Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Practical Knowledge 101

By Sean Scarpiello

Throughout grade school and high school, students learn many important subjects such as chemistry, calculus, foreign languages, literature and more. However, by the time we graduate high school, many of us are not ready to take on the real world. While many of the classes that make up the curricula of American education are important, there are other vital subjects and experiences that can easily be taught in schools for low to no cost.

As we look back on our educations or help our children through their education, we see that all students are constantly asking “when will I use this in life?” Many teachers come up with creative ways to describe a time when the difficult or abstract concept can be used to answer this question before continuing on with the material. In reality, the majority of the facts and raw data we learn in school are forgotten after the final exam. Instead, teachers should focus their students’ efforts on improving analytic and problem solving skills. For example, I work for a small pharmaceutical company where I use an expensive piece of equipment that separates out molecules by size and then forms a graph based on the size of each molecule. By integrating the graph- finding the area under the peaks of data on the graph- we are able to test the purity of cancer drugs. During my schooling, I took a semester of differential calculus followed by a semester of the more difficult integral calculus. Here, I memorized integration rules, struggled to understand Maclaurin series, and tried to wrap my head around finding volume by the rotation of equations. Overall, I look back and see I that spent a lot of time working through grasping difficult concepts rather than applying knowledge and improving problem solving skills. While it is still important to know the basic framework of integrations, we have computer software in the lab which automatically integrates the data for us. For students, it is disappointing to look back and see a year of classes wasted on memorizing formulas when this time could be better spent working on critical thinking or developing hands-on skills. Alternatively, I took an Anatomy class, which is typically associated with memorizing parts of the body, and found that I improved my problem solving skills due to how the course was structured.

Another argument that could be directed especially towards high school is the need for classes on practical knowledge. Too many people today graduate without knowing how to do their taxes, balance a check book, apply for a loan, or many more of the everyday activities needed to be a functioning adult. Additionally, if people aren’t able to fill out tax information or budget their money properly, there can be some huge consequences. I find it frustrating that I can find the volume of a bullet or a doughnut using calculus, but I still need my parents to look over my tax information. I know of many adults who continue to struggle with personal finance, understanding credit, and even gaining comprehensive knowledge of software such as Word or Excel.

To address these issues, high schools could teach or sponsor online classes where students can learn the ins and outs of being a functional citizen. Many students graduate high school and college without some very important skills and experience which could have quickly and effectively been taught as part of the curriculum. A computer or tablet can be a great medium to teach a class on finance which can be simplified using interactive graphs and easy-to-digest visuals. Further, classes on computer applications can teach students all the possible formulas and statistical tests that can be run in excel. Many students who are preparing to graduate would be willing take these classes as they know they are going out into the real world.

In all, schools can effectively use technology and online based platforms to teach students skills, problem solving, and practical knowledge. Also, there are many classes that can be restructured to include many of these skills while leaving out unneeded memorization of formulas and specific details. The use of technology can present these highly beneficial skills in a way that is interesting and interactive for students, while remaining at minimal costs for schools.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Schoolfy: A Creative, No Cost Online Educational Platform

By Sean Scarpiello

With all of the different online learning platforms on market today, it may seem as if there are too many to choose from and that many are all the same. Platforms such as Blackboard, Canvas, and others work well, yet they still have their weaknesses. Schoolfy is a different type of learning platform that aims at individualizing education for each student while remaining affordable to bring education to all students. Just like all other online based learning platforms, Schoolfy gives 24/7 access to class materials wherever students can connect a device to the internet. Schoolfy also enables a clearer line of communication between teachers and students. Schoolfy is designed to avoid the weaknesses of other online learning platforms, while keeping in mind the needs of teachers and students.

One of the biggest benefits of Schoolfy is that it is completely free for anyone with a device and internet connection. This means any student with an email can log into any teacher’s Schoolfy account. Plus, teachers’ accounts can be made private, to share their material with just their students, or public. These public accounts allow teachers to share content with each other, whether these teachers are across the hall or across the country. Further, Schoolfy’s public account pages are a great resource for teachers to look into how other teachers are instructing similar courses, enabling them to bring new and more creative lesson plans into their classrooms.

