New York City is experimenting with new tools and tactics with its Innovation Zone, a devoted unit for trying out new approaches to learning and sharing best practices with like-minded educators. The iZone, as it’s commonly called, started in the 2010-11 school year with 81 schools, and since then, they’ve more than doubled that number and hope to reach 400 participating schools by 2014.
Schools across the system are trying out different learning approaches, including blended learning, online courses and project-based teaching. As with the most lofty aspirations of educators, the iZone’s goals are to personalize learning, provide real-world experience, change the ways staff and students view their roles and take advantage of the vast number of tools available to students and teachers.
The iZone serves as a hub for innovation taking place at school sites. Staff support schools with funding for equipment, connecting teachers to resources and one another, as well as serving as the repository for the growing body of knowledge about progressive approaches. Though the project is still young, this program has made a dent in differentiating learning, according to Deputy Chancellor for Talent, Labor and Innovation, David Weiner.
“It can be really hard for the leader to shield teachers from traditional measures so that they can feel free to innovate.”
For example, in participating high schools, the 35-40 percent of students who are taking an online English Language Arts class are passing the state’s Regents test at the same rate as students in traditional classrooms. Continue reading →
How can learning to blog make a lasting impact on a 12-year-old boy living in a rough, East Oakland neighborhood?
In the second installment of MindShift’s My Education series, which examines whether technology in learning can have a lasting impact on low-income kids through the perspective of one child, the question focuses on Makeal Surrell, a sweet-natured kid who lives with his two sisters and his aunt/guardian a few blocks from Elmhurst Community Prep (ECP) middle school.
Last year, Makeal missed more than 20 days of school, partly due to being sick from asthma. But since he started an after-school blogging apprenticeship with Google, through the Citizen Schools enrichment program, his absences have declined. During the spring semester, Makeal and his classmates were bussed once a week to the Google offices in San Francisco, where they were taught by Google employees all about blogging. By the end of the semester, Makeal had published his own blog about his favorite subject: skateboarding.
Or at least a little about skateboarding. During the spring semester, Makeal published eight posts consisting of mostly videos, photos, and a couple of short written entries. And though he started with three skateboarding-related posts, he moved onto other subjects that interested him: movie reviews and rap videos.
And that was the point — to get Makeal and his classmates a medium for their self-expression, as they learn technical skills like how to create a blog and upload content.
“The idea is to give them confidence as they move through school and potentially enter the workplace.”
“The educational environments … that have most impact will be the ones that create opportunities for kids to create digital media literacies that we all recognize as important and that have social implications, educational implications and civic implications, as well,” said S. Craig Watkins, author of The Young and the Digital in a recent interview. “So we have to equip kids with skills that help them not just to consume, but to become architects of their information environment.” Continue reading →
Despite President Obama’s loftiest hopes to extend the number of school days per year, many schools are actually having to decrease them because of severe budget cuts. While the number of school days in other countries exceeds 200, they’re being cut further in the U.S. to fewer than 180.
With families that have access to enrichment programs and encourage learning online at home, the discrepancy can be filled. But for low-income kids who don’t have those opportunities, fewer school days puts them at an even greater disadvantage.
For these kids, the nonprofit organization Citizen Schools attempts to fill that gap. The organization works with low-income students in low-performing middle schools across the country to, in essence, lengthen the learning day by “bringing in a second shift of educators who work with students,” says Stacey Gilbert, the organization’s spokesperson.
That means that every student stays an extra three hours per day, four days a week, working on everything from language arts and math to art and P.E. in project-based groups. (Fridays are used for staff development.)
Here’s what that looks like:
The organization also recruits “citizen teachers” from local businesses to teach 11-week apprenticeships about different kinds of careers through hands-on projects.
What’s the impact of this intensive program? There are the tangible outcomes: 20 percent higher high-school graduation rates; 9 out of 10 Citizen Schools students passed state math and English exams; and students attend seven more weeks of school than their peers in low-performing schools.
But more importantly, the intangible results, as Gilbert describes it:
“Things like attitudes, beliefs, if they’re feeling good about their schooling,” she says. “A big part of what we found to be successful is that, hands-on project-based learning in middle school students in particular, and students overall, gets them excited about school. It makes those longer school days work. If you’re asking them to stay an additional three hours everyday, what are you doing that’s engaging to them over the longer day?”
