Alternatives to Traditional Classroom Learning

Written by Sally Bunce, a Clonlara School guest blogger, (***Clonlara School does not endorse or recommend any product/service in connection with this author***).

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photo source: http://www.flickr.com/photos/lylesmu102/5904887081/

Although still swimming against the mainstream, alternative schooling has been present in America since colonial times. Education varied depending on wealth and location and could have been conducted at home by private tutors or in groups under religious guidance, for example. In fact, there seems to have been many more accepted options back then, which have been filtered and ‘refined’ into the main educational systems that the majority follow today.

These systems can be pretty restrictive, though, considering how unique each child on the planet is. And the systems don’t really seem to have developed or adapted much in line with the changing world. Coercive schooling can be difficult for children. Natural instincts to explore, question and play are muffled in favor of strict curriculums enforced through the logic of reward and punishment. By nature, children are designed to control their own learning. You can see this working up until the schooling age. At this point, though, learning becomes a chore.

Alternative learning is about creating the worlds required for children to continue to flourish — environments that encourage curiosity, exploration and diversity. Suppressing these vital instincts can be crushing and promote feelings of anxiety and helplessness that may become lodged in the mind. These feelings continue throughout the schooling system and a legacy of fear and inadequacy often rules. You don’t have to look far to see this at work. Placing a child within a school that will nurture their spirit as well as their academic spark seems to be the obvious choice when it comes to education.

Imagine a school where children could continue to learn in ways that make them feel happy and calm, where parents can contribute to their child’s particular learning scheme so that the right approach is taken for the individual and where children have choices. There are a variety of alternative learning options available and it’s worth exploring all avenues if you have an interest. Benefits of alternative schooling include the following.

Tailored Programs

Teachers, specialists and parents work together to design a plan of education that suits the needs of the child. This always involves looking at a wide range of learning approaches and materials. Although it takes time, the plan will evolve with the student and the results are extraordinary.

Holistic Approach

Most schools focus purely on the academic at the cost of individuality and creativity. Alternative methods look at what’s beneficial for the child’s happiness and health because these things have a direct effect upon development and achievement.

Empowerment

Students can take charge and have a say in their education. There’s not a blanket curriculum, so there is flexibility in how students choose to study. No matter how old a child is, feeling independent at the same time as knowing you are safe is an important but sadly overlooked necessity.

Equality

No matter where you come from or what decision has led you to alternative education, these schools have an inclusive, nurturing philosophy that embraces all types of learners.

Sally is a serial networker and writes for Richmond University. She enjoys traveling around the country, advising students on how to make the most out of their studies, encouraging people to explore all of the options available to them.

Forget Marble Notebooks: High Tech Is Coming To A K-12 Classroom Near You

Written by Dawn Papandrea , a Clonlara School guest blogger  (***Clonlara School does not endorse or recommend any product/service in connection with this author***).

All across the country, K-12 students are settling into the school year, which more than ever probably includes the sort of technology you’d expect to see in a corporate office or college classroom. From video and web conferencing to handheld devices for all students to online testing, the days of number two pencils and teachers writing notes on the blackboard could soon be a thing of the past.

Take a look at some technologies coming to (or already at!) a K-12 classroom near you…

Incorporating Technology Into Every Lesson

Remember when the big excitement at school was getting to watch a video, or if you’re really old, those slideshows that had accompanying records that beeped to prompt you to the next slide? We’ve come a long way when one considers that 52 percent of teachers say they use interactive whiteboards in their classes, and 40 percent have a class wiki or website, according to the Pew Report “The Impact of Digital Tools on Student Writing and How Writing is Taught in Schools.”

Even when it comes to test preparation for the SAT, the days of flipping flashcards are over. One company, Benchprep, for example, uses an interactive gaming approach to appeal to high schoolers who are prepping for the college admissions exam.

Testing Online

Unless you’re living under a rock or in one of only 5 states that hasn’t adopted the Commor Core, you’re probably aware that by spring 2015, states must administer a mandatory online assessment to test student proficiency in math and English. Online testing means more students sitting at computers during the school day. As such, public schools are beefing up their IT offerings. In fact, says a CDW-G survey, 83 percent of public school district IT professionals surveyed cited Common Core as one of their top three IT priorities.

