses one-to-one learning and a student-centered rather than teacher-centered orientation toward learning.

By contrast, coverage of a recent National Research Council study by 15 education specialists states: “U.S. Science Education lags, study finds: Curriculum, teachers faulted for teaching too simplistically.” Quoting such coverage: “Part of the problem is that state and national learning standards for students in elementary and middle schools require children to memorize often-disconnected scientific facts, the report said.”

We must teach to each student rather than to a class. We must teach more than reading, writing and arithmetic. We must encourage problem solving skills, creativity, fluid enquiry -- this can be done by involving students in real world problems. If you go back to the Education System Change Model in my second blog post, you will see that my definition of tutorial is where we encourage student-centeredness, problem solving, cooperative learning, sharing of responsibility, and communication.

Thursday, September 28, 2006

Education System Change Model

Here we have a cube of three faces. The top, labeled,” Modes of Instruction”, includes three modes.

Self-paced, which is presented in a computer assisted instruction mode (CAI), allows the student to have the opportunity to use the computer as a learning tool. It also allows the curriculum to be on a server with students having access 24/7. A management system associated with this mode keeps track of each student’s progress and the choices taken by the student in order to achieve the objectives. This allows time to vary and mastery what is sought for each student. The two areas taught in this manner are English and Math. These are the two languages that must be mastered in order for students to become independent learners.

The second mode of instruction is referred to as the tutorial. It involves the teacher utilizing a problem approach to teach Social Science and Science. Social Science should be taught conceptually. Let’s take revolution as an example. What countries have had a revolution in the past 50 years? Having identified the countries (with computer as research tool), they form small groups and research the conditions that existed which encouraged the people to start a revolution. Each group gives a report on a different country. The next question is to identify the conditions which are similar. After this exercise, have them predict where in the world they think the next revolution might occur and why. Again, this should lead to discussion after research. Depending on the level of the students, we might want them to answer the question, ”What role, if any, should the United States take and why?” For this task, they might use a power point presentation, thus utilizing the computer as a communication tool. Science also should be taught as a “verb”, not as a “noun”. This allows for students to work alone or in pairs (CAI), or in small groups (project approach), to share responsibility, communicate through e-mail and finally make a presentation to the entire class for discussion purposes.

On the left side of the cube, you will see the elements which must be in place before this can be put into operation. You must spend time with members of the different communities so that they “buy into” the change. Note the word “communities” is plural. We refer to the business community, clergy, parents, teachers and others in the environment. The curriculum must be chosen which will be placed on the server (English and Math). There are a number of programs available now.

Teachers must be trained to allow each student to progress at his/her own pace in the CAI approach, and yet be able to integrate them into the other two modes. Some teachers find it difficult to allow students to learn at their own rate without being actually instructed by them. In the CAI mode, the teacher should be a motivator and one who rewards each student for success. The teacher is responsible for setting the stage for the other two modes of instruction.

There must be a student management system in order to keep track of each student’s progress in all three modes. The system also is available to parents so that they can see their children’s progress as well. In addition, it allows the teacher to identify the strengths and weaknesses of each student, thus enabling the teacher to provide the proper material for each student.

Each student should have his/her own computer (given by the school), which is theirs to keep through elementary school. At the end of the fifth grade, they can buy it for one dollar. A more sophisticated computer will be given to them when they enter middle school, and this should be kept until they graduate from high school. They can buy this for one dollar as well.

It is important that the school system hire a technology architect (IT) so that all technology systems are integrated and can speak to one another. The teacher will need the demographic information as well as the student information system.

The last face of the cube refers to “Time”. Changing any educational system requires time and the availability of all systems being in place, the teachers trained, all classrooms having access to the internet, and all students having their own computers. It is for this reason that COST and TIME are at the very bottom of the cube.

Saturday, July 29, 2006

Vision for Educational Change

Thank you for your interest in educational change. I started this blog to discuss a vision and strategy for educational change. This strategy reflects that learning takes place inside and outside of schools and is an individualized process. With more than 1/3 of 9th graders not graduating from high school in the US, I see us using a band aid approach rather than having the courage to transform the system.

