Last month, an impressive assemblage of educators and policy wonks from around the globe gathered at Microsoftâ€™s campus in Redmond, Washington to discuss secondary education reform. Unlike the National Educational Computing Conference the week before, where Microsoft released two Kâ€“12 software apps, the World Summit wasnâ€™t a news-making event. But it certainly offered a lot of food for thought. Here are some highlights.
- Forget the future — what do students want from schools today? Taking up this question were four hyper-articulate teenagers representing www.TakingITGlobal.org, an online community that claims 75,000 student members. Although the teens hailed from different countries — India, New Zealand, Uzbekistan, and the United States — they shared remarkably similar visions for their ideal learning environment: one-on-one time with their teachers; the ability to manage their own learning; hands-on activities in and out of the classroom; and teachers serving as facilitators, not omniscient lecturers. â€œItâ€™s important for us to see teachers are learning with their students,â€ said Cherrie Kong, 19, from New Zealand. â€œItâ€™s no longer â€˜themâ€™ and â€˜us.â€™â€ Sound familiar?
- Theory is one thing, practice is another. Thus, an audience member from Philadelphiaâ€™s School of the Future, the high-tech dream school opening for business in 2006, posed this question: â€œWeâ€™re in the process of getting the curriculum together and creating a flexible one-to-one learning environment... Itâ€™s a quantum leap for educators. What can you suggest as professional development activities we can do to help staff become facilitators, not lecturers? Weâ€™re struggling with this.â€ Some ideas the teens offered: developing leadership training that teachers and students would take in tandem and rolling out professional development conducted by students or recent grads.
- We have seen the future, and itâ€™s in Australia. Tim Fitzgerald, principal of Fitzroy High School in Melbourne — which in 2001 was charged by Australiaâ€™s Minister of Education to â€œexplore and develop innovationâ€— described how the school structures teaching and learning.
- Students are organized into teams of 100 that are supported by eight to nine teachers. Each team is broken into smaller groups of 17 that meet for 25 minutes at the start — and 15 minutes at the end — of each day. These clusters are led by teacher advisers who develop, with input from kids and their families, personal learning plans for each pupil.
- Each team gets six work spaces: one double room, two single classrooms, a seminar room, a technology â€œpod,â€ and a locker area. According to Fitzgerald, 80 percent of studentsâ€™ time at school is spent in this geographical area.
- FHS holds three teaching sessions per day, with each session running 85 minutes. Faculty can tweak this schedule on a flexible basis according to team needs.
- All teachers use laptops supplied by the state. The student-to-computer ratio is 2:1 — no computer labs — and thereâ€™s full wireless capacity.
- Teachers are given 85 minutes per week to plan instruction and reflect on practice. Theyâ€™re also on the hook to engage in an action-research project each year based on student achievement data.
The School of the Future World Summit 2005 was held July 5â€“8 in Redmond, Washington.