Caro­line schools chang­ing how stu­dents are taught

Times-Record - - News - By ABBY ANDREWS aan­drews@car­o­line­times­record.com

RIDGELY — Par­ents of Caro­line County Pub­lic Schools stu­dents were in­vited to North Caro­line High School on Thurs­day, March 30, to learn about a new method of teach­ing to which county schools will con­vert over the next two years.

The method, de­vel­oped by Learn­ing Sci­ences In­ter­na­tional, shifts from tra­di­tional teacher-fo­cused meth­ods to a stu­dent-cen­tered model that en­cour­ages the de­vel­op­ment of skills needed for good-pay­ing jobs in the new econ­omy: Team­work, face-to-face com­mu­ni­ca­tion, crit­i­cal think­ing and per­sis­tence in the face of fail­ure.

In­terim Su­per­in­ten­dent Dr. Pa­tri­cia Sae­lens said the school district de­cided to make the change af­ter two years of re­search and site vis­its to other schools al­ready us­ing it.

Michael Toth, founder and CEO of Learn­ing Sci­ences In­ter­na­tional, said just since the 1950s, the econ­omy has not evolved — it has trans­formed com­pletely.

In the ‘50s, peo­ple could sup­port a fam­ily by work­ing on an au­to­mo­tive as­sem­bly line, for in­stance, Toth said, a job that re­quired be­ing able to com­plete repet­i­tive, directed work in iso­la­tion and val­ued con­form­ity, ac­cu­racy and ef­fi­ciency.

Today, those jobs are be­ing re­placed by au­to­ma­tion, Toth said; of the re­main­ing task-ori­ented jobs, half are ex­pected to be au­to­mated in the next five to 10 years.

In­stead, peo­ple make good money in jobs like pro­gram­ming and de­sign­ing, work­ing as teams with lit­tle su­per­vi­sion.

But class­rooms, on the other hand, have stayed largely the same since the early 1900s, Toth said. Stu­dents sit in rows fac­ing the teacher, mostly work­ing in­di­vid­u­ally. Tech­nol­ogy has ad­vanced — smart­boards have re­placed chalk­boards — but teach­ers use the same tech­niques they have for gen­er­a­tions.

“The world out­paced education’s evo­lu­tion,” Toth said. “We train teach­ers to teach old skills, but we have to catch up with the econ­omy now.”

Toth said his method uses team-based learn­ing in­stead of lec­ture-based. Stu­dents work in teams, of­fer­ing their opin­ions, learn­ing to ac­cept crit­i­cism, giv­ing con­struc­tive feed­back and find­ing out fail­ure is not the end, but rather a path­way to learn­ing.

“It sets them up for suc­cess for life,” Toth said. “It’s the same aca­demics, taught in a dif­fer­ent way.”

Sae­lens said in Caro­line County, all teach­ers will un­dergo a day of train­ing and two days of in-class coach­ing.

Learn­ing Sci­ences In­ter­na­tional will have a team in the county to work with teach­ers, in grades kin­der­garten through 12th, and help prin­ci­pals learn how to en­cour­age their teach­ers. Each school will get a per­son­al­ized im­ple­men­ta­tion plan and its own coaches.

One of those coaches will be Amy Du­jon, the prin­ci­pal of a Florida ele­men­tary school that adopted the new teach­ing method over a two-year pe­riod.

Du­jon said the shift trans­formed not only how the stu­dents learned, but also the re­la­tion­ships be­tween stu­dents and teach­ers, par­ents and teach­ers and even par­ents and stu­dents.

One of the most re­mark­able out­comes, Du­jon said, was how the team-based learn­ing en­cour­aged stu­dents with spe­cial needs and learn­ing dis­abil­i­ties to speak up, par­tic­i­pate and learn at the same rate as their gen­eral education and gifted peers.

“This jour­ney your district is go­ing on is a gift,” Du­jon said. “It will be a muddy first year. You will get frus­trated as ad­min­is­tra­tors, teach­ers and par­ents. But as you per­sist, stu­dents and teach­ers will grow ex­po­nen­tially.”

Sae­lens said most of the cost to im­ple­ment the pro­gram will be cov­ered by a $3.75 mil­lion grant over the next five years and Ti­tle II fund­ing.

“The cost to the district will be min­i­mal,” Sae­lens said. “But we are in­vest­ing in peo­ple.”

A par­ent asked how the Com­mon Core cur­ricu­lum fits into the new teach­ing method.

Sae­lens said the cur­ricu­lum and stan­dards have not changed, but the new teach­ing method will make it more likely stu­dents will be able to achieve them.

“We (as a school sys­tem) haven’t got­ten there yet,” Sae­lens said. “It’s not the teach­ers’ fault, be­cause this is how they were trained.

“We need to let stu­dents en­gage with each other,” she said. “These are all things Com­mon Core wants, plus skills we hear from busi­nesses kids need (for em­ploy­ment.) Test scores are im­por­tant, but they’re not ev­ery­thing.”

Caro­line County Board of Education mem­bers en­thu­si­as­ti­cally sup­port the move.

“This is a sys­temic change in the delivery of in­struc­tion in Caro­line County,” said Vice Pres­i­dent Tol­bert Rowe. “This will touch ev­ery teacher, ev­ery class­room.”

“I wouldn’t have voted for this if I didn’t be­lieve in it,” said board mem­ber Louise Cheek. “Talk to your neigh­bors and friends, and tell them we’re mak­ing good changes that will help the stu­dents.”

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