The Problem

At the present time, teachers are working hard but we are still not fulfilling the demands of our students or our society. Why not? The schools are set up with an agrarian calendar and teachers are responsible for teaching to a class as a unit. Time is fixed and the only variable is performance – some pass and others fail. And, if the persons who fail do not make up and achieve the proficiency that the test is measuring, they drift further and further behind. The consequences are numerous and punishing. How does this instill a love of learning? This approach does not take into account a truism: ‘all students can learn but they learn at different rates and have different preferential learning styles’.

Instead of asking the student to fit the administrative structure (i.e., the class and arbitrary time periods for learning subjects and achieving competencies), we must provide each student with the time and means to succeed. Rather than punish the student who learns more slowly than the arbitrarily chosen period, we must treat each student as the class.

We must find a way of doing this. Other industries have made similar changes* and it is now time for education to do the same.

*Take FedEx, who can tell you where any package is at any time. Look at banking, which is now available 24 hours a day through ATMs and you can go to almost any ATM to withdraw or deposit funds. Both industries invested in information and delivery systems to meet the needs of their clients rather than asking their clients to accommodate to a fixed structure. Now the automobile industry is enabling customers to order on demand rather than requiring them to accept whatever is available in the dealer’s lot. In the business world, however, there is competition that requires companies to adapt – education has not had this catalyst.

What is my vision and strategy for educational change?

I believe that we in education must make the investment to do the same for our clients, i.e., each student. What investment is needed?

There are three modes of instruction: 1) self-paced or CAI, 2) project or problem-solving and 3) discussion. Self-paced or CAI requires that each student have access to a computer and modem and access to the curriculum on a server on a 24/7 basis. Projects and problems should be relevant to students so they can relate to the given subject area.

For English and Math, we should implement CAI in the 1st grade (and continue thereafter). The reason English and Math are chosen is that these are the two cultural imperative languages. If you know these two languages and are motivated as a self-learner, you can teach yourself almost anything you want to learn. And, one of the goals of education is to create self-learners.

For all other subjects, the teacher can pose a project or problem that is relevant to the student. Once the problem is defined, the class can be broken down into groups of 4-5 students in order to research the solution to the problem. If complex, each of the groups may study an aspect of the problem. With these subjects, the student uses the computer as a research tool (after having learned to read). Students are taught to use search engines such as Google or Yahoo as well as the intranet made available by teachers gathering information relevant for the students.

Students working in a group learn cooperation, shared responsibility and communication (face-to-face as well as e-mail). Having produced a written solution to the problem utilizing the computer (power point) as a tool, they can then present to the class for discussion. They can also use email or a written report to other students as well as the teacher.

Arbitrary learning within fixed time periods would be eliminated, i.e., no 1st, 2nd, 3rd, etc. grades. Instead, students would be grouped chronologically with materials appropriate to their learning level and style using the CAI approach for English and Math, and the project/problem/discussion modes for other subjects. The projects given to the students match the level of English and Math competencies and are related to the students (their interests and their lives). For example, in 3rd grade, how would you study the amount of water that a plant needs to grow? I would utilize the students’ Math knowledge (learned through CAI) for science learning. Likewise, rather than studying history through memorization and chronology, it can be studied through problems based on the immediate environment for younger children and more abstract concepts in later grades.

What do we need to make this happen?

In order for this to be implemented, what do we need?

1) We need the people on board – parents, teachers, community leaders, etc.
2) We need the hardware – computers with modems and Internet access for each student.
3) We need the management system (many existing solutions can be adapted).
4) We need the curriculum – Computer Assisted Instructions (CAI) for Math and English and creative, relevant problems and projects for other subjects.
5) We need teacher training.

In order to begin to implement change, we need all of these things in place. In 2007, I would like to see a group of elementary and middle schools, and the high school into which they feed (a demonstration ‘zone’) of some size agree to adopt a vision where time is a variable and mastery what is expected from each student. A computer company can be found to donate (or the zone can buy) a laptop with a modem for each student. The zone needs to build an integrated management system in order to be responsive to what students do and how they learn. Part of the management system is administrative, part is the CAI component, and lastly, the management system needs to record and reflect the student’s learnings in non-CAI instruction (‘student portfolios’). The CAI component must be self-correcting and use artificial intelligence so that the component improves as more students utilize the program for English and Math. Teacher training is critical and must be done during the summer prior to implementation.

How do we make this happen?

We know what needs to be done; this is the question that remains. I welcome your thoughts and comments and will share more of mine soon. Stay tuned.

Abe (29 July 2006)