Friday, November 17, 2017

Authentic Learning

Authentic Learning

AUTHOR

Jake Giessman
Jake Giessman is head of Academy Hill School (Massachusetts). His article, "Authentic Learning for Authentic Life," appears in the spring 2010 issue of Independent School.

When will I ever use this?
Good teachers have ready responses to this perennial question. You’ll use algebra at the hardware store. You’ll need proper punctuation in job applications. You’ll learn from history’s mistakes.
But kids are savvy. They know they will never be sitting on a northbound train calculating when the southbound train will pass by. They know Spiro Agnew appears in Trivial Pursuit but nowhere else. They know that grasping allusions to classical literature was important at 18th-century dinner parties but not in today’s workplace. And they know that if, in the future, they want to know how photosynthesis works, they can always look it up online.
This is not to say that we shouldn’t teach our children content. Only that we get so caught up in measuring what children have learned that we often forget to evaluate the usefulness of what we teach.
Think about your own education. A few things you learned in school help you on a daily basis, but, as the saying goes, you probably learned most of them on the playground. It’s likely difficult to remember what you actually studied in the classroom. If schools were honest about what they are really good for — that is, if they aligned their methods and objectives more closely with their actual utility — they would be much more effective.
For years, educational theorists have been trying to move us away from rote learning toward something more interactive and compelling. We have come to realize that truly educating a child is not like pouring liquid into an empty vessel. It is more like giving the child a box of stuff and seeing if he or she can make anything out of it. Real learning is not memorization; it is discovery and construction.
Why, then, do we still organize our schools around bodies of relatively inert disciplinary knowledge? As adults, do our lives divide into categories like English, math, science, and social studies? Hardly. 
Perhaps the school day ought to be divided into subjects more relevant to our lives: communication, problem solving, and professional skills, for example. Or perhaps it ought to be divided into subjects that mirror what the 21st century desperately needs: social entrepreneurship, invention, ethics, and cultural dialogue.

Better yet, what if school weren’t built around subjects at all? What if it were instead built around real-world problems and solutions? What if disciplinary content were so integrated that assessment could be based on genuine achievement, not on short-term retention of disparate facts and algorithms?
Imagine a high school without a bell-driven transition every 50 minutes. Instead, groups of students could be attached to teams of teachers. In each quarter, each group would be assigned a single problem to solve together in an original way. Engaging that problem would take the bulk of the school day for the entire quarter.
Perhaps the students would be assigned to create a bilingual nature guide to a local park or a comprehensive plan to reduce school energy costs. Maybe they would be asked how to revitalize the city’s downtown or how to reduce the state’s incidence of West Nile Virus. Or maybe they would be directed to create an arts festival about the adolescent experience or a documentary of teen life to share with a sister school overseas.
In this model, teachers would still need to share content knowledge with students, but they would do it differently. Teachers would collaborate to provide an interdisciplinary background to each problem. Then they would offer a basic structure for the solution process and ongoing support and coaching as students dug for relevant information, developed pertinent skills, created an authentic product, and shared it with a real audience.
By creating real solutions to real problems for real audiences, students would have an incentive more compelling than letter grades and a learning environment more relevant to their future. Soft skills, disciplinary knowledge, civic responsibility, and career know-how would all come together in a format far less arbitrary and arcane than the format students learn in today.
Clearly, such a shift would involve a major curriculum-mapping effort. Care would need to be taken to ensure that group projects are orchestrated to spiral efficiently through all the knowledge and skill bases we deem important. Students would also need the skills and knowledge that colleges consider prerequisite.
As with many other major educational innovations, this shift might most easily be attempted in independent and charter schools. In fact, at some level, it is already happening. At Academy Hill School (Massachusetts), the independent school where I work, project-based learning has long been central. We see that students of all types — when given latitude, scaffolding, and open-ended long-term projects — are capable of learning and applying what they learn far beyond what many educators hope for.
I think, for example, of a student who opted to turn an English assignment on individuality into an original short film. It was later honored at a film festival. I also think of two students who, as part of a local robotics team, created an energy audit that helped their town library reduce costs. Our community service program — originally run by parent volunteers, but now run by students — also comes to mind. The list goes on.
Although the public education system has incredible inertia, there is no reason public schools could not eventually upset their traditional curriculum model, too. Educators everywhere are beginning to understand the true diversity of backgrounds and learning styles represented in the general student population, and they are floundering to adjust their pedagogy accordingly. It seems clear now that state-mandated, high-stakes testing is not the answer. Shifting the focus of public education more squarely to authentic life skills seems to me like a much better starting point.
Students learn more and do more when they are treated like agents. They need the support due a child, but the opportunity due professionals and citizens. Children intuit the interdisciplinary nature of human knowledge and enterprise, and they keenly see the frequent mismatch between pedagogy and application.
They don’t want to wait around to see if they will ever use what they are learning. They are ready to use it now.



Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Redefining Student Success

Excerpts from National Association of Independent Schools Blog

Please see the full article:
Redefining Student Success

Denise Pope
Dr. Denise Pope is a co-founder of Challenge Success and a senior lecturer at the Stanford University Graduate School of Education. She is the author of “Doing School”: How We Are Creating a Generation of Stressed Out, Materialistic, and Miseducated Students, and co-author of Overloaded and Underprepared: Strategies for Stronger Schools and Healthy, Successful Kids. Pope lectures nationally on parenting techniques and pedagogical strategies to increase student health, engagement with learning, and academic integrity. Challenge Success is a nonprofit school reform organization focused on promoting student well-being and academic engagement and is affiliated with the Stanford University Graduate School of Education. 

Defining the Problems

Since 2007, Challenge Success has surveyed more than 100,000 middle and high school kids in high-achieving public and independent schools across the country. We have found that Kevin’s narrow definition of success is overwhelmingly prevalent. In our fast-paced culture, kids are busy in and out of school, often maintaining schedules that are more hectic than those of the adults around them. Many students and parents feel they have no choice but to continue, day after day, at this frantic pace. They believe the prospect of a good education, future employment, and financial security are at risk if they don’t. But this “more is better” lifestyle takes a toll on student well-being and learning in many ways.

Sleep Deprivation
Our research shows that high school students get, on average, about six and a half hours of sleep each night, even though medical experts recommend eight to ten hours of sleep for healthy development. We know that there is a correlation between sleep deprivation and depression, anxiety, memory function, bullying, and car accidents in adolescents, according to the Stanford Medicine News Center.

Academic Worry and Emotional Distress
Nearly 75 percent of high school students surveyed report being often or always stressed by schoolwork. In fact, the National Association of Health Education Centers reports that academics are the leading cause of stress for middle and high school-aged students, and that prolonged stress can be debilitating.

Academic Disengagement
Almost 40 percent of high school students we surveyed reported “doing school,” working hard but rarely finding schoolwork interesting, meaningful, or valuable. The pressure to perform often leads to a loss of engagement with learning and perpetuates a culture of “robo-students” — students who focus on getting the grades but do not find intrinsic motivation, meaning, or joy in the process. Our research shows that students who are not fully engaged affectively, behaviorally, and cognitively are less likely to achieve in school and more likely to suffer from symptoms such as depression and anxiety.

Cheating and Drug Use
When students are under pressure and lack sufficient sleep, they often engage in cheating behavior. Challenge Success research shows that 88 percent of high school and 75 percent of middle school kids admit to cheating in one form or another. Students tell us that “it’s cheat or be cheated,” and they feel they have no other options but to break the rules. Health professionals have also observed an increase in the overuse of prescription stimulants such as Adderall and Ritalin, known as “study drugs.” Many adolescents believe that study drugs help them stay up and focus, and they are unaware of the severe health risks associated with abusing prescription medications. 

One NAIS-member school, Woodside Priory, a 6–12 grade day and boarding school of 350 students in Northern California, participated in the Challenge Success School Program for several years. The school has shown extraordinary growth in the “S” category of SPACE, examining “students’ schedule & use of time.” Specifically, Woodside Priory recognized that student engagement and well-being could be improved by addressing two highly interrelated issues: the bell schedule and homework practices. 
 

A Saner School Schedule
The school schedule has a substantial impact on engagement, teaching, and learning; it affects the entire school community and is an important lever for school improvement. Woodside Priory’s leaders recognized the need to make a change to the bell schedule based on results from the Challenge Success student survey. After learning that their students were only getting on average 6.5 hours of sleep each night, they decided to move the start time of the school from 8 a.m. to 8:30 a.m. four days a week, and to start even later (9:45 a.m.) once a week. This allowed students the opportunity for additional sleep each morning, and had the extra bonus of increased professional development time for faculty.

Educators, parents, and students often confuse the concepts of “rigor” and “load.” Rigor is associated with depth of learning and mastery of a subject matter. Load is a measurement of the amount of work that is assigned to students. Research showsthat students in courses that assign more hours of homework do not necessarily experience greater mastery or in-depth understanding. Because of this, Woodside Priory sought to reduce the daily quantity of homework and increase the quality of their assignments. They decided to place student learning, engagement, and well-being at the forefront of their new approach to homework.

The In-Class Experiment – Homework Week
To get started, Woodside Priory’s Head of Upper School Brian Schlaak asked all teachers in the upper school to allow 30 minutes during each class period to get homework done in class for one week.
 

Here is what they learned: 

  • Teachers learned that students take varying amounts of time to do homework; some get stuck and need help right away, and others are done in ten minutes. This challenged teachers’ assumptions about how much time was actually needed to complete each assignment.
  • Teachers learned that sometimes students don’t understand the purpose of a homework assignment and, as a result, can perceive it as “busy work.”  
  • Teachers noted that they saw an increase in the quality of the students’ work — students had time to ask the teacher for assistance during class and they seemed more engaged.
  • Teachers noticed that many students were not using appropriate note-taking methods when reading assignments for class. This observation prompted teachers to support students with additional guidance and study skills to reduce wasted time on tasks and to increase retention and mastery.
  • Students learned that they can be much more productive with homework when they aren’t on social media or other distracting devices, when they aren’t exhausted at the end of the day after sports practices and other extracurricular activities, and when they have a designated amount of time to focus on their work. 

