Hand-wringing about the American public school system happens a lot these days. Test scores are disappointing; funding is being squeezed, and there’s constant arguing about how to make the shiny allure of classroom technology pay off.But there’s nothing like spending time with bright, focused students — and their teachers — to rekindle optimism. Earlier in June, I got a chance to host a Google hangout with students from three standout public schools: the Science Leadership Academy in Philadelphia, Pa., Chappell Elementary in Green Bay, Wis., and Loris Elementary in Horry County, S.C.
I described the schools in more detail here on EdSurge. These students are wickedly fluent in technology. What gets them excited about learning, however, are not the gadgets they have but what they do with them.
We didn't have much time to prepare for the hangout. A few minutes before we went live, I told the teachers and students that I'd ask them to describe a couple of their favorite projects. The kids were giggling and whispering; I wondered whether we'd be able to fill a half an hour.
When the cameras began to roll, however, the students were poised, articulate, funny and frank. Loris students described projects that involved creating a book about what they found at the beach and building Glogster presentations about Civil Rights. Some of Chappell's students studied problems in the Sudan--and then raised $500 to build a well there. Other Chappell students investigated charges of child labor. And every student at the Science Leadership Academy had a unique and impressive project, from building websites, online portfolios and games, to exploring the science behind local transit using probeware to scripting and filming their own movies and plays.
There were no gimmicks. No single technology vendor could take credit for what the students in these schools were doing. At the same time, the teachers needed all the support that technology could muster to support the array of projects that the kids were doing.
"Kids are owning their learning. Even in kindergarten, they're not saying, 'So what?' They're taking action and understanding they have a role in this world," says Chappell Principal Kris Worden. "When we can trust in ourselves to release to the kids, the learning and power will come in."
Students put it another way: "We've learned to be self-reliant," said a student at the Science Leadership Academy. When students couldn't find a teacher able to answer or guide them through a knotty problem, they sought out tutorials and videos online. A Chappell fifth grade student was equally clear: "We don't just do a report and then we're done with it. We do multiple things, we dig deeper and kind of challenge ourselves."
Project-based learning "allows kids entry points where they are. That's incredibly important," says Chris Lehmann, founder and principal of the Science Leadership Academy. "If you are ready to accelerate, you can run with it. A kid who needs more basic skills can go at a different pace. A project is done when it is has met everyone's expectation. A student has a sense of completion about it."
As chief executive of EdSurge, which is providing news and a database of resources all about education technology, I’m devoted to sharing best practices -- in the hopes that they help speed progress everywhere. I’ve learned that no single remedy will fix everything. Teachers, parents, government and tech companies all have huge roles to play. And only by working together can full success take hold.
These schools are unusual--but not alone. Just before our hangout went live, President Obama visited the fourth on my list of standout districts: Mooresville Graded School District in North Carolina. Last year Mooresville was the second-highest achieving district in North Carolina, even though it ranged in the state’s bottom 10% in funding per student. In fact, the Google hangout came about because President Obama traveled to Mooresville Middle School to announce the ConnectEd initiative, a commitment to getting high-speed bandwidth into just about every school in the country within the next five years.
We expect to hear more about such schools in the future--and to share those stories. How can you be anything but excited when you hear a fifth grader say: "We don't just do a report and then we're done with it. We do multiple things, we dig deeper and kind of challenge ourselves."
Originally Posted On: Linked In By: Betsy (Elizabeth) Corcoran
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