Preparing Students for the Future

Article written for SEEN Magazine

Preparing Students for the Future: Creating Personalized Education Opportunities

This was an opportunity to share the Personalized Education Philosophy and provide a brief (but hopefully thought-provoking) explanation of the philosophy and why it is important.

 

An Aside: I somehow managed to write this article while battling the swine flu – a very intense, painful flu for sure!  It meant waking up to write for about an hour, then sleeping several hours, and then waking for another hour to drink water and write some more.  After completing the article and sending it in, I told my business partner, “I think I wrote an article, but I am not exactly sure.”  That seemed to create a little anxiety, but it seemed to turn out fine.

 

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Full Text of article published March 31, 2010

Education’s purpose is to empower students to find their own paths to their own dreams; to create life-long learners who are prepared for both the modern world and the future; and to empower individuals to make a positive impact in the world. This statement tops the list for the Personalized Education Philosophy, envisioned by a group of educators who asked themselves the question, “How do we prepare students for a future we can barely imagine?” The answer: create personalized education opportunities aimed at preparing students to be successful, not just in their own communities, but as world citizens. The group’s goal is nothing short of changing the world of education, with activities ranging from teacher training to the founding of an international online K-12 school, all governed by the tenets of the Personalized Education Philosophy presented here. image

Student-Centered

A personalized education program is student-centered — tailored to each student’s learning styles, interests, current skill levels, and personal goals. Students are motivated to learn when they feel that the learning is valuable — the “why do we need to know this stuff?” question — and when they feel that they can be successful with the learning task. Aligning a program to a student’s interests and goals increases a lesson’s relevance, and value, for that student, and tailoring the program to a student’s current skills and learning styles increases student success.

Competency- and Mastery-Based

Learning is competency- and mastery-based, allowing for extra time and assistance to master concepts a student finds difficult, while also allowing the student to move quickly through previously-mastered material, and eliminating arbitrary limitations on student progress. Is a student who passes pre-algebra with a 60 percent, sufficiently prepared to learn algebra? Investing time to secure a strong foundation at one level will increase success at greater levels. Current technologies facilitate designing instruction to allow for students to be at different places at different times, and to learn in a variety of ways. This is accomplished through clear goals, multiple options for learning those goals, followed by multiple options for demonstrating that learning.

What’s the Target?

As Dewey notes in Democracy and Education, “not the target but hitting the target is the end in view,” so more important than learning specific concepts is learning how to learn, and gaining competencies that will aid in the hitting of many targets, both current and those yet to be imagined. The world is in motion, and the information that is true or valuable today could be obsolete tomorrow. Governments rise and fall, old ideas are challenged, new technologies emerge — all impacting how the world does business. Students must be prepared with the ability to learn, critically evaluate, and apply new concepts that come their way.

Forward-Leaning

Therefore, education must be forward-leaning, recognizing that the “real world” for which students are being prepared is dynamic, with exponential changes especially in technology. Think about how much technology has changed over the years. Ever hear of punch cards for computer programming? Now we have marvels such as the Allosphere at U.C. Santa Barbara, allowing a team of researchers to walk into a sphere-shaped virtual reality to explore things such as the human brain through multiple senses, an artistic mix of visual effects and music. The world for which we are preparing high school freshmen will not be the same by time they graduate, and even more changes will take place by time they graduate college. A school’s education program must be fluid, ready to shift and change to ensure that students have the current knowledge and skills of today.

For example, in an online high school, students from several countries spanning multiple time zones can attend a live homeroom session using webcams, audio and a virtual whiteboard. Meanwhile, students must be empowered with the thinking skills to remain cutting edge.

Creativity and Critical Thinking

To adequately prepare students for a future that is difficult to even imagine, a personalized education program places the greatest value on creativity and the ability to engage in independent, critical thinking. The title “Information Age” does not begin to describe the infinite amount of information available today. Students need to analyze and critically evaluate information, question what they are learning instead of assuming anything is true, and creatively synthesize across disciplines. Bloom’s Taxonomy was updated by the American Psychological Association to have a new level of thinking at the top of the pyramid: creating. Schools cutting art programs are possibly eliminating the most important aspect of a student’s education. It was a creative thinker, orchestrally-trained composer JoAnn Kuchera-Morin, teamed with other creative thinkers — artists, scientists, and engineers — who created the Allosphere. It will be the creative thinking students who continue to push us forward, defining the future.

