AUGUSTA — While we are all getting used to school bus routes, new sleeping patterns and school routines, others across the state – teachers, school administrators and parents – are abuzz over the transition from high school graduation based on accumulation of credits to high school graduation based on demonstration of proficiency.

The implications of this are profound for teachers in all content areas, and the possibilities for transforming schools into learning communities are numerous.

I will point to just four that could vault Maine forward – project-based learning, Guiding Principles, computer science and learning anytime, anywhere.

In 2012, the Legislature passed a law requiring that by 2018, every Maine high school graduate must demonstrate proficiency in all content areas of the system of Learning Results, as well as in each of the Guiding Principles and other requirements as specified by the school district.

A VASTLY SUPERIOR MODEL

How this will be accomplished has been left to the professional wisdom and judgment of local educators.

Here is where the opportunity lies:

 The research is quite clear that project-based learning – where learning is organized around complex tasks based on challenging questions or problems and students are guided by teachers to develop and implement their own educational plan – is vastly superior to traditional learning, which involves frequent lectures to students seated in straight rows who take notes and review homework.

Even universities are changing their modes of instruction from regular, thrice-weekly lectures to more small-group, problem-based learning. Casco Bay High School and King Middle School in Portland use expeditionary learning, which is a type of project-based learning, and are excellent examples.

 The Guiding Principles in the Learning Results are analogous to what business calls “21st-century learning skills” or “essential skills.” These are those terribly difficult to teach but absolutely essential skills that people need to be productive citizens and employees.

The Guiding Principles intend that each Maine student leave high school as a clear and effective communicator, a self-directed and lifelong learner, a creative and practical problem solver, a responsible and involved citizen and an integrative and informed thinker.

What business or community would not want these skills in their population?

Poland Regional High School has taken this approach to its academic heart.

Take a look at the school’s student Celebrations of Learning, where each senior determines “a unique and highly personalized essential question,” undertakes a months-long project of their own design to address that question and presents the results to the entire school community.

 With this transition to proficiency-based graduation, it is absolutely critical that students have some understanding of computer science. There is hardly a teenager today who is not carrying a computer (smartphone, tablet, etc.) with them 24/7.

Yet computer science, where students learn to “write” computer language as well as “read” computer language, is an elective in the very few schools in which it is even offered. Computer science is found much more frequently in private schools than public ones, which will further exacerbate the digital divide.

The shocking truth is that in Maine, the only state where every middle school and most high school students have a laptop, we have only 30 teachers across the whole state teaching computer science.

 Finally, the Maine Department of Education has declared that learning should take place “anytime, anywhere.”

This means that those proficiencies that must be demonstrated to graduate from high school could just as easily be garnered outside school. Examples of suitable work might include participation in the Maine State Science Fair, an Eagle Scout project, a dance recital, or a term at Chewonki.

This then opens up education to being much more than school-based, and embraces a larger set of learning opportunities that reflect the 21st century world in which we live. Education could truly be anytime and anywhere, with the local school still being the standard-bearer and community hub.

These are bold steps that require that we citizens and educators try to anticipate change, leverage our resources, be open to possibilities and share our various ways to achieve a better education for our kids.

Now is the perfect time to determine what the new world of education could be.

— Special to the Press Herald


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