This post by Dr. Amy Peach, Director of Instructional Technology at Fontbonne University
Amy leads Design Challenges with her students at Fontbonne and this is her relfection from one recent challenge: school scheduling. How can we incorporate more "real-world" experiences into classrooms? Read the solutions her students came up with!
Ok, after quite a bit of in-class work and letting it fester for a while, I'm sharing the solutions that made it through the design challenge, several that didn't (but may be worth a look), and some resources they were sending after we were finished. The general consensus is that there is no one schedule (no matter how innovative) that will work for every school.
Subject-focused weeks: The idea that each day could center on one subject was explored by several and made it into the final plan for one group. The general premise is that Monday (for example) would be focused on Math. Students attend their classes as scheduled, but Math is integrated into each subject area in a way that demonstrates how it would be used within that discipline. Tuesday could be Science, etc. While these elementary teachers felt it could work for the schedule all year, some believed having periodic weeks like this would be more feasible.
Topic-focused day: another iteration of this idea manifested in a topic-focused day. These were early childhood majors, so they saw this in terms of something small kids might find fascinating, like frogs. On "frog day", they would sing about frogs in music, draw frogs in art, learn about frogs in either ecology or biology, do word problems in math using frogs as the subject....you get the idea. For older students, an area of specific concern for them (maybe a recent environmental disaster, social topic, etc.) can be selected and all faculty tailor a lesson to integrate that theme. This helps students understand that issues of importance transcend subject lines.
Group learning: One group decided to take advantage of concepts learned in multiple intelligences and break the school day into two parts. First half has students in study groups based on their learning tendencies as they relate to MI (musical students learn with other musical students, etc.). Second half breaks them into new learning groups with people who are quite different. While several members wanted to see this done all year, others saw benefit periodically. The concern stemmed from what they saw as a real world concern with people isolating themselves into only like-minded groups (something that is being facilitated by our technology use). While this particular scenario caused some debate, everyone agreed that getting students into mixed groups and holding them accountable for that learning was a real world skill.
Other concepts that were either runners-up or are a combination of ideas among several groups are below:
School designed for the real world: While students can leave the school for real world experiences, many of them can be replicated on the campus itself. School gardens, green houses, student-run businesses, auto repair shops, medical skills labs,
Fontbonne Day! This is a culmination of several ideas I heard. A school can partner with a local university to provide a day of real world learning (and to give teachers the opportunity to attend a conference or work together). Pre-service teachers can come to the school OR students can come to campus for a variety of learning experiences. This would take some work, but could be mutually beneficial.
Standards-driven learning: The possibility of student-created curriculum came up several times. If all students had devices and a portfolio system with the year's "real world" objectives loaded, students could select the open-ended learning opportunities offered each week and simply "check off" that item on their list. For example, if one of the objectives was to learn personal finance, they could attend a Friday afternoon workshop from a financial advisor in a classroom, but they could also opt to visit a bank, help their parents balance their own budget, or set up their own field experience to explore the costs of living. These things wouldn't necessarily have to be learned under the purview of the school if they can demonstrate through an artifact (video, digital photostory, paper, etc.) that they understand the objective. A lot to consider here, but an idea worth exploring further, I think.
Early release/support staff classes: Schedule early release days for school-wide PD in the afternoon and "club time" during the day. Each student selects a "club" to participate in that day. Support staff and admins (with the help of parents and volunteers) can coordinate field studies related to academic pursuits that don't require a certified teacher. One group can visit neighborhood stores and companies to learn about the role of small business in the economy. One can collect specimens from a local park and test them in the lab, etc. MRH does a modified version of this now (except the teachers monitor club days). Having support staff, admins, and community members running the show allows them to take part in the education of our students (making them more invested when it comes time to pass bond issues) and leaves the teachers to themselves (WITHOUT admins running workshops) so they can sort out their own issues in the classroom. When the others return, any issues that affect the entire school community can be discussed when the kids are released early.
Class/Extra-Curricular partnerships: Some classes could blend well with after-school activities. Getting teachers and advisors/coaches to collaborate could be useful.
Simple tweaks to offer a real-world experience:
a "no tech" space with only whiteboards that can be used for people to hold conversations and collaborate (the argument was that students are losing the ability to hold live conversations and they still need to know how to do that).
Virtual field trips and skype guest speakers
Mobile learning labs (STLCC, Mo Bot, and Beta Box in addition to many others offer to bring the party to you in the form of a RV or prototyping studio that can be parked in the school lot).
Expanding PE options beyond team sports (incorporate the way most people get exercise: running, yoga, bowling, ice skating, exercise classes, etc.)
A no-desk classroom (not so much real world as it is designed to encourage collaboration and creativity)
The students were adamant that any schedule changes or curriculum decisions involve the students and their parents (and not a sampling for a focus group, but a whole community survey). They believe that any radical changes will need the support of the community and they could also bring ideas teachers hadn't thought of.
They attempted to search for creative school scheduling options and were getting very frustrated. Everything they found was just a slight variation from what is already being used. The first article addresses a few unusual ideas and the second is actually a discussion forum that has some insight.
We want to know what you think of these options and how your school offers students real-world experiences. Leave us your comments below!