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Educators Across Borders: Principals Who Study Abroad

October 26, 2011

Did you know that high school principals in Brazil are elected to their positions? Neither did I. And neither did Susan Wistrand, principal at Kingston Middle School in Kitsap, Washington.

Susan is participating in a study abroad program like no other, in which principals from Brazil tour schools throughout the U.S. as part of an international education administrator exchange program organized with the U.S. State Department. Poulsbo Middle School Principal Matthew Vandeleur, who will travel to Brazil next summer, states in this article, “A big piece is looking at not just how instructors teach, but looking at what are the commonalities that we share and recognize, and the challenges, and see how we address those.”

The ability for educators to share best practices across international borders, and learn about each others’ administrative customs could prove to be an invaluable tool in shaping a more integrated global curriculum. Not to say that one system is better than the other, but a major difference is that when students in Brazil turn 14, they choose which track their studies will take — either college preparation or vocational. In the U.S., students tend not to decide on any particular track until they are already in college.  Another interesting difference, and luckily one that we do not have to deal with for economic reasons (for now), is that some high schools in Sao Paulo are “open morning, afternoon and evening to allow students with either full-time or part-time jobs to attend the required five hours of classes per day.”

While our educators may not face all of the same challenges on a daily basis, it is essential that they collaborate like the ones in this program. Even if it doesn’t reap benefits in the immediate future, the key is that it promotes innovation. Or in the words of Principal Vandeleur, “it really deepens my thinking about the profession.”
What else can you ask for.

Inside the Studio Classroom: A New Way to Learn

October 19, 2011

Do you remember when I wrote this article?


The gist of which was that our education system at the K-12 level could be improved if we treated it more like higher education. In graduate school, “experiential learning” is the name of the game, yet high schools still rely on boring perch-and-preach lecture methods. Especially at a younger age, when students’ minds are more malleable (and prone to wander), it is that much more important to engage them interactively rather than passively. Well, I am happy to announce that at least one K-12 institution, Bishop Moore Catholic High School in Orlando, FL, has heard my cry.


According to this article in the Orlando Sentinel, students at Bishop Moore are taking a more active role in their classes, while teachers act more as supervisors rather than direct leaders. They call it a “studio” classroom, in which students work in small groups, occasionally asking for advice or direction but not for answers. This subtle switch can have huge implications on the long-term success of these students. Compared to a traditional, passive lecture, where students look to their teachers for the quick and easy solution, the studio classroom encourages them to work together to discover their own answers.


As the Sentinel article states, “students work together on problems at the computers and on the boards while he [the instructor] roams the room serving as the “guide on the side.” When they ask him a question, they get to see not a rehearsed example from a lecture, but how an expert approaches these physics problems.”


This same system that students at Bishop Moore Catholic High School call the studio classroom has been successfully implemented at top universities such as MIT. So why are there only about half a dozen high schools around the country doing the same thing? If the objective of high school is to prepare you for college, and the objective of college is to prepare you for the real world, why not integrate all three?


Back to Bishop Moore, at this point in a regular class, admitted one student – Stephen Long, “I’d have my head down.” The benefits of “active learning” touted by school administrators and teachers, Stephen added, seem to be true.

Case closed.


Next Generation Job Creation: What’s Your Major?

October 12, 2011

As you would expect, the most popular major among college students today is a business degree. With the U.S. unemployment rate struggling just to stay in single digits, a business degree is perceived to give oneself the best odds for finding a job straight out of college. While this may be true in the short term, will a bachelor’s in business really give you an edge in the long run?


Many educators believe that the best college majors for long-term success are in the STEM fields – science, technology, engineering and math. According to Career Builder, the most promising majors will be related to cyber-security specialists, mobile app developers, social media managers, genetics counselors, robotics technicians and simulation engineers.


Of course there is a business behind each of these industries. But the people in power won’t be the CEOs in pinstripe suits; it will be the skilled workers with the training and talent to create.


What is the common thread between all of these jobs of the next decade? Few of them even existed last decade. Cathy Davidson, author of Now You See It: How the Brain Science of Attention Will Transform the Way We Live, Work, and Learn, predicts that “65 percent of today’s grade-school kids may end up doing work that hasn’t been invented yet.”


