Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Magnet Schools: An Innovative Way to Educate

By Sean Scarpiello

As alternative forms of education such as charter schools are becoming increasingly common, magnet schools have also been gaining popularity in the past several years. Magnet schools get their name from their highly specialized programs and curricula which attract students from all over. Further, they are simply public schools that draw students from all across the district and school zones which offer classes in the levels of elementary, middle, and high school. Magnet schools were originally designed in the 1960s to help reduce segregation in schools; however, they are now being revived and are drawing students individualized teaching styles too. These days, magnet schools have much more to offer and result in improved academic success in a number of different areas for students in kindergarten to grade 12.

First, magnet schools continue to bring diversity and innovative learning techniques into the classroom. They often require some sort of interview or entrance exam, but magnet schools also have high graduation rates, high college acceptance rates, and more. This is done by hiring specialized teaching staff that have a passion for their subjects. Together, this leads to fewer problems with discipline, higher student attendance, and increased teacher satisfaction. Compared to regular public schools, these improvements definitely make magnet schools appealing. Further, magnet schools have also reported having increased parental involvement in education which is one of the greatest factors leading to academic success. With all of these huge benefits in mind, many think that magnet schools would be expensive to educate students. However, magnet schools are publicly run schools that are designed to lure in students from different areas within a school district.

In light of all of these huge benefits to magnet schools, it is the highly specialized programs that attract most students. Many magnet schools have classes and curricula focused on subjects such as technology, entrepreneurship, engineering, humanities, and even the arts. Since classes are highly individualized for students, there are very low dropout rates and students continue to pursue these specialized fields after graduation. Despite these concentrations in different fields of study, magnet schools are not the same as vocational or technical schools. While some students attending magnet schools opt out of attending college, many magnet schools boast college acceptance rates of 100%. After graduation, many students report success in college and in the workplace due to emphasis placed on learning skills and practical application of knowledge rather than the regurgitation of facts in class. Also, students are urged to collaborate with each other in forming ideas and arguments for discussion, further adding to a well-rounded and people-based education experience.

Overall, magnet schools have a lot to offer and provide a lot of different benefits for students. Aside from receiving a specialized and individualized education from enthusiastic teachers, students also are engaged in innovative curricula centered on collaboration and learning alongside others. Best of all, a magnet education is available to practically anyone who lives in a district with magnet schools. In all, magnet schools are highly beneficial to the field of education as they offer a high quality yet low cost education to many students.


Sunday, April 20, 2014

Moodle: A Completely No Cost Learning Platform

By Sean Scarpiello

While there are many different online educational tools available to teachers and students, many of them have high costs. However, the teaching technology Moodle allows teachers to easily organize and plan class activities in an online format for free. Already, Moodle is used by a number of different universities, high schools, and even corporate offices for online classes, training, and work seminars. Further, Moodle can be easily and effectively brought to any classroom where students have access to email.

To start Moodle in your classroom, head to Moodle's website, where free online content can be accessed. By working through the school’s own server or by getting help from one of Moodle’s partners, teachers are able to bring all of Moodle’s services to their students simply by having students log on with their school or personal email. Then, teachers can create different lessons, assignments, readings, and quizzes. For students, this means class work can be completed anywhere that there is access to an internet connection. Also, students, teachers, and parents can be directly connected to each other for clear communication for things like homework questions, late assignments, or progress reports.

While there are many other softwares that are similar to Moodle, none of these educational technologies are available at no cost to students or teachers. Further, the program can run on a school's existing server or another server which can be easily configured by a school's IT department. Both teachers and students have found using Moodle to be simple, easy, and beneficial to learning. In fact, surveys show that between 80% and 90% students reported using Moodle for homework and classwork most days of the week. There are also many testimonials on how students enjoy some of Moodle’s other functions such as a digital drop box which allows electronic documents to be turned in instantly from school, home, or elsewhere.

In the whole scheme of things, Moodle is not a groundbreaking software. There are many other similar learning platforms such a Canvas and Blackboard. However, what makes Moodle fantastic is that it is free. Further, its web-based content is easy for teachers to design and easy for students to complete. This holds especially true with Moodle’s online quizzes with instant feedback and open teacher-student communication. In all, Moodle is a very beneficial education software because of its ability to effectively bring education to more students through the implementation of technology at no cost.


Thursday, April 10, 2014

Collaborating with College Students

By Sean Scarpiello

Many of my friends who are education majors at my college are going through the final stages in getting their teaching degree by student teaching at nearby elementary and middle schools. Part of their finishing requirements involve creating interesting, yet informative lesson plans on a variety of different topics. To do this, many of these soon-to-be teachers came up with clever ideas. However, one student teacher was really innovative and decided to come up with a whole new structure to her lesson plans. She decided to invite her friends who were political science and chemistry majors to come in and teach the class about some of the cool things they were learning in their college classes.

For the students in class, this meant that they were going to have some new visitors teach them about the latest material. For the college students, this meant finding a way to present difficult, current data in a way that young students can understand. As a result, this lesson plan was an absolute success. The political science major came to give a lesson on the structure of the US government in which he used visuals to demonstrate where government officials work and how they get elected. The chemistry major led a class discussion on the properties of water and demonstrated some cool experiments with water. These fun and interactive lessons with new faces and fresh perspectives worked out great for students as they were keen on listening to an “expert” on new material.

While the teacher and student teacher could have easily taught the class these lessons, bringing in someone with more experience in each of the different subjects allows the class to be taught in an unfamiliar and interesting way. Further, this gives teachers more time to focus on designing other lesson plans. For the college students, this was a change from the stereotypical class presentation in front of their peers who probably already understand a lot of what is being presented. Instead, college students were able to direct their presentations at students who are young and still looking for their passion in education. Furthermore, a lesson where a someone new comes in to present is great because the lesson plan is open and taught by someone with an extensive background in the field.

One other benefit of this is that it stimulates young students’ minds. By seeing someone who is working a job or learning a lot about a certain topic teach the class, they get to witness the passion and knowledge of  political science or chemistry college students. In this particular case, the students attending the elementary and middle schools where these presentations occurred have a low college attendance rate. In the very least, by having these older students teach the class and share their experiences, it motivates students to work harder in school so that one day they can go to college too.

In all, by having nearby college students or others with backgrounds in different fields come and present to an elementary or middle school class, there are a number of different benefits students can enjoy. Students get a fresh perspective from new faces that have a different teaching style than what they are used to. Teachers and schools get well-designed lesson plans from people with a lot of knowledge in the field, and a class gets taught by a passionate and knowledgeable person at no additional cost. Overall, these types of lesson plans are innovative as they bring a higher quality of education to students, at no cost, through collaboration.