I've read too many articles about students who, during a field trip to a park or wilderness area, were frightened by unfamiliar noises or the possibility that some beastie might creep up and devour them. It depresses me to think that many children -- and even supervising adults -- are so alienated from nature that they consider the outdoors to be an unpleasant or even hostile environment. Even more depressing is the fact that their aversion to the Great Outdoors is often learned behavior.
If you're going to set out to change the way people look at this place we call school, you had better be prepared to spend a great deal of time communicating your vision, the research you've done, and your implementation plans. It's important when you're looking for financial and political support, but it is most important when you're asking for the support of your parent community.
In my last entry, I described a favorite experience from my short teaching career: the opportunity to use free and freely available science manipulatives and materials to enable hands-on discovery in the classroom. It reminded me of one of the most remarkable learning environments I have ever had the pleasure to spend time in.
At a recent professional-development day, I challenged my colleagues to think about how we could reduce the number of students in our lower division (grades nine and ten) -- especially the ninth graders -- who fail high school courses. "What if we decided that failure is not an option, and that success is the only choice available to us?" I asked them.
While walking through my neighborhood recently, I noticed several large, colorful cardboard boxes in the back of a pickup truck parked in a driveway. Upon closer inspection, I recognized their labels: Each read "FOSS," the acronym for the Full Option Science System, a science curriculum developed about twenty years ago by staff at the Lawrence Hall of Science, a museum and learning center at the University of California at Berkeley.
When a colleague at another urban high school commented to me that because his students needed more structure, he no longer employs project-based learning, I replied that his decision presumes that PBL is unstructured.
Recently, a nationally recognized expert in classroom management visited the campuses of Envision Schools to help coach our teachers. Though he had plenty of advice about how we can make our learning environments more structured so student learning is accelerated, he was also effusive about the sense of respect he witnessed between students, between students and teachers, and between adults in the schools.
This is a guest posting from my colleague, Kyle Hartung, who has worked in small schools for ten years as a classroom teacher and instructional leader in New York City and the San Francisco Bay Area. As part of the Leadership and Instructional Team at Envision Schools, he coaches and facilitates professional development among school leaders and teachers.
Many people think of public charter schools as a way to increase student achievement and improve our public school system. However, many others believe charters divert resources from traditional public schools and don't meet up to accountability measures.