The U.S. is obviously not an industrial nation anymore. Our economy is in flux, and the job market will need to transform in order for this country to rebound. So if the jobs of tomorrow don’t even exist today, why is our education system built around training students for yesterday?

Paving the Way to a Global Curriculum

October 6, 2011

There’s no substitute for studying abroad. The personal growth that comes with immersing oneself in a foreign culture is simply unmatched. But study abroad programs aren’t cheap. So how do we integrate classrooms across borders so that international students can engage on a regular basis even if they can’t visit one another’s national landmarks? A company called ePals has one solution.

According to this recent press release, ePals’ “LearningSpace connects approximately 700,000 classrooms in 200 countries via integration with the Global Community, a K-12 social learning network where students and educators can find educational resources and connect with classrooms around the world for collaborative projects.”

Again, there’s no substitute for the sensational experience of strutting into the Smithsonian’s large entrance hall and smelling the history firsthand. But taking a virtual tour online isn’t half bad. Or consider learning about climate change and how it affects the planet by allowing students to compare their own personal experiences and opinions with other students around the world.

There is nothing astonishingly innovative about what ePals is doing with their Global Community, but it’s a good sign to see that there are more tools cropping up that connect classrooms globally. Because the first step in creating a truly integrated international curriculum is building the infrastructure to support it. And online communities such as the one built by ePals are paving the way.


Imagine Tomorrow: Learning in the 21st Century

October 4, 2011

Between 10th and 11th grade I attended Keyboarding Class for summer school. Of course, I was already QWERTY-proficient, but it was a mandatory credit I needed to graduate from high school. Today, in some Colorado public schools, students are tasked with creating a podcast that they can post to a class blog in order to show that they can both create media presentations and critically analyze them. Quite a leap in technological rigor from a simple keyboarding class…especially when you consider that these students are 4th graders.


The basic functions of technology that we had to learn just ten years ago are now second nature to a new generation of students that have grown up with it from birth. Which is why it’s great to see the Colorado school system adopting a curriculum they call “21st Century Learning Skills.”


When politicians talk about the need to educate our workforce for the jobs of tomorrow, this is where it all begins. And we don’t have to wait idly for inefficient government officials to make it happen. Imagine Tomorrow, a family-run company out of Denver that creates computer classes for kids under the age of 8, is already using online games to teach students the concepts of computer code, typing and cloud computing.


According to Laura St. John, vice president of Imagine Tomorrow, they are teaching young minds sophisticated concepts so that at the elementary-school level, they are already setting the foundation that technology is a tool, not just a toy.

Learning from the Libyan Revolution

September 21, 2011

You can’t leave the house these days without hearing news about Libyan rebels or Moammar Gadhafi’s disappearance. Nearly every headline reads of revolution in the streets, but few mention the effects of this revolution on the other side of the curb; in the classroom.


As you would expect, a country controlled by a self-absorbed dictator is bound to have a biased education system. So, as Gadhafi’s reign continues to crumble, a revolution in the classroom in inevitable. And according to this article in The Guardian, a change has already come. Teachers have begun teaching new material not covered in the previously universal textbook entitled “The Mind of Gadhafi,” and as for the students, 10-year-old Mofida Abdul-Hakim exclaimed in the article that “‘I am happy because the frizzhead has run away,’ , using a popular insult for the curly-haired Gadhafi.'”


When your country rids itself from decades of tyrannical leadership, such change is inevitably welcomed. Here in the U.S., while our economic woes are enough to stir turmoil on the news wire, it’s not enough to incite revolution in the classroom. And rightfully so…for the time being. But it has become apparent that the long-term “success” of this country hinges upon rehabilitating our education system, especially in the STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) fields.


Perhaps we should consider overhauling our entire education system as well. They Libyan’s have no other choice. Pretty soon, maybe neither will we.


As Seen in International Educator

September 20, 2011

Full-page advertisement for the Association of International Credential Evaluators in the NAFSA publication, "International Educator"