Group Reflection

December 12th, 2011

During this project, it was interesting to see the balance between ideal goals in education, and the funding and time allotted for them, works. All five groups chose different emphasis for their schools – green education, exploratory classes, vocational training, etc. Yet, most chose a student, activity based curriculum with an emphasis on technology and creative uses of space. It was interesting to see the diverse ways that similar material could translate in the upcoming years of education.

Learning Environments

All five groups kept the teacher and students in classrooms. I think this is important. With a growing emphasis on distance learning and online classes, it is easy to be interested in this easier, and potentially more cost-effective model. If all students were learning from a computer at home, we would have to build schools, provide transportation, or pay for electricity and heat. However, besides the nightmare that would create for some parents, there is no substitute for face-to-face instruction from an individual who knows the students needs, can differentiate explanations and instruction, and the benefits of learning and interacting with peers.
Most groups, however, expanded on this classroom with additional spaces. My group, and another, added common rooms for subjects, two groups put in atriums/farms for student use, and one even provided an on-site job training facility. As schools grow in their mission from the traditional academic subjects to a more multi-faceted, real-world based training, these spaces are going to be needed to challenge students.
I also learned a few things about space and its potential. The safe-learning environment was an interesting concept- particularly adding space for students who need activities post assignment. However, based on my experiences in classrooms—they will need to be larger to be able to accommodate these spaces; since the ever-increasing class sizes take up most available room.

Professional Development

PLCs and collaboration groups seemed to be the key words still in most projects. I understand the need for these groups and for increased teacher training. However, as most working teachers will attest, there is little time for all of these demands without sacrificing the time a teacher has to plan lessons. Few groups mentioned providing more time for a teacher outside the classroom. The more we burden teachers in the short time they are contracted to be in the building the less room we give for creativity and detail in lessons.
One particular teacher-related issue, however, that I am not sure any group addressed specifically, is that of technology training. To properly utilize the technology we all mentioned in our projects there would have to be a very in-depth training for teachers. This takes time and money; two things schools often lack.

Curriculum

Most groups went with the student-based curriculum while keeping an emphasis on traditional classes. I think this balance is possible. A universal concept of the topics that should be covered coupled with an emphasis on providing varied assessments and activities within those guidelines. Most groups included cross-curricular topics and opportunities. This is important because, as Dewey stated, experiences need to be related to each other to provide a basis to learn new information. Subjects, as seen in more progressive theories, cannot be isolated into themselves. Few situations in adult life require one set of skills. A doctor must still be able to write, speak, and balance his checkbook.
I, however, was not a fan of the STEM approach. I understand the potential benefits for more mathematical and scientific emphasis in education. However, just as the Greeks, I also firmly believe in public speaking, writing, understanding written word, and the learning from the past. The more ‘romantic’ subjects are just as important, in my opinion, to education.

Assessment

Just as we discussed in class, the overwhelming consensus was to eliminate the SOLs, and other written tests, as the sole standards of student success. Based in the theories of differentiated instruction and student-centered curriculum, all the groups seemed to buy into the idea that students can express their knowledge through a variety of venues—written work, presentations, models, technology, etc.
However, our group was a supporter of keeping the SOLs to monitor student growth and school accomplishments. Just because they shouldn’t be the sole measure of success, that doesn’t mean they don’t have a place in the schools. There should be accountability for both teacher and student to make sure the student’s right to an equal education is maintained.

Funding

None of the groups seemed to really solve the budget issue. Grants, tax money, and tuition are all ideas in place today. Unfortunately, without an increase in government support, there isn’t a great deal of options that schools have. As we saw earlier in the class, product placements are a two-sided deal, balancing the need for money versus what is good for the students. Public schools cannot charge tuition and many families are unable to afford private institutions.

My high school experience was surprisingly similar to some of these projects. CGS seems to be on the right track to this 21rst century education (especially considering I graduated almost 10 years ago).

1. CGS used technology well above the normal classroom. They utilized Smartboards, ELMOs, MyTurns, and distance-learning years before they were in other classrooms. They also encouraged us to use the internet and technology in projects. (Twice, my final project was a website).

2. CGS was a collaborative environment. Students were together for all four core-subjects with the same teachers for four years. This fostered a true ‘community’ in the classroom. We also tele-learned with sites around the tri-county area. We met for projects, field trips, and social events.

3. Varied assessment. In the CGS year, we did take SOLs and AP tests. However, we also had a yearly ‘cumulating activity’. We selected the topic, the parameters of the project, and also what product we were producing with the help of a faculty advisor. This project was a whole year with checkpoints due. In our final year, one component was an ‘expert involvement’. We had to work with a respected professional in our subject area. These student-based projects encouraged skills we learned in the classroom, our own interests, long-term planning and dedication, and professional development.

4. Modified Learning. My group’s project was partially based off of the scheduling we had in CGS. Our Wednesdays were reserved for enrichment. These days allowed for field trips, labs, or extra class time. Our teachers also benefited from slightly more planning time and worked closely with each other to provide cross-curricular activities.


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