Something new, different, and state-of-the-art
By Bill Weaver
December 1, 2010 (Alpine)--It is widely acknowledged by most experts that our classrooms of today are outdated. We are not offering a state-of-the-art education to our current young generation, nor meeting the technological needs of students. They say that we are sending our kids into the world under-educated and not well prepared. Experts argue that our system of education at the primary and secondary level is in dire need of reform.
Most of us agree that there is a “coming up short” theme, when talking about middle and secondary education in the USA today. There is a common understanding that something needs to be done differently. Where are we missing the mark in education? How do we address this, and what are the solutions? It seems that we have a lot of questions. How do we best address these questions? Where do we begin?
Let us (locally) begin with wisely spending our Prop H and U bond dollars to design and build our new 12th GUHSD high school taking into account all of these questions. Statistics support the opinions that the United States is slipping behind our worldwide peers in primary and secondary education. We have always historically been educational leaders delivering cutting edge results, providing the world its best scientists, and resulting research, and development for gains in medicine, technology, and new products. We are no longer claiming this top status, or certainly we are slipping off of our pedestal.
Technology that exists today has changed our world in dramatic ways; exponentially, it is changing at a pace that increases dramatically with each passing year. It is hard to understand why the typical American classroom has changed so very little over the last 80 to 100 years. Yes, there has been some change. We once had very small learning communities that resulted in our delivering great education, and student achievement. Many high schools were 500 and 1000 students in size. Fewer than 1800 students per school were typical when most GUHSD schools were built in the 50’s, 60, and 70’s.
Currently Steele Canyon High School is near 2500. Granite Hills High School is near 2900. Large school populations result in academic and social breakdown for many students. Gangs and cliques are more likely to form. Smaller learning communities (SLC’s) are simply more manageable. In SLC’s teacher collaboration is more likely to occur, and a student’s needs are better addressed. SLC’s create a much stronger learning, and social environment.
Today we do not have small learning communities. Many students are lost in the shuffle, teachers do not collaborate as we wish they could, and continuity across core subjects is lost. Research has proven that smaller schools, smaller learning communities, with teachers involved in professional learning communities (PLC’s), all perform better and achieve at higher levels. We can change all of this by creating reformed schools with smaller learning communities. One such concept is called “schools within a school”. With the effective use of technology, single student learning communities are possible utilizing technology to teach each student in a rigorous, interesting, challenging, exciting, and relevant context.
We need to use technology in education to its fullest extent. Times have changed. When I was in high school, a handheld calculator didn’t exist that was affordable… computers were not widely relevant until Apple Computer’s Macintosh operating system brought us WYSIWYG; an acronym for what you see is what you get, describing the first visual icon based click and go operating system. It was visual in nature, not requiring code knowledge. In the 60’s, 70’s, 80’s, 90’s, and even a few short years ago… there were no I Pads, or Droid-X-Pads, no laptop computers, there were no smart phones.
Has the local high school classroom changed in any significant way since the 70’s? Yes, Xerox made copying better, and replaced mimeograph copying, and videotape has replaced film, and overhead projectors are a bit more sophisticated. However, we are lagging way behind in the classroom. Our kids need better to keep up with modern job market changes, and technological demands, and we are not meeting those needs.
It is time for a change. Let’s start now. It is time to move into the 21st Century with educational readiness! Traditionalists move over, get out of the way of giving our kids and grandkids the tools they need to succeed. I read a recent article titled “The 21st Century Classroom” about how American classrooms are outdated, by Linda Perlstein (Slate Online Magazine, Nov. 2, 2010).
Perlstein said,” While going about my day, I sometimes engage in a mental exercise I call the Laura Ingalls test (Little House On The Prairie, a book - then TV show). What would Laura Ingalls, prairie girl, make of this new freeway interchange… of this modern department store… and this [whatever modern]… or of this wireless phone, or this cell phone? Some modern institutions would probably be unrecognizable at first glance to a visitor from the 19th century [or early 20th]: a hospital, an Apple store, and a yoga studio for example. But take Laura Ingalls to the nearest fifth-grade classroom, and she wouldn’t hesitate to say, "Oh! A school!"
Very little about the American classroom has changed since Laura Ingalls sat in a school class more than a century ago. In her school, children sat in a rectangular room at rows of desks, a teacher up front. At most American schools, they still follow the identical arrangement… with paper and pencil… with lectures and note taking… with assignments and homework… all traditional and comfortable. This ignores the research about needing to teach to the many differing modalities of learning, the multiple types of intelligences. We should be reaching students in many differing ways now; students need to be stimulated by the technology of today’s generation. We need to challenge our students with the rigor and relevance of today’s world.
Let’s make certain that we don’t build a 12th high school that mirrors the other 11 Grossmont Union School District High Schools. We must pilot a high school of the future. Not better, just different. Schools must be flexible and ready to change or handle other than traditional teaching models and methods. Our current models aren’t bad, and some are good, however none of them are great. Very soon they all will be falling prey to the phenomenon of disruptive innovation, and will not be keeping up with technology, or technological convergence. Our local GUHSD high schools will begin slipping backwards by not moving forward, unless change is embraced. This 12th high school is a golden opportunity to pilot something different, something new, and something that is state-of-the-art, and 21st Century ready.
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