Monday, August 8, 2011

There is more we can do to help struggling schools. Here are some ideas.

Guest Post from Engaging Educators Ben Curran and Neil Wetherbee
What if Education Secretary Arne Duncan likened schools to “Ground Zero” where you worked?  Depressing right?  We (Ben Curran and Neil Wetherbee) work in that place.  Thankfully, in Detroit, Michigan district reorganization efforts are underway, but we wonder if the glacial pace of educational reform will be swift enough to rescue Detroit’s children? We are hopeful. But without a complete overhaul of the way we help kids learn and a commitment to technology integration, objectives which haven’t been mentioned at all by Detroit school administrators, we fear it may not happen. For this reason we believe there has to be more we can do to prepare our students for success.  

When I met The Innovative Educator after her ISTE presentation this summer and discussed some of the work we were doing, she invited me to share it with readers here who she believed would enjoy learning about the promising practices we were implementing in a struggling school district. Luckily, we work in a charter school district that’s prospering; one that’s doing things right. Our students are still held to the same state standards and must pass the same state tests, however, we are empowered by our school’s leaders to explore new ways of helping our students learn. We do this in many ways.  Here are some of them.
Our students all:
  • have individualized learning plans
  • design their own projects around topics that interest them
  • present their learning to their classmates throughout the year
Our students use 21st century tools of the real world.  They do the following:
  • Podcast
  • Blog
  • Create digital movies
  • Skype with other classes
  • Collaborate with schools around the world.
This “new” way of learning is by no means the sole key to unlocking student excellence--we are lucky to have amazing administrators, colleagues, parents, and students, too--but, when used effectively, technology, individualized learning, and innovative teaching approaches make a difference. They make a difference every day in our classrooms, our school and our district (we’ve boasted a 90-plus percent graduation rate in all four of our high school graduating classes so far). 

Detroit is not alone. Urban school districts across the country are failing to provide even the most basic of their students’ educational needs. Isn’t it time to become less tolerant of this situation? It’s time to become enraged at what’s being sacrificed--the education of our children and the future of our cities. There certainly has to be more we can do. There has to be more we all can do.

We are setting forth on a mission to discover exactly what “more” should be. Technology alone, of course, isn’t the answer, but it needs to play a much larger role than it does now. Revolutionizing our teaching methods should be part of the answer, too--more student-directed learning activities, more problem and project based learning, for starters. Part of our own “more” will be to share our ideas and experiments, including successes and failures, with colleagues around the country in forums like this. 

We want to work together with other urban educators committed to changing education in our cities and have put in place a few ways to do so.
Ben Curran and Neil Wetherbee are teachers in Detroit, Michigan. In addition, they work as educational technology trainers for their district. They recently founded Engaging Educators to help schools use 21st century tools to provide meaningful learning experiences for 21st century students.

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