Education: Hot trends for fall

Written by Karen Long

With teachers, administrators, students and parents working furiously in the wings to prepare for the new school year, what's on the runway for primary and secondary education in the fall season of 2017? We went straight to local schools for a sneak preview of all the hot trends, like student-centered learning, hands-on learning, technology becoming more integrated into curriculum and the growing emphasis on real-world experience.

Student-Centered Learning

Underlying most of the trends is a new way of thinking that puts students at the core of the learning process. Khristi Bates, The Independent School's Head of Lower School explains: From our youngest four-year-olds through high school seniors, our students collaborate with teachers on their education. They have an opportunity to share in the classroom decision making, and are afforded more choice.

When students move to the center, other education elements begin to shift around them, things like the role of the teacher, the learning environment and how they all interact.

Teacher's roles have changed from the traditional stand and delivermethod, says Bates. Teachers are being valued for more than what they know, but also for their creativity and ability to collaborate.Rather than lecturing in front of a row of desks, The Independent School provides for a variety of seating and workspace options in a classroom. This lends itself well to student-centered learning, offering students multiple opportunities to choose where they learn and work best. Teachers have noticed less need for behavior management and more time on task with the implementation of flexible seating.

You might not expect Andover eCademy, known for its online curriculum and teaching, to innovate when it comes to the student's physical learning environment. But Laura Fuller, marketing and project coordinator, says that the school actually offers a blended model, where the doors are open for students to meet with teachers or classmates. Andover eCademy turned their high school classroom into a coffee shop for a more relaxed and inviting atmosphere, and the results have been positive.

We used to have five kids who would come in every day to work on their stuff, says Fuller, and now we have 20-30 students who come in on a daily basis to do their homework, or meet with a teacher or see their peers. We've seen work productivity increase.

Project-Based Learning

As opposed to traditional subjects isolated in their separate silos, project-based learning integrates education by taking a multidisciplinary approach focused around one topic  and often pulls students together to work as a group.

This is effective for all age levels, says Khristi Bates of The Independent School. For instance, pre-kindergarten students love dinosaurs, so this topic could be incorporated into the curriculum. They will study all things dinosaur in depth from math, to reading, to science and art for several weeks, says Bates. In older grades, students may have an opportunity to choose which novel they study, and are given options to present their learning through alternatives such as choice boards, which allow students to leverage their strengths and learning styles.

At Honey Tree and Branches Academy, a private preschool, pre-kindergarten and elementary school, Founder and Director Kimberly Fielding says they've been integrating project-based learning for the past couple of years. She describes a project where students chose a president or first lady to research. Then they transformed themselves into a wax museum by dressing up as their subject and holding hand-made artifacts. At the push of a button the wax figure came to life and gave a presentation about their life history.

The students complete at least one project every nine weeks. We really feel that this helps prepare them for the future and for the world of employment, says Fielding, because most things in life are project based.

This fall Fielding is looking forward to stepping it up by adding more group projects  even one allowing students to choose their own groups and topics. I'm really interested to see the results when they have that kind of input, and predict that it will be even more effective.

Hands-on Learning

Putting students at the center and working on multi-subject projects naturally leads to another movement: hands-on learning that engages students, uses the tactile senses and is more supportive of kinesthetic learners.

Collegiate Headmaster Tom Davis says, even though his school still uses the college-prep curriculum they're known for, all levels of the school are supplementing with experiential learning. For instance, their middle school Innovation Lab is a terrific room with woodworking equipment, video equipment, textile-working equipment  all kinds of tools for kids to construct things, build things, dream of things, imagine things.

Instead of filling out a worksheet or writing a paper, students are sometimes given a real-world problem to solve, or an object to construct. For example, Davis tells the story of a sixth grade class who made reading chairs for the Lower School. They interviewed the teachers and designed chairs to coordinate with classroom themes, such as the whimsical illustrations of Dr. Seuss. The budding furniture designers sketched and built, went back to the drawing board and built some more. Finally they presented their finished masterpieces, along with an oral presentation of what they d learned, and what it was like to work together on a team.

That's not something you can specifically teach from a text book, says Davis.

Integrated Technology

Andover eCademy is a virtual school based on the technology of online learning  a model they see expanding.

There are more and more online classes in college, says Laura Fuller, and so we feel that we're a great stepping stone for that. Our kids are more prepared when they go to college and have an online class. They know what to expect, how to manage their time and how to turn in their assignments.

This fall the school will also debut its new multimedia studio, which is being stocked with professional-grade video and sound equipment. This will give teachers the capability to create high-quality videotaped lectures, and allow students to take advantage of the technology in their own projects. Teachers will also be able to broadcast live sessions  either to an entire class, or for one-on-one mentoring  with students responding to an interactive interface in real time.

The Independent School takes advantage of virtual learning by partnering with the oratory program at Ford's Theatre in Washington, D.C.. Professional teaching artists use Skype throughout the year to teach podium points in conjunction with the school's oratory instructors.

This remote learning opportunity breaks down the walls of the classroom and allows for learning to happen regardless of distance, says Khristi Bates.

This fall Honey Tree and Branches Academy will have class-wide computers in its school  a full contingent of laptops for the elementary classes and iPads for the kindergartners. By third grade students are expected to turn in their papers in some kind of Word or PowerPoint format, says Kimberly Fielding. But these kids are revving up technology for more than just Word or PowerPoint. They're also learning keyboarding and coding as well.

In the Upper School Innovation Lab at Collegiate, students are using computer-aided design to cut metal with a laser, a CNC machine to cut wood and a 3D printer to fabricate prototypes. During a genius hour students program robots to do various functions.

It's rigorous, says Headmaster Davisbut it's also focusing on problem solving and it brings in that hands-on element.

Real-World Experience

Davis says that one of his school's priorities is making sure students are exposed to relevant, real-world experiences. Pairing high school seniors with professionals to spend a day in the community, and sending students on field trips are two ways they accomplish this goal.

At press time a dozen eighth grade girls from Collegiate were visiting Silicon Valley, touring technology businesses like Google.

They're going to talk to female executives in those companies and hear about opportunities in the tech field. We're trying to encourage girls into a very growing field which they might otherwise not have looked into, says Davis.

An Ensemble of Ideas

The fall look puts students at the center, immersed in learning from head to toe. Ideas are flowing, technology is threaded through everyday lessons, connections are woven over a distance. Students are working in teams, creating projects in more flexible and varied environments, strutting their stuff and dressed for success.

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