Thursday, May 20, 2010

Rethinking the Paradigm - Scheduling

As it stands currently, students are, generally speaking, in school daily from 8-3, approximately nine months out of the year, with three months 'off' in the summer. Teachers and administrators juggle elaborate schedules to make use of the resources available to them, or lack thereof in many cases. And, for what? So that we can 'cover' material and students can take state tests that supposedly measure all of the information needed to ensure a child will be successful in the next grade level? Where is the excitement, the learning opportunity, the out-of-the-box thinking? Oh, we missed it because it occurred between 9:23 and 9:47, and that's all we can fit into the day. I have to apologize if I sound cynical because I don't mean to do so, it's just that I feel like some days I cannot breathe because we are so constricted by all the things that have to happen in a day or week or school year, we do not have time to learn about or do some of the things that we want to do or explore.

I have been thinking about this a lot lately, but I have been so busy with all of those things I 'have' to do that I have not had a chance to simply write. It's all been in my head. I have quite a bit to say, so I plan to address one or two topics at a time. I feel like our education system is trying to fit a square peg into a round hole.

Today, I had the pleasure of working with two classes of 1st graders as we attempted to finish a project we began several weeks ago. Mind you, school will be out for the summer in one week, so, one can imagine the level of focus and attention being given to the project. Our "I Can" project consisted of students writing 10-15 sentences about things that they 'can' do and which would be able to be communicated through still imagery. Once the students write down their ideas on paper, each student uses PowerPoint to type in the I can sentences from the list. Students then pair up and take pictures of each other doing the activities. I assist the students in downloading the pictures, and then the 1st graders insert their own pictures into the appropriate slides. The students choose their favorite font shape, size, and color, and then we import everything to PhotoStory so they can narrate their projects, and the teacher combines them all into one video the students can take home as a keepsake and portfolio addition. The kids love it. They are engaged and are so excited when they see their pictures and figure out how to listen to their voices and decide whether or not they should keep the audio clip or not. Generally speaking, it takes about one modeling session for the students to understand how to do each of the steps their own, and each step doesn't really doesn't take that long.

So, if it doesn't take that long, what is my point, and why am I about to complain? In theory it doesn't take that long, but when your are dealing with 1st graders, patience is more than a virtue! Additionally management is essential. The students must be engaged 115% of the time or chaos will evolve. What I am trying to say is that even though we started the project several weeks ago, it did not have to take weeks to complete. Had we been able to plan for a longer block of time at once, we could have completed the project more quickly and in less time overall. But, because we had to keep starting and stopping it took much longer than anticipated.

In the past, the square peg (learning environment) may have fit into the square hole (calendar), but when the learning environment changes with respect to resources and technology and the calendar changes with regards to real-time access to real-world experiences, why do we continue to use the same standard, and expect that we will derive an alternative result?

To me, it seems that completing the project in one or two longer sessions would have been more effective and productive than dragging it out over several weeks. However, we were working with the time and resources available. As teachers, we did the best we could with what we had at the time.

If we rethought the schedule in the school day and allowed for more flexibility in project based learning, teachers and administrators might be more effective in meeting students' needs.