Spreading Best Practices: Innovating in Context
The work of the conference addresses the extent to which context determines how innovation in education plays out. At a time when education systems at all levels in all countries face increasing expectations, educators are being pressed to develop programs and curricula that will improve learning outcomes. Often, the hopes are that the improvements will be dramatic, and these hopes, in turn, are tied to the hopes of nations’ futures. With explosive developments in technology; dramatic increases in knowledge of cognitive processes; and greater awareness of interconnections between social, familial and personal variables, the overall situation facing educators can be quite daunting. Prof. Reimer will discuss ways to make reasonable assessments of context and desired innovations without the need for prohibitive amounts of research. His presentation will provide tools for making the best decisions possible in real-world settings.
Learning and high-stakes testing: Opposing contexts
In this session participants will get the opportunity to hear from two very different perspectives on the impact on teaching and learning when high-stakes standardized tests and curriculums are or are not a significant factor in curriculum design.
- Advanced Placement (AP) courses are offered in more than half of America’s secondary schools, and provide students the opportunity to earn college credits before matriculation. At the same time, they are viewed as boosting a student’s chances at being accepted into a selective college or university. In 2007, Scarsdale High School became the first district in the United States to dispose of the AP curriculum, after posing the following question to the community: What would advanced learning look like without the AP? Imagining a reality without the constraints of a standardized curriculum, they abandoned the formal AP curriculum, thus launching a community-wide effort to understand what advanced classes should really mean for students, teachers, and parents alike.
- On the other side of the world is the National Higher Education Entrance Examination, also known as the Gaokao, which is, in essence, the only criterion for admission to higher education in China. Students’ test scores on the Gaokao determine which institution, if any, they will be attending upon graduation from high school. The Gaokao is widely understood to offer a level of transparency in college admission that is reassuring to the public, and reinforces a belief in equal opportunity for all. However, discrepancies in social, cultural, and economic capital between various types of students are as much a reality in China as in other countries, and private tutors and special after-school classes are available to those who can afford them. The Gaokao is an example of the promise and the peril of tying standardized testing and college admissions.
The “Classroom”: How many learners? How and where can learning occur?
Schools everywhere are experiencing issues of scale and context variability, and facing the reality that what works in one setting might not work in another. This session offers the opportunity to learn about different ways of teaching to large groups of students, as well as the challenges and successes experienced in less common contexts.
- The Education for Public Inquiry and International Citizenship (EPIIC) Program at Tufts University is a carefully integrated multidisciplinary program that involves undergraduate and graduate students, as well as international visitors. Celebrating this year its twenty-fifth year, EPIIC builds its academic program each year around a particular theme. Students prepare for extensive involvement in a multi-day international conference held each February at Tufts.
- At Shanghai Datong High School teachers routinely teach classrooms of 50 students at a time effectively and efficiently. American visitors, primed to believe that “serious” learning requires small teacher-student ratios, may be stunned to find high levels of engagement and very impressive learning outcomes in these large classrooms. Why does this work in the top schools in China, but is intolerable in the best schools in the US?
- The Andover Breadloaf Program has had great success in creating networks across teachers, learners, communities, and countries to promote innovation and creativity in teaching and learning. Many schools succeed by operating in contexts of high cultural buy-in and high expectations for learning outcomes. ABL, however, typically operates in less well-resourced contexts, and achieves its results by creating new social contracts among all the participants.
- The Parthenon Group’s educational unit in involved in settings around the world. One challenging setting is a school district in India charged with educating 130,000 students on a budget of $5 per student per year. What is possible in this context, and how to go about it?
Friday & Saturday Afternoons
Museums as centers of integrative learning
- The Addison Gallery of American Art at Phillips Academy uses its changing exhibitions, extensive permanent collection, and its staff as teaching partners in working with Phillips Academy faculty and students, in area preK-12 schools, and as far away as New Orleans and Mumbai. Individual and thematically grouped works of art are used to engage students in a wide variety of historical, social, and ethical issues in the critical area of visual education.
- The Robert S. Peabody Museum of Archeology, also at Phillips Academy, serves as a liaison between cultures. Using the approaches of the anthropologist—whether on campus to enrich the curricula of history, biology, language, math, art or language courses; or leading programs to other parts of the Americas—the Peabody embodies the notion of integrative learning.
Gaps and Bridges
Any school that takes the issue of diversity seriously understands that differences in preparation lead to learning challenges. Similarly, schools seeking to transform themselves to meet the needs of the new century understand that there is also a gap between the new demands on teachers and what their educational backgrounds have prepared them for. This session will offer participants the opportunity to hear from a variety of changemakers focused on different sorts of “gaps”, whether among the learners or the teachers.
- The LEAP Schools in South Africa offer holistic learning beyond classes oriented around traditional disciplines. Each student is enrolled in a “Life Orientation” class where they discuss pressures and difficulties they face outside of the classroom in a supportive environment facilitated by an occupational therapist.
- The Middle School for Mathematics and Science, in Washington, D.C. is a charter school on the campus of Howard University that embraces technology as a way to close the achievement gap and individualize learning. The school promotes a hi-tech learning experience for all students by ensuring that each student has a laptop and broadband in their home. The individualization of learning that the technology enables turns out to be a powerful tool in overcoming gaps in prior preparation.
- ACE is a summer support program designed to close an academic preparation gap found among students enrolled at Phillips Academy. Designed to be a fun and interactive experience for students, the isolated location on a mountaintop in Colorado promotes an enhanced sense of community and support, as well as total immersion in the subject matter.
- Several years ago the faculty at Phillips Academy asked: How can we align global problems and solutions with our curriculum to promote true global citizenship? As a result Learning Communities were born. Participants in Learning Communities devote themselves to learning about a country, region, or global issue, and use their knowledge and experiences to inform the curriculum in unique and various ways.
Innovation and Its Diffusion
Fernando Reimers, Director of Global Education and of International Education Policy Program, Harvard Graduate School of Education, Cambridge, MA, USA
Educating by Conference
Sherman Teichman, Executive Director of the Institute for Global Leadership, Tufts University, Medford, MA, USA
Addressing the Influence of Family and Community in the Life of the Learner
John Gilmour, Principal, LEAP Schools, Cape Town and Johannesburg, SA
Presenting Schools & Programs:
High School Affiliated with Renmin University, Beijing, China
Middle School of Mathematics and Science, Washington, DC, USA
Parthenon Group, Mumbai, India
Phillips Academy programs: ACE, Andover Bread Loaf, & Global Perspectives Group Andover, MA, USA
Scarsdale High School, Scarsdale, New York, USA
Shanghai Datong High School, Shanghai, China