Paper and Pencil Is So Retro

Just as many have gotten used to using e-readers instead of hard copy books, the same may happen with school textbooks. In fact, 37 percent of teachers in a “Styles of Learning” survey by Enterasys Secure Networks said they planned to transition to digital textbooks within the next one to five years. At home, students are already getting used to making the switch to digital, as 31% of middle school students say they use tablets to complete homework assignments, according to a Verizon Foundation study.

The World Is Their Classroom

Thanks to video and web conferencing, some lucky students are able to watch presentations, experiments, and other learning events in real time from anywhere in the world. Think of it as the modern day field trip. For instance, some zoos, museums, ­libraries and other organizations have distance learning ­programs specifically designed for schools.

This technology is especially helpful for rural areas that are too far from cultural centers for students to frequent. One such school district in Oklahoma has been using mobile video conferencing with great success, according to an article in EdTech Magazine.

It’s just a matter of bringing video conferencing equipment into schools as companies like InterCall do to facilitate educator’s needs.

Online Courses

Beyond technology in the classroom, many K-12 students are taking courses right from their own homes via online learning. For example, Iowa Learning Online is currently serving 800 students, and has plans to expand and grow the program. Teachers broadcast to students via webcams or use technologies like Skype or Adobe Connect.

Technology in learning has come a long way in a short time, and will likely continue improving as it becomes more accessible and user friendly. Just imagine what the classroom will look like five years from now!

About the author: Dawn Papandrea is a Staten Island, NY-based writer specializing in education, careers, parenting, and personal finance. Her work has appeared in publications including Family Circle, Parents, WomansDay.com, CreditCards.com, and more. She has a master’s degree in journalism and mass communications from New York University. Connect with her on Twitter and Google+.

Project-Based Learning In Today’s Classroom

Written by a guest blogger from Launch Education Group (***Clonlara School does not endorse or recommend any product/service in connection with this author***).

“When are we ever going to use this?”- Many teachers have been stopped mid-lecture by a student asking this simple question.  And you probably have experienced days in the classroom where you have wondered the same thing: How will memorizing the phases of mitosis benefit my life, especially when I will forget everything right after I finish the test?

Successful school drop-outs like Mark Zuckerberg, the creator of Facebook; Steve Jobs, the founder of Apple; and Alex Banyan, the world’s youngest venture capitalist, are making the world rethink how education should be done. These men succeeded not because of the information they crammed for a test but rather because they were able to critically think, problem solve, and collaborate with others. As schools begin to recognize the importance of these skills, the lecture-and-test style that bored so many of us is being replaced with a new style called Project-Based Learning.

Not the Projects of Old:
Before you start thinking “I did projects in school and they were useless,” you should know that Project-Based Learning (PBL) is not the same as the family tree you had to create. Where projects are done after the learning is finished and by following the teacher’s instructions, PBL is done as a way of learning the information by using investigation, problem solving, and collaboration. In an article on PBL, Launch Education describes Project-Based Learning as a way of establishing skills that will continue to benefit them as they grow older.

Project Based Learning begins when the teacher and students contemplate a question like “Should our school cafeteria use a compost system?” After discussing the question as a class and identifying many areas that need to be considered, students work as teams to provide an answer. In order to find the answer, students will need to research many areas like how is composting done, what are its benefits, how costly is it to implement, and how would our school use it. Through PBL, students not only learn about the process of compost; they also see the relevancy of the information. Additionally, the process demands the skills employers are looking for: critical thinking, problem-solving, and collaboration as the students work together as a team. Launch Education explains that it is a method that “allows children to explore their own talents and ways of thinking.”

No More Daydreaming at your Desk
Students complain frequently that school is so boring, and frequently, they are right. Sitting at a desk and listening as a teacher drones on is not something that many of us enjoyed. This is one more traditional classroom set-up that PBL is changing. Project Based Learning rejects the concept of a passive learner. Students are not vessels for stuffing information. Instead, PBL makes students active learners, placing them at the central role of the process where they are directly engaging in the concepts and their implications. By getting students active in their learning, PBL takes the focus of the classroom off the teachers and places it on the students. Teachers become guides who assist students in their learning process.

This departure from traditional education is becoming especially popular in the political world. With the falling test scores, increasing drop-outs, and failing schools, the educational world is becoming an increasingly heated issue, and education reform is on every politician’s radar.  Politicians like mayoral candidate for NYC Jack Hidary are using Project Based Learning as one of their methods for reforming the school. He suggests that PBL will be more effective for, “… Preparing students for the kinds of jobs we have now in our economy.”  As more politicians adopt PBL as part of their educational platform, this style of learning may gain more ground in the classroom.

