Thursday, December 30, 2010

Reflections on The Global Achievement Gap

The Global Achievement Gap provided great exposure to several topics: how students are living their lives outside school, what schools need to do to educate them more effectively, America's education system in comparison with other countries, and how we can (and must) become more competitive in the global market. I will reference a few points in the book that I thought were exceptional.

First of all, America's present-day youth are spending the majority of their time involved in structured activities: soccer practice, music lessons, organizations, and the like consume their "free time". When they are faced with "free time", many children (and adults alike) spend it engaged in some kind of electronic device. The most common, of course, is the computer. The Global Achievement Gap discusses how educators must harness these technological devices and put them to use in their classrooms. On page 173, it discusses how the stereotype of a "computer geek" is long gone. Eighty percent of preteens and teens use MySpace weekly. Children are great at multitasking, but there is considerable concern when they are faced with digging deeper into one topic.

The problem, according to The Global Achievement Gap, is not that our country is filled with poor teachers or low quality schools. The problem is that our schools and teachers are outdated. We must update our systems. Currently, our students are excellent at memorizing facts and data and the ability to regurgitate it. The issue that they face is that the global market and economy are requiring people to have skills that are not being taught in schools; skills such as problem solving, critical thinking, and communication.

Other countries around the world are preparing students by teaching them these skills. Japan has long been known for its teamwork mentality. They are expected to work as a team and solve problems as a team. The Global Achievement Gap suggests that America needs to do something similar. One vice president from Talent Management at Cisco System actually suggests that American schools need to throw out textbooks altogether because the answers to tomorrow's problems are not in yesterday's solutions (p.15-16). This is somewhat extreme, in my opinion.

Overall, the book did a great job of exposing me to new ideas that exist globally. I would suggest this book as a launching point for anyone interested in how America is competing with other countries globally. However, I did not feel that many solutions were presented. It was mostly pointing out problems but not offering much in the way of solutions.

Meagan's Final Reflection

The Global Achievement Gap focused on the 7 survival skills and what schools aren't doing to prepare students for the global world. The author talks a lot about project based learning and student centered instruction. The book also emphasizes that our schools are teaching to the test and knowledge based information, rather than focusing on using information to solve problems and create possible solutions. He discusses several charter schools who focus on these things and how successful they have been. (I would love to teach at one of these!)

I personally appreciated the flame this book lit under me. However, I feel a little bit like I am stuck between a rock and a hard place. I would love to use project based, individualized learning with each of my 100 science students, but I also need my students to know the state standards so they can do well on the test. If they don't do well, society looks at me as a poor educator and at the students as incompetent.

In conclusion, change needs to happen at the top before I can really grab hold of the 7 survival skills. Right now, I am teaching the standards to my students, because this is what has been required of me. Hopefully, in the near future, we can change our standards to accommodate the global world we live in, and we can do what's best for our students. Until then, I'll incorporate the survival skills as much as I can into my teaching.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Closing the Gap-Super Summary

This chapter is all about new and innovative schools. The schools which are showcased teach skills that are almost identical to the seven survival skills listed in the text. Some common themes of these schools that I noticed are:

1) Project-based learning
2) Smaller class sizes
3) Cross-curricular units of study
4) Field experience (internships)
5) Consistent student conferencing with EACH student
6) Individualized programs of study based on student interest
7) Community involvement and support
8) AND financial stability

I have to admit I started out quite skeptical of this book. However, I really feel that it has opened my eyes and made me really look at the way I teach. This chapter especially hit home for me. I often feel that students miss out on a lot of the experiences they SHOULD be getting because of the large emphasis on test taking and knowledge based standards. I am really finding that when students are most motivated I have to cut them off because we just have so much content to cover and not enough time for the things that really matter.

The quote that I picked is actually on the very last page of the conclusion chapter:

"If not you, then who? If not now, then when?"

We should all take a minute to reflect on this quote and then, just as I tell my students, DO SOMETHING ABOUT IT, or at least try! :)

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Motivating Today's Students

The chapter begins with a concern by some business leaders and educators of the decline of a work ethic of today’s youth. However, it was noted that this view may be due to how one defines work ethic – it may not be that there is less of a work ethic, but just a different type. The internet has changed how students learn, work, and live. The internet has evolved the process of how students learn; allowing them to multitask (or “continuous partial attention”) with research, entertainment and socially instantly.
The chapter focus deals with the concept many teachers have of their students – that of having unmotivated students in the classroom. The author has discovered in his interviews and studies that it may not be that our students are not motivated, but that students nowadays are motivated in different ways in we ourselves were. With the coming of age of the internet and all the related technology, students have come to be used to instant results and discovering results through various types of inquiries. They have also evolved into using various resources, not just the web, but other networks including social.
All this basically boils down to teachers having to become aware of students’ competence and self-assuredness of using ‘different’ tools in the classroom. The chapter also made the connection to making the learning in the classroom real-world in order to motivate students. As one of the interviewees stated, “school is boring for kids today because it hasn’t caught up with what kids can do outside of school”.

My quote comes from the Singapore educators on page 192. "Their new mantra is 'teach less, learn more. Schools need to focus more on projects and the inquiry method. They need to engage students with passion."