In addition to the no cost benefit of Schoolfy, this learning platform also enables teachers to create capsules of data to share with their class. In these capsules, teachers can embed videos, links, quizzes, surveys, tables, photos, Microsoft documents, and more. Plus, these capsules have the capability to be shared on social media sites like Facebook and Twitter. Teachers are even able to share Schoolfy contacts with additional online based learning platforms that the school is using. In order to personalize these capsules of data for students who are struggling with class material, teachers are able to quickly and easily alter capsules and directly send them to individual students. Additionally, teachers can use capsules to survey or quiz students to see how well they are retaining material, thereby giving the teacher the ability to locate weak areas of the class overall which can later be addressed in class.

For students, Schoolfy not only makes education more individualized, but Schoolfy is easy to use. All of their quizzes, links, documents, and other assigned work are open on their own homepage of bright and colorful capsules of data. Here, students can easily view the subject, teacher, and the date the capsule was posted. Students can see everything that they need to complete on one, easy-to-read page, and they have access to the capsules of all other teachers across the country with public profiles. Therefore, they can complete the learning capsules of other teachers for extra practice if they need help in or are interested in a specific topic.

Overall, while there are many other online educational platforms available to teachers and students today, Schoolfy is a no cost option that anyone with a device and an internet connection can easily access. This means teachers and students can read through thousands of fun and interesting educational courses presented in a creative way. Schoolfy is an important educational resource that definitely has a place in the classroom as it is a no cost option for bringing a high quality education to students through technology.


Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Learning By Playing - the Best Way to Learn

By Alisandra Wederich

It is paradoxical that many educators and parents still differentiate between a time for learning and a time for play without seeing the vital connection between them.
- Leo Buscaglia

Most of the time, we think of learning as coinciding more with work than with play. The word, "learning," tends to bring to mind images of textbooks and students bent over desks to study material, or even sitting at a computer doing online research. However, many teachers, and now some schools, are starting to acknowledge that hard work is not necessarily synonymous with great learning - in fact, playing and exploring are experiences that are scientifically proven to cause knowledge to more effectively stay with students. 

In Los Angeles, a group of founders and teachers have created a school based on the notion that learning through playing is the best way for students to grasp and retain new material. Aptly named, the Playmaker School, the staff is dedicated to teaching students through nontraditional methods. Rather than teaching rote memorization of historic dates, for instance, the school instructs students on what tools are available to look up such information (this is the age of Google, afterall), and instead of pushing students to regurgitate such information, students are asked to question what this information means.

This is a school that, instead of teaching facts and figures outright, asks students to create meaning, make connections, and problem solve. It asks students to be curious, creative and persistent until the answers are found, and encourages students to use the technology available to them. It's definitely a groundbreaking new way of teaching students how to learn, and staff are constantly re-evaluating their methods to make sure that materials presented are challenging students as well as playful.

Students at the Playmaker School love it, of course. Nolan Windham, grade 6, remarked at how other parents would be critical of how much play was involved, and question if they were learning anything. He says:

"We’re thinking about how when we take in information, how to process it and how to create information and how to create media, how to create different things, and that’s what you are doing in your adult life. You’re taking in things, you’re taking in information, you’re taking in food, you’re taking in money and you’re giving out services, ideas like physical labor. Just all of those things you are giving and taking in, but here you are really learning the internal processing. How all these things work together and what they mean.

If everyone could do [self directed learning], I think there would be so many more people that actually like school."

So far, the school has had raving reviews from staff, students, and parents, but there are many obstacles in the way of starting an education revolution. Standardized testing, core curriculum standard mandates, and other rules and regulations prevent this model school from rapid expansion. The education system has long been faulted with out-of-date techniques and tests, and perhaps the Playmaker School and its students are living testimony to why these things aren't necessary anymore. Unlike in most educational institutions, in the Playmaker School, if something doesn't work, teachers  and students have the ability to change it. Teachers listen to their students, and allow the students to have agency in their own education so that students have the power to change a class for the better. If the education system as a whole would listen to its students, the revolution of our educational system would already be underway. 

Reading about how the Playmaker School teaches physics through having students build model rollercoasters, or imagine and have to research what might happen if the world turned inside out not only feeds student imagination and creativity, but provides valuable teachable moments which educators thrive on. Ultimately, it is a step towards a better education system, but we are going to have to fight against an established system that teaches to standardized tests and regulated curriculum in order to ensure the continuation of such school and provide learning environments like these to more students.

Source: A School That Ditches All the Rules But Not the Rigor