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)


Anonymous Anonymous said...


Bravo for your innovative ideas but I would like to expand your suggestion to include university professors. If we are to incorporate innovative thinking into the K-12 system, we must also instill this type of thinking into those whom the universities educate as future classroom teachers. If universities continue to teach "traditional" education courses in "traditional" ways, we will continue the cycle of "traditional" teaching and thinking in the K-12 classroom. Adopting new and innovative teaching methods in the universities, however, might be easier said than done since academics at many universities become entrenched in their thinking and don’t see the need to change and adapt. I currently teach at a university in the Business Department and have tired to get support for incorporating technology into the business curriculum as both a teaching and business tool but am meeting much resistance from administration. Accepting that times and needs change and, teaching methods and tools must, also, change is not easy particularly on administrators who have long since left the ‘front lines’ of teaching for the administrative duties of running “the business”.
I hope that in your endeavors to instill in educators that “the student is the classroom” that you consider including university education faculty and students into your model. Change must happen at all levels if we are to see improvements in education.

11:54 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Interesting concept you have in your blog - I love the technology part and you still depend on teachers to teach. Have you talked to anyone else about it and how it can be agreed to by administration, teachers and the community - this is very interesting approach - let me know when the next blog is written.

Bruce Oberfest

10:20 PM  
Blogger Dr. Abraham (Abe) S. Fischler said...

Thanks for your comments. What is holding me up on my next post is a diagram that I am trying to get onto my blog. It helps to explain how educational change can be implemented and what has to be done in preparation before implementation. I will have a new post and the diagram up next week. I have spoken to the Governor and he would like me to find a K-12 system willing to implement it. I also have spoken with a School Superintendent. My preference is to implement it in one zone (five or six elementary schools that feed a middle school which feeds a high school). I will speak with him again this week. It will take one year to get the predicate in place.

Smile --- for me it is my final project. I did change higher education but this is even more important since 33 percent of ninth graders do not finish high school.


10:29 PM  
Blogger Dr. Abraham (Abe) S. Fischler said...

Most Universities now have programs and courses delivered in a virtual format.Future teachers should have to take at least one or two courses in this format.A good many states already have vitual courses for students.You are right,Universities also must change as well.

7:21 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I am truly intrigued by your concepts and ideas… I do feel another road block lies within teacher tests. It is yet another test driven flaw of the Education Department. We are creating students who learn how to pass a test, not to want to learn. This is carried over to educators who again do not know how to teach, but how to pass a test. These are not useful tests unless an educator knows how to handle their classroom and connect with the students. I have seen a few “great” teachers get stopped in their tracks by teaching tests, while many others teachers breeze through after taking courses on how to take the test, and quit or get fired a year later because they cannot handle the students. There doesn’t seem to be any real world application to education any more- just simply trying to learn how to beat a minimum test score.
-Dan C.

11:08 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I agree with the innovative ideas presented here (and similar to so many I have heard.) It seems that it should be relatively simple to implement such a plan in a limited number of schools and begin to document the results. And one does hear about documented positive results in varied schools around the country. Why, then, is the educational system in general still entrenched in a methodoly and structure that has been proven ineffective for the vast majority of students whose future is dependent upon succeeding in education?

8:25 PM  
Blogger Samuel Sennott said...

Coming at it from a perspective of advocating for learners with significant special needs, this type of paradigm shift would help immensely. With this style of schooling, learners with significant special needs would truly be on a course to learning at their own pace, focused on the key points of literacy and math.

I am surely with you for creating a universally designed school system.

1:55 PM  

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