One Method Among Many
While PBL is beginning to gain popularity, it is important to remember that it is not meant to be the only method of learning used in the classroom. The National Academy Foundation recommends using Project Based Learning for learning goals that include “applied learning and demonstration of deep core understanding,” but not for things like spelling or addition.  With effective preparation and placement, PBL is an effective strategy for preparing our students with relevant skills; without preparation and proper usage, it can be just as ineffective as a lecture.

Doing What’s Best for Our Students
In the end, Project-Based Learning is all about engaging students in real-world scenarios and forcing them to use real-life skills to solve them. When we consider that school is a method of preparing students to be successful, thoughtful members of our society, we see that PBL is a very beneficial tool. By starting students young and engaging them in this kind of thinking and learning, we are creating the next generation of innovators, entrepreneurs, and leaders for our world.

How Project-Based Learning Will Make Your Kids Successful

Written by Pengfei, a Clonlara School guest blogger (***Clonlara School does not endorse or recommend any product/service in connection with this author***) and has been reposted with the permission of Launch Education Group.

Alex Banayan, 20 years old and the youngest venture capitalist in the world. Still a college student at USC, Alex spends his days flying to various cities, hanging out with people like Zappos founder Tony Hsieh, networking with young entrepreneurs, and writing his own book. He has turned down an offer from MTV (for his own reality TV show) and another from Interscope Records. Alex is at the pinnacle of success at his age. Yet, an interview with his boss, Stewart Alsop, will make you realize that the Silicon Valley-based venture capital firm did not hire him for his grades. They hired him for his creativity, entrepreneurial spirit and social saavy. Above all, they hired him for his confidence.

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Most parents believe that academic achievement is the key to a lucrative future. However, we also know that success means so much more than being calculus geek or being able to write a great paper on James Joyce. After all some of our society’s most beloved visionaries are college dropouts.

Because skills like leadership, confidence, communication skills, and curiosity take a lifetime to develop, it is imperative for children to start at an early age. For example, parents should implement a routine activity that stimulates a child’s creativity and develops their confidence. A great way to do this is a project-based learning model described in Lori Pickert’s book Project-Based Homeschooling.

“The first step toward success is taken when you refuse to be a captive of the environment in which you first find yourself.”  -Mark Caine

Although primarily designed for homeschooling parents, the program can be adopted by all families and academic institutions. Project-based learning is a way for kids to choose their own subjects and work on projects that interests them. A time of the day/week is allocated for kids to routinely work on various projects individually or with others. Parents and teachers, for the most part, offer minimal guidance and are only there to encourage and observe. The benefits of this approach are immeasurable.

Take this scenario in the book for example:
“A group of children age three to five are working together to build a large, three-dimensional cardboard whale. Two are crouched on the floor looking at a book, shouting out information and ideas to others, Two are arguing about fin design-they decide they will each make one fin the way they prefer and they’ll use both. Another decides to make krill for the whale to eat, so he sits down and begins cutting paper into tiny pieces… Later she [parent] can use her notes to help the children remember all of their plans. One of the children walks up to her and asks her to write down the colors of paint they will need: he lists them. Another says he wants to measure how big the whale is – he would like it to be life-size. They begin to discuss the best way to measure, and one of the children runs to get a book from the bookshelf-he remembers which book mentioned the exact length of their whale, even though he can’t read yet.”

The activities and learning in this scenario are representatives of the skills the children will develop as they get older. For example, learning how to freely to express their creativity and create a whale according to their own imagination is essential for developing innovative thinking and self-confidence. Learning how to settle arguments (i.e. the aforementioned “fin” example) and working as a group help mold them into team players. Lastly, by starting the project over to build the whale with the correct dimensions, students learn to cope with failure and persevere.

Project-based learning is a workspace that allows children to explore their own talents and ways of thinking. By helping your children develop them at a young age, you are placing them a step ahead of the likes of Steve Jobs, Mark Zuckerberg, and Alex Banayan. Who knows, maybe your child will be on the cover of Forbes as the world’s youngest millionaire a decade from now.

About the author:   Pengfei is a student at Cornell University. As one of the Launch interns, he assists the director, Matt Steiner, with online marketing and business development. During his high school and college years, he has held a couple of tutoring jobs, helping elementary to high school students in math. Pengfei also has strong backgrounds in technological design, social media, and information policy.