 Self-Cognizant, Life-Long Learners

Students are guided to become self-cognizant, life-long learners prepared not just for today’s world but equipped to continue learning for whatever the future holds. Students must gain awareness of their own learning. If they are struggling, empowered students seek additional help or request alternate approaches. They develop strategies for working through challenging learning activities and develop study skills that best align with their learning styles. This self-awareness and skills set is essential for continuing to learn new concepts as the future unfolds.

Student-Driven

A personalized education program is student-driven; students take an active role in their education, from the development of their education plans to collaboration with course instructors. This takes student-centered education to the next level by putting students in the driver’s seat. Ultimately, if the goal is to create independent thinkers and doers, then we need to empower students to be part of their own education program. Younger students and those new to a personalized education program tend to need more guidance, but students increasingly take more responsibility in creating meaningful educational experiences that align with their goals and interests.

Teacher’s Role

Instead of taking authoritative roles, or seen as the sole purveyors of knowledge, instructors are instead mentors, offering guidance and feedback while respecting the diverse needs and goals of each student. We cannot limit students to only that which we know, potentially dooming them to archaic thinking. Instead, we must free them to seek their own purposes in this world, and the teacher’s role is to guide students in accessing, evaluating, and using the increasing amounts of information and resources available to them.

Making Connections

Students learn to identify and understand cause-and-effect relationships, recognizing connections that span and go beyond content areas, and engage in proactive behaviors leading to personal development and engagement in the service of their community and beyond. This last tenet is the culminating goal of the philosophy. Students gain an international perspective by interacting with fellow students from around the world, collaborating on creative projects that involve critical thinking and the use of current technologies. They make cross-discipline connections, with social sciences informing one to be socially responsible with the hard sciences, with art as a valid means of exploration and expression, and with a holistic view of the world created through questioning, exposure to varied cultures and ideas, and an openness to learn new things. The result: students are empowered to be world citizens who will lead us into the future.

Personalized Education Philosophy and Goals

Education’s purpose is to empower students to find their own paths to their own dreams; to create life-long learners who are prepared for both the modern world and the future; and to empower individuals to make a positive impact in the world.

To this end, a personalized education program is student-centered; a student’s educational program is tailored to the student’s learning styles, interests, current skill levels, and personal goals.

Learning is competency- and mastery-based, allowing for extra time and assistance to master concepts a student finds difficult, while also allowing the student to move quickly through previously-mastered material, and eliminating arbitrary limitations on student progress.

However, as Dewey notes in Democracy and Education, “not the target but hitting the target is the end in view,” so more important than learning specific concepts is learning how to learn, and gaining competencies that will aid in the hitting of many targets, both current and those yet to be imagined.

Therefore, education must be forward-leaning, recognizing that the “real world” for which students are being prepared is dynamic, with exponential changes especially in technology.

To adequately prepare students for a future that is difficult to even imagine, a personalized education program places the greatest value on creativity and the ability to engage in independent, critical thinking.

Students are guided to become self-cognizant, life-long learners prepared not just for today’s world but equipped to continue learning for whatever the future holds.

As such, a personalized education program is student-driven; students take an active role in their education, from the development of their education plans to collaboration with course instructors.

Instead of taking authoritative roles, or seen as the sole purveyors of knowledge, instructors are instead mentors, offering guidance and feedback while respecting the diverse needs and goals of each student.

Students also learn to identify and understand cause-and-effect relationships, recognizing connections that span and go beyond content areas, and engage in proactive behaviors leading to personal development and engagement in the service of their community and beyond.

White Knight

A white knight is somebody who presumes to help another but who does so in a way that causes more harm than good, usually oppressing instead of truly helping the person.