“Kids have the extra time to get really engaged. They have more flexibility to learn what they’re interested in by doing things that have been cut out because of the focus on test scores.”
Their long-terms studies are showing that not only students are doing better in school, but that the most at-risk kids are actually going on to high school. “What we want for them is to excel beyond middle school and to get off to a good start in high school, succeed there, and graduate from high school,” Gilbert said.
When it comes to preventing dropouts at the crucial middle-school level, Gilbert thinks the longer school day is a good solution. “We know that middle school is an important time, when they decide if schools are for them,” she said. “We’re seeing some success in a number of charter schools and traditional district schools that have extended learning times. That’s because the kids have the extra time to get really engaged. They have more flexibility to learn what they’re interested in by doing things that have been cut out because of the focus on test scores.”
Students spend time in enrichment programs, in P.E. classes, social studies, science and other areas. And through the apprenticeship programs, they learn about careers in science, business, journalism, even photography and art. For instance, Google engineers help students build websites. They’ll take field trips to colleges. “They’re given the opportunity to talk to people who they wouldn’t have the chance to talk with otherwise,” she said. “They ask questions like, what kinds of courses should I be taking, what’s an AP course, what’s the pathway for me? Access to these kinds of people is a big piece.”
But aren’t kids tired by 6 o’clock at night?
“I’m sure there are days that seem longer than others,” Gilbert said. “But if the programming is really high quality and does what we want it to do, then kids have energy and are enthusiastic. Just like any other school day. It could be 10 in the morning, and if this activity isn’t enough to keep their attention, they can’t focus, they’re tired, and it’s up to us to make sure we’re meeting those high quality standards.”
As a movement, the Extended Learning Time initiative has gained momentum recently. The Massachusetts Extended Learning Time Initiative has been closely surveying progress of these kinds of programs and is showing success.
“As a litany of indicators attests, the length of the current school day is insufficient to meet the needs of students, especially those from low-income backgrounds. With just 20% of their waking hours in school, many students are desperate for more time to learn,” said Eric Schwarz, co-founder and CEO of Citizen Schools. “The idea of creating more time for learning is gaining currency, especially as standards-based reforms within the conventional school day delivered exclusively by conventional teachers have mostly failed to deliver lasting gains. As expanded learning time gains momentum, the country has an opportunity that might come along once in a generation – an opportunity to dramatically change the way we structure the learning day.
Different levels of experience and expertise create a vibrant learning environment.
Joe Ross leads the California region of Citizen Schools, a nonprofit that partners with middle schools to expand and re-imagine the learning day for low-income children. The organization draws thousands of volunteers into classrooms every year to teach 10-week “apprenticeship” courses where students learn about a variety of professions and fields firsthand.
By Joe Ross
My daughter recently broke her finger playing basketball. When we went to the clinic, the waiting room was packed with dozens of patients, and there were only a couple of medical doctors on duty. We spent 20 minutes with a nurse, ten minutes with the X-ray technician, seven minutes with the orthopedic resident, and just two to three minutes with a doctor. Against apparent odds, our visit turned out very well. Thanks to the combination of talents, expertise and communication styles provided by several professionals, my daughter experienced a remarkably effective – and efficient – healing experience.
In the school day of the future, imagine a similar scenario playing out in classrooms and schools here in California and across the country. The role of the teacher would evolve from that of a soloist to a choreographer, bringing together people and resources in different combinations to create a vibrant learning environment that efficiently serves a growing, evolving population and provides enrichment through a combination of caring relationships.
What if we used talent to staff the classroom the same way a medical facility is staffed?
Citizen Schools, the nonprofit organization that I work for, was founded on the premise that everyone has something to teach. Our founders had their eyes on two assets: time and talent. Sixteen years later, the organization is partnering with schools across the country to lengthen the school day for thousands of students by mobilizing a “second shift” of educators.
The second shift includes a corps of full-time teaching fellows – recent college graduates learning their craft, many AmeriCorps national service volunteers – plus thousands of community volunteers who teach topics ranging from astronomy to video game design to journalism. These hands-on, project-based apprenticeships bring to life math and science and literacy, and draw a connection between school learning and career opportunities. For example, an apprenticeship taught by Hewlett-Packard employees last fall inspired students to imagine careers in law and corporate strategy. (See the video below.)