Saturday, July 14, 2007

Dewey System Dumped to Keep Young People Engaged

How can you create an inviting, appealing library environment for young people?

Organize books within ten broad categories was Mr. Melvil Dewey's strategy over one hundred years ago. Since then, librarians around the world have organized their collections under Mr. Dewey's system. Maybe you even recall card catalogs - wooden drawers filled with dusty cards.

Now the fifteen library Maricopa County Library District system in Arizona is dumping the Dewey system. It has adopted the Barnes and Nobles strategy of organizing books by subject into "neighborhoods".

Neither will you find stiff wooden chairs that seem obligatory at so many libraries. Furnishings, couches and soft chairs, at the system's Perry branch library exude comfort.

Featured books include Paris Hilton's "Confessions of a Heiress" and Chris Gardner's book "Pursuit of Happyness", the basis of Will Smith's recent movie.

If the bookstores have figured how to engage kids and young adults, I encourage our libraries to see if that model fits them as well.

Saturday, June 30, 2007

Small NYC High Schools Deliver Big Graduation Rates

This is crucial, I mean stand-on-the-mountain-top-and scream crucial. New York City 'small high schools' significantly beat the graduation rates of its regular school cohorts.

How about a graduation rate difference of 18 points? The small high schools, often embedded in failing larger high schools, had an average graduation rate of 73 percenter comparied to 55 percent. I think of that difference as thousands of children who now have the potential to go to college, lead more meaningful and economically advantaged lives.

What are they doing right? Schools Chancellor Joel Klein remarked, "We've got to tell everyone in the country to throw away excuses and throw away low expectations."

Many of the small schools focus on a particular vocational area such as aerospace, computers and health careers. It is this specialization, I believe, along with the subtle messages that kids are expected to succeed that makes these programs winners.

Who would want a product that works only 55% of the time? It's time for school districts across the country to closely examine the success of New York's small high schools. Every year that youth drop out of school without a diploma is another year of pushing more lives with limited potential onto our streets and our governmental support systems.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

From Special Ed to Mission Control - All He Needed Was A Chance

This is a feel good story. After sifting through today's news of guts and gore, I need a feel good story. How about you?

Dale Mezzacapa of the Philadelphia Inquirer reports that as a youngster, Jarmaine Ollivierre entered special education when his mother recognized his hyperactivity required special services. She was a single mom but provided a stable home life for Jarmaine, his sister and disabled brother.

Blessings abounded as he was placed at a school where philanthropist George Weiss promised post-secondary scholarships through his Say Yes to Education program.

Jarmaine was subsequently matched with a mentor at Boeing and received placements at various aerospace instutions, including two years' employment at Morton Thiokol.

Jarmaine, the special ed kid, earned bachelors degrees in aeronautics and physics, followed by a master's degree from Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University.

He is now a flight engineer in Mission Control, a place he only dreamed of as a child.

To borrow a phrase, all he needed was a chance.

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Low Tech Math Means Big Fun for Students

You may think that in order to reach today's teens and middle schoolers, technology must be part of the equation.

Here's an example of a teacher in York, Pennsylvania who has developed a math activity using NASCAR racing.

Tom Baughman's students work in teams, using rulers, tape measures, calculators and protractors to complete a packet of questions. They then measure parts of the car. Calculating aspects of car travel such as distance is also part of the game.

Although I am not a fan of NASCAR (apologies to those of you who are), but I think Mr. Baughman's math activities contains two key components of engaging students in education.

  1. Hands-on learning beats textbook learning. The stickiness of hands-on learning brings a higher degree of retention. I'm sure these are lessons that the students will remember as they advance to higher levels of learning.
  2. The learning context, NASCAR racing, is relevant to students. Best of all, NASCAR racing should engage male students, who seem prone to disengage themselves from the learning process.
Now let's go back to my first point in this post? You don't have to have technology to successfully engage students in learning. A checkered flag to Mr. Baughman for making math come alive for his students.

Saturday, May 19, 2007

Another example of a high school - college program

I'm noticing a trend that's got me very excited. I wrote in a previous blog about high schools that are offering combined diploma and associates of arts degrees. The program seems to be particularly effective with struggling students.

Evanston Township High School, just north of Chicago, is going to be launching a similar program in conjunction with Oakton Community College. This is a nationally ranked college that offers a rich program in technology and the arts.

The Evanston Roundtable reports that the ETHS board has just approved an arrangement to combine its Adult and Continuing Education program with other area high school districts which have formed an Alliance with Oakton.

This trend should be watched closely. Is it the magic elixir to keep students engaged yet guided on a path toward a meaningful future?

I'll keep you posted.

Monday, May 14, 2007

School (as we know it) Is Out Forever

Across the pond in Merseyside, England, high school is being redesigned. It's not a partial redesign but a total, throw-the-old-model-out-the-window redesign, reports Richard Gardner of the Independent newspaper.

All eleven secondary schools will be closed within two years, replaced by seven "state of the art, round the clock, learning centres with the aid of Microsoft".

The model tailors the day's assignments to the exact needs and interests of a student. Home learning is also part of the model even the schools will have a greatly expanded school day, including weekends.

This is what I call ground-breaking, literally and figuratively!

How did Microsoft come to choose to become Merseyside's educational benefactor? I'm not sure but Bill and Melinda Gates already had a relationship with the nearby Liverpool School of Tropical Diseases to which they've donated millions of dollars for research on malaria.

Saturday, May 12, 2007

Cheating 2.0 - Cheating Upgraded is Cheating Nonetheless.

Let's see, what was cheating back in the day? Scribbling notes on our wrists, or the understide of baseball caps, or the tops of shoes.

Now in the new millenia, the goal is the same but the cheating technology has been upgraded.

Cheating has gone high tech. Cell phones, PDA and online term papers all are co-conspirators.

But professors are fighting back. Here's some ways that professors and educational institutions are reducing the odds of cheating electronically:

  • Turning off wireless access points during tests
  • Insisting all electronic devices are stored during tests
  • Running papers through to detect plagarism

Best of all was a sting run by professors at University of Maryland's College Park campus. Professors posted an incorrect version of the answers on a website that could be accessed via cell phone during the test. Those students who submitted those answers on the test were sussed out and flunked.