Monday, May 13, 2013

Longer School Days - Is That REALLY the Solution?

I just read yet another article about the push to lengthen the school day in order to improve student achievement entitled Learning Takes Time: Growing Movement Seeks to Expand the Length of the School Day by Celia Baker. The last paragraph of the article I think highlights the advantage of this idea:
"More time and money won't help if they are not well-spent, Gabrieli cautioned. The National Center on Time & Learning report suggests that additional time be used for more engaged interaction in academic classes; broader curricula; enrichment activities that boost school engagement; and more time for teacher collaboration and professional development".
 As with anything in education (think technology), if it's done right and planned out and designed to address specific needs, it will have an impact.  If it's done for the sake of being done with no real plan or purpose, it is NOT going to be effective. Adding hours to the school day so that students can do more drill-and-kill worksheets or practice more test-taking strategies is not the intent or purpose, but is what I fear will happen, as I have experienced this very thing personally.  An extra hour added to the school day, which divided up between the classes added about 8 minutes to each class.  Whoopee!!  The thought process was: "we can get in 10 more problems or, we now have more time to start on homework, or we have 8 more minutes of lecture" - that's how it worked.  It was NOT a benefit to students or teachers - rather it simply provided more time to do more of the same. If you are going to provide more time, then do something DIFFERENT.

I look at my poor daughter, who has three weeks left of classes before she graduates from high school. State testing is over, so apparently all the teachers have decided that there is nothing left to teach (exception to the rule -Forensics and English), since it was all crammed in before the state tests. The school added time to the schedule this year - all classes are 10 minutes longer so thankfully there was lots of extra time to practice test taking....and practice, and practice, and practice. So what do we do with the days and hours that stretch ahead in these next three weeks? Apparently nothing.  Here is my daughters day from Friday:

  1. First bell - watched a movie "Surfs Up" (in government).
  2. Second bell - played games on her phone as rest of class slept (and obviously took a picture as well!)
  3. 3rd bell - played games on her phone.  Oh...and planned her AP calculus project - i.e. making a cake decorated with a math symbol.  Yes....that is the project.
  4. 4th bell - thank goodness, early release (being a senior and now that her basketball season is ended).
Three more weeks of this. I would LOVE to not have her go and basically waste 5 1/2 hours of her day, however if she doesn't go, she fails for attendance. (Despite having no work to do, straight A's and literally doing nothing educationally productive). Calling and complaining and asking the teachers to do something results in worksheets of problems and review...worksheets...drill-and-kill.

So...here is a case where there is time.  Lots of time. Time that  is completely pointless.  I know this happens everywhere, and not just in my daughters school. Why isn't anyone doing something that is engaging, challenging, dare I say it, FUN, where students take the learning from the year and apply it?  Wouldn't that be a better way to use our time? I myself had the same end-of-year time issues - but I loved it.  I used the time to do applications of what we had learned all year in math - i.e. let's determine what's the strongest bridge design is (shapes, force, etc.), using toothpicks, and have a contest for creating the strongest bridge. Or let's create an animated transformational geometry project using Sketchpad and programming. Fun, collaborative, creative and not sleeping or watching irrelevant movies.

I firmly believe in adding time to the school day IF it is going to create a different, engaging, creative and productive learning experience.  But if all time is going to do is allow a school or school system to brag that they have extra time in their day, but all teachers do is more worksheets, more test prep, or watch a movie, then what's the point?  I am against it. If we want students to learn more and be engaged in school, time is not the answer unless that time is filled with true educational value. Think and plan - if it's not going to change what's happening, if it's not going to add value or different options, then it's not worth the time.


Thursday, May 9, 2013

Personal Change - A New Beginning

Four months since my last posting, which again, points to the turmoil and conflict in my life of late. In my last post I talked about change and three things to consider, since I was in the midst of some major changes in my own life.  To recap:
  1. Change is emotional.
  2. Resistance/reluctance to change is multidimensional
  3. Some changes may not be for everyone
I am here to say that I have just about finished my first week of 'unemployment' because I decided to take change by the balls and do something drastic - quit my job. I gave it the old college try - 9 months of trying to adjust to the emotional and cultural changes of going from a small, education, technology driven company who's culture and approach to education I truly believed in and felt empowered by, to a large, educational corporate company, where I did not have this same sense of belief in the mission and felt at best, marginalized and insignificant.  What I learned is I am NOT a corporate girl. I want to be in the trenches, I want to be with teachers and schools, hands-on, making a difference one classroom, one teacher, one district at a time.  I crave the personal approach.

So.  I quit.

I have suffered all three of my points mentioned above - the change from what I had been doing, with a company and philosophy I believed in was incredibly emotional for me and I admit it...I couldn't get past that.  Emotion drives what I do and I want to be able to approach my work with teachers and schools with emotion and passion - I want to believe in what I do. My resistance or reluctance to assimilate into my new position, one that was 'handed to me' rather than one I chose, was because I felt like I was giving up the best parts of myself and what I do - being out with teachers, interacting with the educational community on a personal level, embracing and supporting teachers and schools. And finally - I just needed to face the fact that this change, working for a large corporation, was not a good fit for me. Perhaps it's a power thing - I was blessed these last few years to be in a position in a company that allowed me to grow, make decisions, create the vision for what and where things were going.  That disappeared. Perhaps it's a belief thing - again, I worked in a place where I believed everyone wanted to help teachers improve and where our products and resources were truly the best out there.  I no longer had that belief.

Now I am on a journey to the ultimate change - changing my whole career. Granted, a large part of my decision was the looming deadline to finish my doctorate degree - May 2014.  Drop dead date or start over.  (Yikes...that is NOT an option). Quitting my full-time job is allowing me the time to devote to doing my research and writing, something I have not had the luxury of doing since I started this endeavor (hence the two extensions). It is also a chance to forge my own path - create my own next steps.

I want to continue to support my passion of helping teachers, in particular help them integrate technology into classroom instruction, but really, to support innovative and different ways of structuring learning. I am hoping that I can work with schools and districts to support their changing efforts around technology, math, instructional practices.  I would LOVE to be involved in helping schools change how they do things - from classroom structures to curriculum to instructional strategies.  I am a big believer in blended learning, technology, problem-based learning - giving students the power to learn on their own and construct their own meanings and helping teachers support that type of learning.  Ideally, I would love to be a part of changing education - how schools and teachers support learning.

So, who knows...this change could be the start of something wonderful!  I have high hopes. If you have a job...let me know!!