This white knight can take many forms. A white knight in one’s life can be a spouse, boyfriend or girlfriend, friend, parent, or even a son or daughter. One could even go so far as to say some countries’ governments, or other institutional programs, can work much like a white knight.

The most common manifestation of the white knight, however, is in a spouse or significant other. An abusive spouse is the most negative of these, with the abuse being an escalation of the behavior over time. Some white knight spouses are never violently abusive, but they are codependent and must always feel needed by their spouses. White knights will discourage and undermine the independence of their spouses. A husband who discourages his wife from seeking higher education, or even obtaining a driver’s license, is an example of this. Sometimes white knights even cause problems just so they have a situation in which they can be heroic.

Being a white knight doesn’t do anyone any good. Not only should one not fall into the trap of being “rescued” and perpetually oppressed by a white knight, people should avoid becoming white knights themselves.Yes, we should help one another. In relationships, we can help care for each other in good times and bad. However, we need to be responsible for ourselves, and we need to not have our own sense of self-worth be determined by others.

Instead we should encourage personal responsibility and a sense of empowerment. Own yourself! And that includes your problems. This will then put you in charge of the solutions.

Chasing Cows in Kennewick

After a 7-year stint in Southern California, Mikey (my now ex-husband) had been a cowboy without a cow for far too long. The ink had barely dried on the mortgage agreement before he had located steer calves for sale. The following is an email that went out to family not long after:

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Well, we still do not have furniture in the house, but we do have cows in the pasture!

This would be prioritizing according to Mikey.

The two steer calves (about 300 lbs each) were delivered a couple hours after Mikey had to leave for Packwood.  That meant I had to be the one to greet the people delivering them, make sure the cows were the correct ones, and help get them into the pasture.  No problem.  And really, that part wasn’t a problem.  However, soon after the real cowboys left, one of the calves decided he wanted out, and he went right through the hot wire and ran towards Edison Street.

Yes, we are not far from Edison Street, meaning that we are not far from Clearwater Ave, one of the busiest streets in Kennewick. When I imagined moving to Kennewick, I was thinking shopping mall and movie theater and midnight Walmart grocery shopping…. I was not thinking of chasing cows through Kennewick.

However, here I was, and after allowing myself about 15 seconds of flowery language aimed at Mikey-poo who was safely on the other side of the mountains, I immobilized Cassie and Heather to do what we could. Cass was delighted.  She gets this look in her eyes of “adrenaline rush!” and announces that this is great –definitely worth a diary entry! I blinked a couple times at her; I raised her to be positive in all things, but sometimes she really amazes me.

Luckily we had help.  Neighbors came pouring out of their homes.  We happen to live in a neighborhood where almost every house is comprised of a mom, a dad, and on average three kids, and most kids are teens (meaning they come with friends).  We had a mob of people able to surround the equivalent of two city blocks, and together we went after that cow.  The large group I was in managed to cut it off at Edison, and we were running in and out of some poor lady’s yard, who came out dressed in a moo-moo and asking with a Slavic accent, “There is problem?!”

We managed to chase the problem back towards the homes with acreage, and the steer calf managed to escape the mob by going into another person’s pasture – a person who happened to be a real cowboy. He even had the hat.  The steer charged him a couple of times, and the second time the cowboy took him down and hog-tied him.  Amazing.  All the kids were going nuts. This was quite the show!

Unfortunately, when our steer calf jumped into that pasture, it scared the sheep who in turn jumped out and ran across 10th Street into somebody’s else property. It was a fruit basket upset of animals. However, it kept the kids entertained because they still had animals to chase.

While the cowboy and some of our cow-chasing team worked at getting the steer calf on a trailer to bring him back to my house, the rest of us returned there immediately to figure out how to keep him in this time. Talking to Mikey on my cell, we decided that we needed more juice, so I brought out a different electric fence charger — the one that knocked his dad unconscious some years ago.  Some were tightening up wire where the calf had escaped, and another was hooking up the monster fence charger.  The other calf was eyeing the area where his friend had escaped, and finally he decided to go for it.  We all yelled for Ron to plug in the fence, and he did while the calf was part-way through; luckily the calf came back in instead of the rest of way out.