Sobering Statistics


Please use link for the full article:
Sobering Statistics


Your Modern Family – The scary truth about what’s hurting our kids
EXCERPTS
CNN recently interviewed Dr. Jean Twenge, author of iGen and her interview really worried me – because I saw the truth that I would be facing in just a few short years.   Dr. Twenge started doing research 25 years ago on generational differences, but when 2011 -2012 hit, she saw something that would scared her to the core.   This is the year when those having iPhones went over the 50% mark.
The results of that should scare all of us.
·       This was the year that more kids started to say that they felt “sad, hopeless, useless… that they couldn’t do anything right (depression).”
·        They felt left-out and lonely.
·        There is a 50% increase in clinical level depression between 2011-2015.
·       Suicide rate goes up.
·       Substantial increase in suicide rate.
Before I give you anymore, I want you to look at these graphs and look at how the correlate to the iPhones being released.They aren’t hanging out with friends nearly as much.
She goes on to say that “Today’s children are being deprived of the fundamentals of a healthy childhood:
·       Emotionally available parents
·       Clearly defined limits and guidance
·       Responsibilities
·       Balanced nutrition and adequate sleep
·       Movement and outdoors
·       Creative play, social interaction, opportunities for unstructured times and boredom
Instead, children are being served with:
·       Digitally distracted parents
·       Indulgent parents who let kids “Rule the world”
·       Sense of entitlement rather than responsibility
·       Inadequate sleep and unbalanced nutrition
·       Sedentary indoor lifestyle
·       Endless stimulation, technological babysitters, instant gratification, and absence of dull moments”
How true… and how sad.
You can read the rest of her story at yourot.com

Thursday, October 12, 2017

An Article Worth Your Time - Teens, Depression, and Smart Phones

Smart Phones and Depression


Excerpts from Time Article:


It seems like every generation of parents has a collective freak-out when it comes to kids and new technologies; television and video games each inspired widespread hand-wringing among grown-ups. But the inescapability of today’s mobile devices—coupled with the personal allure of social media—seems to separate smartphones from older screen-based media. Parents, teens and researchers agree smartphones are having a profound impact on the way adolescents today communicate with one another and spend their free time. And while some experts say it’s too soon to ring alarm bells about smartphones, others argue we understand enough about young people’s emotional and developmental vulnerabilities to recommend restricting kids’ escalating phone habit.

The latest statistics on teen mental health underscore the urgency of this debate.

Between 2010 and 2016, the number of adolescents who experienced at least one major depressive episode leapt by 60%, according to a nationwide survey conducted by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. The 2016 survey of 17,000 kids found that about 13% of them had a major depressive episode, compared to 8% of the kids surveyed in 2010. Suicide deaths among people age 10 to 19 have also risen sharply, according to the latest data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Young women are suffering most; a CDC report released earlier this year showed suicide among teen girls has reached 40-year highs. All this followed a period during the late-1990s and early 2000s when rates of adolescent depression and suicide mostly held steady or declined.

“These increases are huge—possibly unprecedented,” says Jean Twenge, a professor of psychology at San Diego State University and author of iGen, which examines how today’s super-connected teens may be less happy and less prepared for adulthood than past generations. In a peer-reviewed study that will appear later this year in the journal Clinical Psychological Science, Twenge shows that, after 2010, teens who spent more time on new media were more likely to report mental health issues than those who spent time on non-screen activities.
....

The teenage brain
To understand how device use may be affecting a young person’s mental health, it’s important to recognize the complex changes occurring in an adolescent’s still-developing brain.

For one thing, that brain is incredibly plastic and able to adapt—that is, physically change—in response to novel activities or environmental cues, says UPenn’s Jensen, who is the author of The Teenage Brain.

Another area of the brain—the prefrontal cortex—is critical for focus and interpreting human emotion, and doesn’t fully develop until a person’s mid-20s, says Paul Atchley, a professor of psychology at the University of Kansas. “During our teenage years, it’s important to train that prefrontal cortex not to be easily distracted,” he says. “What we’re seeing in our work is that young people are constantly distracted, and also less sensitive to the emotions of others.”
....

Backbiting and mean-girl gossip are nothing new, of course. But research suggests that, even among adults, the Internet has a disinhibition effect that leads people to speak in coarser, crueler ways then they would offline.

Maryellen Pachler, a Yale-trained nurse practitioner who specializes in the treatment of adolescent anxiety disorders, says her job used to involve convincing her patients that their fears were largely irrational. “Now I don’t think they’re irrational at all,” she says. “If you raise your hand in class or say something silly, I think it’s likely your classmates will be texting or posting something about it.”