Transformative Learning Experiences

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Jocelyn J. Todd, director of Instructional Technology at Cary Academy

This past week, I had the chance to visit several schools implementing blended learning in the Research Triangle near Raleigh, NC with a group of project LIFT leaders. While touring great institutions such as Cary Academy or Centennial Magnet Academy , the same reassuring trends surfaced:

  • Each of these school’s vision centers on great teaching and meaningful individualized learning experiences, not on putting a computer in front of every student
  • Great teachers can truly transform the learning experience of students with their technology and they can expand their impact on the entire staff when given the right structure and time to do so
  • None of these schools want instructional decisions to be taken away from their teachers and put solely in the hands of adaptive software. They smiled every time we asked them this question
  • Students are way beyond the point of finding it cool to learn with their tablets or computers. They can call your bluff (to be polite) when you drop an activity on their device that is not suited to their current needs. They are not passive consumers of technology anymore and they own their learning path

I find these 4 trends extremely reassuring and along the lines of what we have been observing after one year of blended learning at Ranson IB  middle school.

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Leslie Williams, Math Teacher and Instructional Technology Facilitator at Cary Academy

Our vision behind blended learning is to empower our excellent teachers so that they can expand their reach while differentiating their instruction more effectively. Technology is just one of the mediums of this change process. Creating an Opportunity Culture around this movement is another one, as it will help our best teachers see a path for professional growth and expanded impact within our school instead of seeking it elsewhere, often outside of the education world. For multiple reasons, the teachers we met at Cary Academy and Centennial Magnet seemed so proud to be part of this movement and miles away from considering leaving the school or the profession. They felt respected and valued. They carried themselves as if they were college professors. A career in education seemed possible to them and nothing to be ashamed of.

Why should we give up on the idea that all our public school teachers in North Carolina could see themselves this way?

When we give up on this idea, you know who else we are leaving behind to pay the bill for our lack of courage? Our students first and especially the ones who are born in a zip code where it is a constant battle to attract and retain excellent teachers. And if our students are hurt, our entire society will eventually have to pay the tab.

Teachers and Leaders of our schools work so hard to take two steps forward and they often have to take three steps back when their best colleagues leave. We have an immense responsibility to stop this bleeding and start building a new culture of growth and opportunities.

At Cary Academy, I was particularly struck by our meeting with an outstanding History teacher, Michael McElreath. His high school class is a blend of online learning and face to face instruction. He showed us these mind blowing projects where students were designing 3D models and blueprints of monuments honoring our veterans in Washington, DC. Their projects were supposed to convey in their architecture and design what a particular war had meant for these soldiers and the American people. In one of the memorials to honor WWI veterans, you would walk through a trench and as you climbed out you would see the WWII memorial right away. Why? Because, as the student explained in his research paper, in the conditions of the World War I peace treaty, already lie the roots of World War II…

I was speechless, blown away by the quality of the thought process of this high school student. I was also impressed by how the technology helped him integrate his ideas into a 3D model. It really was a transformative use of technology in a challenging learning experience conceived by a fantastic teacher. I first smiled, thinking I would have loved to take his class. I even laughed thinking I may actually have failed it as it was so rigorous and creative. Quickly, my emotions changed and I started feeling sad and somehow angry. I was mad and I still am today. Writing this post helps me dealing with this emotion. It is nothing personal against this great teacher and his students. I am happy they can have this life changing learning experience. I would not take anything away from this as it is a snapshot of Project Based Learning in all of its beauty. Far from me also is the idea that it is easier for him than it is for us to design this learning path. Only a fool would think that teaching at this level of rigor does not require hours of work and an immense amount of brain power.

My emotion and my anger simply come from the realization that all our students could also have a similar experience in our schools from pre-K to the end of High School if we committed to drastically change the way we attract, support and reward our teachers. Don’t get me wrong, students still have this chance multiple times throughout the decade or so they spend in our schools, they often have it at Ranson IB right now with talented teachers who work endlessly to ignite their flame for learning. How many times along the way however, do our kids still suffer from having one of their favorite teachers leaving the school? How many times is the word vacant still on their beginning of the year schedule or showing on the door halfway through the year?

Imagine if we could build a culture in all of our schools that would ensure that our amazing teachers want to continue to teach and grow within the organization… Now imagine the impact it could have on the learning of all our students, their High School and College graduation rate. This is the culture we are trying to build at Ranson IB and in project LIFT and I am proud to be part of this movement. Will we succeed? Time will tell but at least I am at peace with the idea that we are fighting for this change with all the energy and passion we have every day. Will you join the fight?

Romain

(Proud) 6th and 7th grade Math Multi-Classroom Leader

Ranson IB middle school

A Project LIFT school

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About htdcompletely

Math Multi-Classroom Leader at Ranson IB middle school. Passionate about teaching and helping others grow in their teaching practices.
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