Saturday, March 10, 2012

A Focus on the Essential

Systemically we have been working on identifying the most important ideas that are key to the vision and mission of the North Reading Public Schools.  The process of involving administrators, teachers, and school councils in this process has allowed all stakeholders to help define what is essential for the North Reading school community. 

Technology is one of the most challenging areas to focus as something cutting edge appears to be emerging every day.  This year as a district we have focused on the exploration of two main areas: the educational website as a means of extending classroom learning and the SMARTboard and iPAD tools as a way of increasing interactive classroom learning.  Many educators have been engaged in professional development and exploration of website design, SMART technologies, and iPAD trainings and are bringing this knowledge and experience to their classrooms. 

As a result, students are able to utilize classroom websites as a communication tool for assignments, activities, and as a resource for learning.  Teachers are including video clips to reiterate a lesson and links to sample solutions or practice problems that students can access from home.  Others are able to submit assignments through the dropbox and receive feedback from their classmates or instructor online.

In the classroom SMART and iPAD technologies are being used to engage the students in interactive lessons that require them to work together at the board and incorporate bodily-kinesthetic actions.  In a seventh grade history class students take photographs with their iPADs and transform themselves into their choice of prehistoric men and women using the Smithsonian app MEanderthal.  Talk about being able to put yourself in the middle of the learning!  As the students are hooked by the fun of the activity they are able to explore more about the history of our prehistoric relatives by following links to the Smithsonian website.

In Curriculum we have been working to clarify what is most important for our students to know and be able to do.   Using our new Mathematics and Literacy State Frameworks as a guide our educators have used their expertise to determine the most essential standards that all students should master at given points throughout the year.  These benchmarks for mastery will allow our educators to collect data about the progress all students are making towards these goals.

Defining which standards are most essential is a challenging task since all agree that everything is important for our students to be taught.  This is true, and yet when we consider the question of whether something is “nice to know” or essential for the next year, in other areas of learning, or for the rest of their life it allows us to focus on what is truly most important.  The Common Core State Standards (CCSS) believes that education must go deeper into fewer areas; that we must focus on the core knowledge. 

In instruction it is essential that we focus on the learner.  As we create opportunities for student-driven lessons we allow for our learners to become more involved in their own education.  Project-based and inquiry-based assignments challenge students to access prior knowledge and develop their collaborative, creative, and critical thinking skills.  Allowing students to become scientists, historians, mathematicians, critics, artists, athletes, and scholars creates within them the desire to become lifelong learners.  The student-driven approach instills within the learner the skills needed to seek out information on her own and builds upon her desire to obtain that knowledge. 

All of these activities share a common thread.  This is not about memorizing the answers for the test on Friday.  This is about making the link between today’s lesson and the career that awaits through the real-world connections to the assignment.  This is a focus on what is most essential for our students: developing a desire to explore the world around them and igniting a passion for life-long learning!

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