The Times They are a Changin’

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Upcoming Important Dates

Thursday, October 30 – Musical Auditions 2:30 GMS Auditorium
Friday, October 31 – Halloween (not that you need to be reminded!)
Tuesday, November 4 – Election Day in Maine
Monday, November 10 – No School Teacher Workshop Day
Tuesday, November 11 – Veterans Day, No School
Friday, November 14 – School Dance GMS Gym 6:00 – 8:00 pm

Holiday Helpers and Helping

thanksgivingEach year, our School Nurse, Teresa Merrill, organizes a food collection and distribution to those families in our community who face financial challenges of providing a holiday meal or a few gifts from Santa to put under the tree.

As we are fast approaching the holiday season, each year the staff, and the students (Student Council) at GMS, with a donation from the Gorham Health Council, provide holiday sharing of food baskets and small gift items for students at GMS and their families in need. If you are a family interested in assistance or if you are a family who would like to help contribute to this community sharing, please contact Teresa Merrill, R. N. (222-1224) no later than November 14, 2014. All requests for assistance are confidential.

Veterans Day Celebration

The Town of Gorham Veterans Day Committee honors the veterans of Gorham with a celebration of their sacrifice and bravery. This year will be no different and the festivities Vet daywill begin at 10:00 am at Gorham Middle School. This year, the good folks at the Maine Military Museum will be displaying, for those in attendance, a variety of military uniforms and equipment. Please mark your calendar for this event and, always be thankful that we have brave people, citizens, ready to defend our liberties.

My Latest Read 

Mark PrenskyI am currently reading Mark Prensky’s book From Digital Natives to Digital Wisdom. That would probably be news to my father since I was a very reluctant reader as a youngster, but should not be news to anyone who has followed me here. I am constantly reading books that I believe will take my learning to a place where I can constructively add to our staff meeting the learning needs of our students. This book has certainly opened my eyes and ears, as well as my mind to some new thoughts about what our kids bring to school with them when they walk through the front door.

Many years ago, Prensky coined the terms “Digital Natives” and “Digital Immigrants” to describe the divide between those who were born after 1982 and those born before. Digital Natives are those people who have always lived in the world of “ones and zeros”, and the Digital Immigrants are the rest of us who remember vinyl records and “dialing” a phone. (I’ll leave references to 8 tracks, and boom boxes to someone else!).

Prensky postulates, and I believe the science affirms, that the brains of our digital natives have physically changed over the years, and why wouldn’t they! Our kids have grown up reading fewer print pages and more digital pages in their lifetime. They have lived with access to great amounts of information with a few keystrokes (there’s a term digital immigrants didn’t have growing up “keystroke”).  How science has learned more about the plasticity of the brain and how learning changes the physical make up of the brain, it only makes sense that the brains of our young folks have physically changed. The larger question of the day should be “how has our teaching changed to match these changes in the structure of the young brain?

When we consider how many hours our young people have spent learning how to conquer virtual empires, create worlds or devices that will overcome evil, in other words making things happen in a virtual world, don’t we think they have something more to bring to school than students did ten or twenty years ago? Consider, if you will (I sound like Rod Serling of the Twilight Zone!), a student who has mastered the World of Minecraft, creating a world and defending it against all enemies. How much actual learning had to occur in order for this to be accomplished! How much trial and error, how many attempts, and failures before success, how much resilience and perseverance did that student have to exert to be successful? I would imagine quite a bit.

I am reminded of the song from WW1, “How Ya Gonna Keep ‘Em Down on the Farm, After They’ve Seen Paree” written by Sam M. Lewis and Joe Young with music by Walter Donaldson, How are we to keep our kids engaged in “sit ‘n git” or “talk ‘n test” after they’ve created kingdoms and explored where no man has dared to go! Once our kids have figuratively done almost amazing feats in the virtual world, how are we going to keep them involved when we ask them to “read chapter 2, and answer the questions at the end of the chapter”.

I use all of the references to the digital world our kids inhabit because that should have implications on how we provide education. All of the time our students spend in the digital world, their world, means that taking an anachronistic step backward into the print world does not compute with the manner in which they receive information. It is just not compatible! We truly need to reconcile our teaching practices to the way our students have been learning, and learning quite well much to our dismay!

We have much to learn about this new generation of students, and we have much to learn about how they learn and about how we can help them be better learners for their time.

Proficiency Based Education

PBL logoI have been reporting here about the work in which the Gorham School District is engaged to meet the needs of our students as they prepare for their future. So let me tell about what I am seeing in our classrooms each and everyday that may our put some concerns at ease and allow you all to know that while it may look different, learning is happening and happening at a speed that works for the student.

An 8th grade social studies class I observed recently, the teacher was reviewing a rubric that the students used to determine what was expected of the students as they attempted provide evidence that they had understood the standard and performance indicator that the learning activity (could have been reading a passage and writing about it, creating some sort of 3-D project like a poster of trifold that highlighted all of the elements or, maybe even a short video presentation). My point is, the students knew what was expected of them, the teacher and student had several opportunities during the creation of the task to offer or receive feedback on improving the evidence and the final piece was a “beyond a reasonable doubt” piece of evidence of the student’s learning.

This provided the stunt with a roadmap to the learning. It also provided both the teacher and the student to engage in conversation along the way about how the student was doing while still on the journey.

This is much different than a task being assigned, a time frame being determined (usually unilaterally by the teacher) and at the due date the evidence is submitted and, within a reasonable amount of time, results are given to the students and his/her parents. The results are transmitted with a simple letter grade, A to F. There is very little time for feedback along the way, there is no roadmap for the student to follow should they stray from the “learning path”, and the results are transmitted by a single letter or number that is supposed to represent what the student has mastered.

This is the difference that a proficiency based learning system offers to students. Time, while very important, takes a back seat to learning. If a student works diligently at  learning, they may need more time than their peers, but they all get to a level of learning and understanding that says “yes, s/he can do this!”

So, will this Proficiency Based Learning stuff be different? Yes and no! Teachers will still be teaching and students will still be learning, but it will look different and, by design, kids will learn to a level of proficiency. What will be consistent will be the student learning and the level to which all students will learn. What will change is the time that students need, and have to learn it. Some students will take a few weeks while some students may take longer. But all will learn to a level of proficiency.

We will continue to shed light upon this subject in the coming weeks.

Until then…

One thought on “The Times They are a Changin’

  1. I have to admit to being disappointed with this information. From the time our oldest daughter was born, we were told by her pediatrician, books, parenting magazines, etc. to limit her screen time. Limit, limit, limit! Get her outside to play! So we did. Even now, as middle schoolers, our children are allowed no more than 1.5 hours of screen time per day. There are plenty of days when they don’t have any screen time. They do not own cell phones. They do not have social media accounts of any kind. These policies have been difficult to enact. Most of their friends have access to all of these things. But we’ve stood our ground because we’ve been told that this was the right thing to do. How sad to hear, after all of that, that our kids will be treated as though they’ve been immersed in the “digital world” anyway. How disappointing to hear that they will be treated as though they do not have the attention span to learn from a book.

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