Thursday, May 18, 2017

A Plan to Kill High School Transcripts … and Transform College Admissions

One of the things that I notice teaching and working with both MS and HS students, is the change that happens from MS to HS- between grade 8-9th grade in terms of excitement for learning. 8th graders are excited about learning and trying new things. But when they become 9th graders they are not nearly as excited. The change is instantaneous. Why? In my opinion, HS students and 9th graders, understand that there are 4 years of high-stakes grading that goes on transcripts to colleges. Teachers are not as warm and fuzzy and expectations are higher at home and school. It is now time to jump through hoops, where everything counts towards that GPA and life after college.... They lose sleep, and get increasingly stressed out to the detriment of mental and physical health.

Now, some schools are taking it upon themselves to change that culture. This article from Inside Higher Ed, talks about some top private high schools that are trying to change that culture.

What if traditional high school transcripts -- lists of courses taken, grades earned and so forth -- didn't exist?
That's the ambition of a new education reform movement, which wants to rebuild how high schools record the abilities of students -- and in turn to change the way colleges evaluate applicants. Sounds like quite a task. But the idea is from a group with considerable clout and money: more than 100 private schools around the country, including such elite institutions as the Dalton School and the Spence School in New York City, plus such big guns as the Cranbrook Schools in Michigan, the Phillips Academy in Massachusetts and Miss Porter's School in Connecticut. The group is called the Mastery Transcript Consortium, and the product it hopes to create is the mastery transcript. It would not include courses or grades, but levels of proficiency in various areas. Instead of saying a student earned a certain grade in Spanish 2, the mastery transcript might say the student can understand and express ideas in some number of languages. And there could be different levels of mastery. 
I love this idea and I look forward to see where it takes schools. 

Saturday, April 30, 2016

Personalized Learning: Preparing Students for Life by Developing Learner Agency

A quote from Personalized Learning website: 

Harvard professor Roland Barth has observed that in the 1950’s when young people left high school they typically knew about 75% of what they would need to know to be successful in life. Today, he predicts that young people know about 2% of what they will need to know. (Barth, R.S. (1997, March 5). The leader as learner. Education Week, 16(23). 56.) This shift is not because young people are learning less than previous generations. In fact, there is good evidence that they know much more. The force behind this change is the rapid and ever-increasing pace of change, the complexity of the world in which we live and the unpredictability of what people will need to know in the coming decades - the future for which we are preparing today’s learners. - See more at:

The school I work at has rightfully put a lot of emphasis on trying to meet the needs of individual students and differentiating. One of our core documents details what is called the Profile of a Graduate which calls for students to have the following characteristics when they graduate:

Creative - Critical - Reflective - Adaptable - Persistent

Effective - Confident - Collaborative

Aware - Ethical - Respectful - Open-Minded - Compassionate

Engaged - Responsible - Self-Directed - Inquisitive

Leader & Role Model 
Inspires - Guides

These have similar characteristics to the 21st Century Learner Skills, but are also designed to foster and develop life-long skills rather than just skills for a specific class. In the classes I teach which are project-based tech classes, there is a lot of room for being able to differentiate and individualize learning for students. So for example, some students in my Electronics Design class do not have any experience with electronics or programming. However, in the same class are students who do have advanced programming and technical skills. What I have done is to have the advanced students create learning proposals for course-related projects they want to work on. These are reviewed and then approved after some tweaking. This has allowed them to pursue interests and learn new things that challenge and inspire them, really developing learning agency within what they do. They are given a timeline to complete the project, then they present to the class. Emphasis is put on both the design and development phase, as well as having a finished project if possible. Similar proposal/projects happen in Engineering classes, Robotics, and Video Production classes. It can make the class seem a bit disorganized at times with many different projects happening at various speeds, but the students are engaged and are meeting the standards at different levels. It is a fun and authentic way to teach and develop Learner Agency and help students, learn how to learn and be persistent.

Thursday, April 21, 2016

Tech for Tech's Sake? Hope Not!

Tech for Techs Sake (not)

In this article by Nira Dale in TeachThought, there are four good reasons why you might not be reaching your students because of technology. 

#1. You’re using technology for technology’s sake.
#2. The technology distracts from understanding.
#3. The teacher is still the audience.
#4 You’re neglecting authentic student voice & choice.
Read the article to find out more!

Friday, January 29, 2016

Why We All Need Time to Tinker With Tech

This was a good article on many levels. The last paragraph captured most of the main ideas:

"Tinkering is not about the product, it’s about the process. Enjoy the journey and don’t focus so much on having a spiffy product that can be presented or showcased. There is a time and a place for presenting, but true integration is about the journey and what was learned along the way. Tinkering is messy, but fosters deeper learning because learners are doing the thinking. Embrace it. Find balance. Find relief in the fact that you do not have to have all of the answers."
In the engineering and electronics design classes I teach, they may not finish their final projects. So the question becomes, "how do you assess?"  I focus more on a presentation of how students have developed their projects. I want them to dig into topics and building things that interest and challenge them, more than having prescribed, artificial due dates. Yes, during the course they are required to finish some prescribed projects in a time-frame and there is the need for kids to learn project management skills in any class. But the last one is for them. For each project they present the Design Process they followed (see previous post on a diagram we follow and design presentations about), and reflect on what worked, what did not. It was nice to see some validation from another corner with this philosophy. 

Thursday, January 28, 2016

Career Day

So our school recently had career day. About 40 professionals from the professional world came to talk to students in various sessions that students attended. A very worthwhile morning was spent learning about engineering, nutrition, law, medicine, event planning, radio and a host of other occupations. Through it all, common themes seemed to come from all of the speakers though.
Get to know people- network. Another was approach and manage and solve problems in a organized manner- project management. This one made me think of how engineers approach and solve problems and develop solutions. In my tech department we are testing a design process model that we are using to help assess this process that students go through to help give them a strategy to solve problems and build things. Here is the model, a life skill model, which is directly related to aspects of our Profile of Graduate- problem solver, creativity and communicator we are trying to develop in students. Any feedback is welcome! It got me thinking about if it was possible to maybe develop a problem-solving model for every class that is taught. Writing courses use a writing process....Science has the Scientific Method....Library/Research as a variety of research methodologies...Social Studies has inquiry models....but what are the threads that are common in all of them? Basically problem solving, communicating the solution somehow, and project management/work habits.