I'm always surprised when I speak with people who expect schools to innovate without support from the outside. Every innovative program I have been involved with has included strong partnerships with businesses, nonprofit organizations, and other community-based organizations. With a shared vision and purpose, partnerships between schools and the community have resulted in some powerful programs and practices.
My personal interests have led me to partnerships with many organizations in the following ways.
Task: Engage teachers, students, and their families in geographic-information systems (GIS) to enhance their science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) skills and develop a global awareness of the relationships among human health, the environment, community-planning efforts, entrepreneurship, and their own ability to become involved in community development and renewal.
I received funding to develop a GIS curriculum for middle school students. Using Garmin eTrex global-positioning-system receivers, we conducted a workshop led by a GIS expert in which middle school teachers were given the GPS devices and directed to use them on a scavenger hunt. The photos of the hunt show everyone totally engaged; the positive feedback was almost overwhelming.
I'll be happy to email the GIS curriculum I have developed to anyone who is interested.
Task: Improve the design and implementation of virtual courses that educate students about how to recognize their own cognitive-processing styles through experiential learning, demonstrations, and experimentation to master subject matter.
I designed projects around three styles of learning: visual, auditory, and kinesthetic. I then color coded these projects and had students choose the one that would best help them demonstrate the skill of mastery. At least once during the year, each student would have to do a project from one of the other two colors, forcing them out of their comfort zone and thereby allowing them to grow in these areas, too.
Task: To support innovative brain-research curriculum that teaches students the effects brain problems have on behavior and the important role nutrition plays in the health of their brains, which subsequently influences their ability to think and make intelligent choices.
Psychiatrist and brain-imaging specialist Daniel G. Amen worked with thirty-eight ninth graders at an alternative school in Orange County, California, to teach them about their brains. He held twelve student-information sessions (one hour each) with a hands-on activity (forty-five minutes each) and digitized his experiences in the classroom.
As the project director on a grant, I sponsored workshops after the curriculum had been tested for preservice and master teachers to learn about the science of the brain and how children integrate knowledge from their environment. Amen now offers this curriculum with videos of his classroom instruction and presentations of the research material.
Task: To model earth science and natural science curricula that highlight the global importance, impact, and urgency of preserving the fragile ocean, land, and space ecosystems of the Hawaiian Islands; one curriculum will use GIS handheld technology and Internet software to help Hawaiian students identify sacred sites and preserve them in their communities.
I have written several grants in this area that, because of government budget cuts, were not funded; however, I am going to implement this program on Oahu this year with a set of archaeologists who will work pro bono with teenagers.
I look forward to reading about your experiences in any of these areas. As an educator, I like to hear of new ideas, and I love to share them. Tag! You're it -- it's your turn to talk.