There is a lot of good news in education-and it is happening
right in our own backyard. Schools big and small, urban and
suburban, are not only evolving their academic and learning
processes to keep up with the ever-changing needs of our students,
but they are leading the way with some of today's most innovative
new educational strategies.
Technology is King
Like many schools, Pope John XXIII School in Evanston has embraced
technology as a way to help their students become more efficient
learners. "Technology is the future, it is not going away," says
Rosalie Musiala. "If we want to prepare our students we need to
incorporate technology into the overall learning process." This
integration has included numerous upgrades to their computer
systems and other in-classroom technology, but it also includes
getting teachers more comfortable with using the technical tools
that are available. "Our entire staff is reading Brain-Based
Teaching in a Digital Age where we have learned how the changes in
technology-computers, iPads, iPods, etc.-have significantly changed
the makeup of the brain, " says Musiala. "As educators, we need to
not only understand those changes but embrace them."
Toward that goal, teachers at Pope John XXIII are trained on how
to incorporate numerous multimedia tools into their classroom
experience such as podcasts, animation and wikis. And, just so they
can feel as comfortable as possible, teachers are given a
membership to the Apple Store so they can have one on one learning
with experts. "It's not just about upgrading your technology, it is
also about upgrading the teacher expertise in using these new
tools," adds Musiala.
Even for the littlest of learners, technology is playing a key
role in the education process. "Little kids are very hands-on
learners, " says Patty Crylen, Early Childhood Program Director for
Avery Coonley School in Downers Grove. "They are great at observing
the world around them and you see it come out in their play.
Technology just enhances that hands-on learning experience."
The numerous learning apps available through products such as the
iPad have become educational tools. "We have access to hundreds of
great apps for our students," says Crylen. Teachers can actually
connect their iPads through a projector so its content is shown on
the classroom's Smart Board. This allows students to fully
participate in the activities such as counting objects or finding
letters. "Although the teacher is manipulating the screen, it feels
like the student is the one that is doing it," adds Crylen.
For both schools, technology has become the cornerstone for
improving parent/teacher communication. At Pope John XXIII,
teachers are required to fully utilize an online communication
system and are creating individual web pages that are connected to
the school's site while parents at Avery Coonley look inside their
student's "Smart Folder" to see a slide show of their child's daily
classroom experience. "This really opens the door for better
parent/teacher communication because it immediately shows parents
that the teacher really does know their child," says Crylen.
Creating Lifelong Skills
In addition to changes with technology, schools are also looking
at making changes to the way schools and curriculum are designed.
For many schools, moving toward a more holistic way of teaching
students is key to their future success outside of the classroom.
"Since regular participation in the types of programs that
emphasize increased use of visual and hands-on learning, our
students develop self-confidence, self-discipline and persistence,"
says Carla Burford of St. Dorothy School in Chicago. Some of the
programs that are having a big impact on students at St. Dorothy
School include OWL (Opening the World to Learning) Program from the
University of Illinois and the JiJi Mind Institute Program. Both
programs are based on scientific research into how students of
various ages learn best and have allowed students to not only grow
in their educational knowledge, but strengthen their
problem-solving and critical thinking skills.
In addition, students actively participate in programs such as
art, jazz and liturgical dance. "The skills and experience that
students develop by learning to perform and create provide a
foundation for the kind of literacy students must have to
communicate and work successfully in our ever-changing
technological society," says Burford. "Our children need to be able
to compete with others who have had the exposure to all of these
elements of education."
Teachers at Luther North College Prep are not only preparing
students academically, but are making sure they are career-ready as
well. Beginning next year, the school will be moving to an academy
model where everything students do in their classroom work will be
connected and grounded in one of three academy themes: Fine Arts,
Business and Health Sciences. "This new model integrates
standards-based academic and career technical curriculum," says
Shari Meyer, Executive Director of Luther North College Prep.
"While kids are still in high school we will be helping them
develop the skills they will actually use during their future
The academy model helps answer the question "why do I have to
learn this?" before the student even asks. "It really helps
students see how to apply what they are learning academically to
how they will use it in the real world," adds Meyer. While students
will still be required to take core classes such as English, Math
and History, they view all those subjects through the context of
their academy theme. "It adds relevance to the core information
they are receiving," says Meyer. That relevance is already showing
signs of improving a student's education. Although Luther North
College Prep will not officially begin their new academy model
until next year, the National Academy Foundation has completed
numerous studies to find that this type of educational balance
results in more kids staying in school and, more importantly, more
kids staying interested in being in school. "Today's students don't
want to just know the information, they want to know why they even
need it," says Meyer, who will be creating an advisory board of
local employers and post-secondary leaders to help advise and
mentor students and teachers. "It's project-based learning with
lots of different ways for students to be engaged inside and
outside of the classroom-all tying back to their core academics,"
Regardless of the methods used to help our students succeed inside
and outside of the classroom, educators all agree that change is
often necessary. "You kind of have to live in a little chaos in
order for learning to happen," adds Meyer.
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