Unsure of whether a section was working, Ron decided to tap on the fence and was zapped! It didn’t knock him out, but figuring we didn’t want to have a repeat of what happened to Mikey’s dad, we used a fence-tester for the rest of the perimeter.  The fence tester is just supposed to light up when a wire is hot, but instead it snapped and sparked when near the wire.  Good sign.

I rinsed out a trough to put in our mini-barn; that calf was going into time-out!  When the cow arrived on the trailer, several of us managed to push him into the barn stall, and that is where he gets to stay until Mikey gets home.

I woke up this morning, checked to make sure that both cows were in the pasture, and decided that it was a good day.  Good day / bad day is now measured on whether or not all animals are contained.  At a future spring neighborhood BBQ, we will definitely be contributing the meat.

Next week, we have 25 chickens being delivered on Wednesday.  Only, Mikey has to be in Packwood to work, which means I have to be here when they are delivered…

 

Let Them Dance

My mother loved dancing, and when she was younger, she was good at it. She wanted me to love dancing too, and she enrolled me in dance lessons as a child: tap, jazz, and ballet.

At first, I thought this sounded pretty good; I imagined learning some moves to music, and I truly enjoyed music. However, my enthusiasm would not last, and I would instead find myself tortured by the whole experience.

First one must understand that most dance classes take a rather methodical approach to their lessons.  You learn a certain move in isolation and repeat the darn thing over and over to build the muscle memory. You then get to start piecing these things together in a series set to a song, and the teacher selects the songs.  If you are lucky enough to like the song, you will probably hate it by time you learned the routine for it piece by piece.

However, I reasoned that I could learn these things and perhaps create my own choreography, and to music I enjoyed.  Unfortunately, my mother explained that I needed to learn the routine as the teacher explained, and to the song she chose, because I had to be able to do it correctly on stage during the recital.

What?!  Was she nuts?!  I was no way, no how, going on stage!  The very idea was terrifying, and I had no desire whatsoever to perform for a crowd, and to that music, and we won’t even talk about the costumes.  Why couldn’t I just take the lessons and then use them in a way that made sense to me?

My mother tried different angles to convince me, finally using the good ol’ guilt trip in the end. She meant well; she really wanted me to have a full appreciation for the  world of dance, and she thought that this was the way to make that happen.  I didn’t complain but just went on with the routines, and went on stage, and wore those costumes, and gained anything BUT an appreciation for dance. This misguided torture went on for three years until a pediatrician told her to take me out due to how violently ill I would become starting about a month before recitals each year. Smart guy.

My mom didn’t hold it against me; she came to an understanding that I simply was not her.  In fact, she lamented that I was just like my father, but that is a whole other story. Unfortunately, I felt somehow hampered in my ability to truly dance — to move, to feel music… in the intuitive way that would be more true to how, perhaps, I could dance.

In recent years, I found myself roped into dancing again, this time by my youngest daughter who was too young to sign up for lessons unless a parent signed on too. And what a blessing this was — as I found myself taught by a wonderful bellydancing teacher (yep — not tap, jazz, ballet – but bellydancing)… and who taught in a personalized way.  We could perform, but we did not have to.  We could make our own routines.  We could apply it to different songs. And the costumes were great! The dance was a personal thing, and it was joyful. Just months before my mother’s death, I had finally discovered an appreciation for dance.

This isn’t just a lesson for parents. Recently, I was talking with some English instructors, and we were discussing how to teach the students what they need to know while understanding that people learn in different ways and have different goals and motivations.  While I love reading and writing, and would like for everyone to have a true appreciation for literary elements and the fine art of rhetoric as well as creative devices… I also understand that 1) some students will never truly love English and literature – especially the stuff deemed important by most state standards, and 2) the best a teacher can do is to teach it in ways that do connect or otherwise appeal to them.

To let them learn how they learn best.  Let them apply the learning to what makes sense for them.  Let them dance.

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