Tag Archives: blended learning

Online Learning: A Middle School Student’s Perspective

Boring Traditional Class

As people (ed tech investors perhaps?) praise K-12 schools that require students to take at least one course online, I am left wondering, who really benefits from this… Maybe one day soon, online courses will be engaging and superior to an outstanding classroom-based experience, but I have yet to see one that is any better than the traditional classes being taught by routinized teachers.

If only the online course designers were building off a student-centered, problem-based, interesting class model instead of the ‘sage on a stage’, monkey-see-monkey-regurgitate-on-assessments model depicted at right.

During the 2011-2012 school year, 8th grader, David Kang Myung Yang, learned pre-calculus through a self-paced, online course offered by Thinkwell.

An enthusiastic and brilliant Williams College professor doled out mini-lectures accompanied by animations and graphics.  The ‘class’ included a variety of practice problems, self-assessments, graded assessments and review activities.

Here’s David’s views on the experience:

Since my school was not able to create a block for a one-on-one math class, I took an online pre-calculus course. The online class was pretty good and included several mathematical problems and a well-categorized system that was helpful when you needed to find a specific theorem or information.

However, several parts of the program were disappointing. First, the program sometimes skipped some proofs of a theorem. Also, I was not able to ask questions at the moment when I had one. Another thing I missed while taking the online program was that I was not able to have a class with other students where we would discuss about a question together and talk about their ideas on the problem.

How the class always started with a man explaining theorems on a monitor screen made math class boring compared to a lively classroom. Also, most questions in the program were just a direct application of a theorem which made problem solving unappealing compared to a hard and complicated math problem that requires a lot more thinking than just applying a theorem directly. 

9/11 and NYC’s iSchool

9-11 MemorialBorn from the joint visions of two progressive educators, the iSchool is an amazing program.  Founders Alisa Berger and Mary Moss were handed only one design parameter from New York’s DOE – rethink high school. After spending some time there last spring, I can confirm, mission accomplished, high school re-thunk.

The school is focused on two distinct goals:

1) Preparing students for state tests, and

2) Developing critical thinking, independent learning, and other goals that are not measured on state tests, but are relevant for success beyond high school.  

They chose these goals after interviewing 200+ high school teachers and countless graduates of their middle school (Mott Hall II), who were enrolled in college.

Goal #2 is reached by engaging students in MODULES, also called challenge-based learning. The 9-week, interdisciplinary explorations immerse students in ‘real world projects’ for two hours, daily.  Talk to any student at iSchool and you will hear enthusiastic praise for the Modules; they are hands-down the highlight of the program.

I have been thinking about one of iSchool’s Modules today…Called Voices and Memories, it relates to September 11.

Students experienced a seminar-like class giving them foundational (historical) knowledge moving through time from 9/11/01 backwards to the Crusades, investigating conflict and connections between Islamic/Western civilizations. Then, the students chose a part of the world to study and analyze the reaction to 9/11 there. Next, they conducted video conferences with students in that part of the world to get their feedback on drafts of the 9/11 Memorial. Finally, they reported their findings back to the Memorial committee, which incorporated student analysis into the Memorial plans.  Now, student work is part of the 9/11 Museum archives and is on exhibit at the Tribute Center.

What’s cool in schools?

Students at High Tech Middle San DiegoThe kids.  Definitely.  Have you ever heard, “That is a great school, fantastic program, but the kids…eh, horrible, really what a terrible bunch” ?

A school is only as great as its students.  Beautiful building, top-of-the-line technology, every curricular resource imaginable, teachers with master’s degrees and credentials… all add up to nothing if kids are bored, not learning, and counting the minutes until they are ‘free’ from school grounds.

In this blog, I’m taking it as a given that the kids are the coolest part of the school. Therefore, I consider a ‘cool school’ one which recognizes this fact and puts student needs front and center. In other words, a ‘cool school’ strives to provide engaging learning experiences and a healthy community designed to bring out the best in the kids. And by ‘best’ I mean, achievement on the standardized tests tax payers have been spending millions on, and also visible signs that students are developing and exhibiting qualities we know are truly valuable – curiosity, thoughtfulness, responsibility, focus, creativity, perseverance, discipline, grit.

In this blog, I hope to highlight those places – an entire school, a single school component, a particular class, or a moment in time – worthy of an Academy Award in creating these types of learning environments.

If you know of any cool schools, please send that info my way.