Friday, January 23, 2009

Educon 2.1: Science and Leadership Academy Site Visit

Friday afternoon I spent a few hours observing classes at the Science and Leadership Academy in Philadelphia prior to EduCon 2.1. Here are some of my observations:
  • Students in 9th grade here have an elective in Technology. Students pictured here are using Google Reader to access blogs to read. The teacher invited them to subscribe to blogs they thought would be interesting, suggesting Principal Chris Lehmann's as an example.
  • I talked with students about battery life on their MacBooks. They have a lot of power strips for plugging in. A lot of times, they will do so during lunch. They have power hook ups in the ceiling of some areas.
  • I stopped Chris Lehman in the hall to talk about the themes they have for each grade level. He talked about how they allow teachers to "serendipitously relate interdisciplinary learning" instead of saying "today we're going to do a project". For Themes, the Freshman focus on Identity, Sophomores on Systems, Juniors on Change and Seniors on Creation.
  • All students have Individualized Learning Plans
  • Nice chairs!
  • The core values of the school are: Inquiry, Research, Collaboration, Presentation, and Reflection. Almost every classroom had the Themes and core values posted.
  • Students pay insurance each year. It started at $50 3 years ago, now it's up to $80. It covers basic damage, and if stolen off of them.
  • In Diana Laufenberg's history class, students shared their experience at public meetings they were asked to attend. Laufenberg used Wordle to get adjectives that students thought their meeting would be like, now their comparing that to their experience. (Slow, Interesting, and Boring were the words that they thought it would be like. Rowdy, Angry, Uncomfortable ended up being what they experienced!)
  • Most classrooms had Promethean boards with short throw projectors.
  • In Mr. Chase's English class, students started with a free write in their composition books. The writing prompt was: "If they asked me, I could have told them..." or a Free Write. At the end of the day, if you want you can put in in a bin, and Mr. Chase will provide feedback. Brian, a student at SLA told me that he liked to write song lyrics each day. In the room, there was no teacher desk. Mr. Chase sat down and was writing with the students in his own notebook. A few students had their laptops open, but were on task. He then handed out a checklist with "Design, Knowledge, Application, Presentation, Process, the SLA rubric." He used the Promethean software to randomly select a student to model a "High Grade Complement." He talked with students about presentations that the students had completed, and we were asked to score them. The had to create a 5 minute presentation dealing with a problem in Philadelphia that interested them. They then will take the top half and develop action plans to actually deal with the problem, and post them in a public forum. Students had the option of using Google Presentation, Keynote, PowerPoint or Slideshare to present.
  • The first video we saw was from 2 students who chose LGBT issues with students in the Philadelphia public schools. They found that while the district had policies in place, there was no indication of whether those policies are being followed. They then suggested how to solve the problem. Chase then had a large group critical analysis, where he asked for constructive criticism, starting with one of the students who created the presentation. Students did a nice job pointing out areas where the presentation could have been improved.
  • More notes on Mr. Chase's class can be found here, from Bud Hunt.
  • The second video dealt with the problem of wasteful heating energy in Philadelphia. This presentation did a better job of utilizing images over text in their presentation. All of the presentations were archived on the teacher's site for viewing. Students were engaged in the presentation, most laptops were closed for most of the class. My partner Brian said, "I learned more about the issue in 3 minutes than I knew before." He did his project on obesity in Philadelphia.
  • Engagement in the room is very high. I don't think that's just because we(EduCon Participants) are here!
  • The last project was on Philadelphia Dropout Rates. "The Philadelphia drop-out rates are too high, and it sucks!" These guys had some good humor. Another quote: "Your @#@# Education is Important!" "Parents: Love your @#$ @#$# Kids!" Good conversation about the audience they were speaking to.
  • In Gamal Sherif's 9th grade science class, students were studying biology, and after some brief presentation and instruction, students were off to the lab area. Students accessed information on Moodle as they worked on worm dissection. One student had a "Science Notes Word template" that he could add information on. Some students took their laptops back to the lab, most left them at their desk. He still had a hand out for the lab. At the end, Sherif asked laptops to be closed (Some didn't), and shared his thoughts on the lesson, and what learning occurred. Chris Macintosh from Great Britain asked me if I thought the lesson was typical of other classrooms. He thought kids were more engaged, though I did see a few kids were pretending to squirt each other with water bottles.

Overall, the engagement in learning, and excitement about learning has been inspiring. It's been great to listen and participate with some side conversations with other attendees and students as well. People are here from Australia and Great Britain. Lehmann has a great post regarding what this conference is about. I'm glad I'm here to learn with everyone!

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