This short story is where the ideals of NECC meet the real world and for me showed that what we are doing at a conference such as NECC is talking about educational reform and integration of E-Learning in a largely futuristic way. David Warlick in his post recently 'It Isn't Easy' discusses the sense of illusion we create by meeting as an 'extreme' group of ed tech heads and how we need a dose of reality and a ladder down from our ivory towers.
Featuring Huntington Beach High School
I have spent the past four days post NECC07 in the Californian 'town' of Huntington Beach. I have a teacher friend here who I try to visit every year on my way out of the USA. Currently my friend (BC) is about 2-3 years away from retirement and teaches math(s) at Huntington Beach High School. We have had many conversations about education and on this trip I even managed to visit the school briefly. HB High is a performing arts magnet school, has a large 'surfing' clientèle and is challenged by demographics meaning that over 50 different first languages are present in the school of about 2500-3000 students.
A typical maths class has almost 40 students in it. They sit in the regulation desks, in rows and learn largely from text books. Assessment is test and exam based. There is no real learning support as such. Lessons are 'block scheduled' so that each class is 1 hour and 40 minutes long. During maths classes students have to sit and work and learn for this length of time in their confined desks.
The school has technology but there seem to be some problems. A computer laboratory is available for booking, but is in heavy demand and means moving the class to the other room (of course). There is no real discussion as to what technology the teachers want. One anecdote revealed that it was decided all classrooms would have TVs and DVD players. Despite BC's protest's that a digital projector would be more useful the former had already been put in the budget and arrived regardless of intended use. Alternatively another colleague of BC's was given a projector for the classroom but has not and will not use it...does not want it, so it sits there unused.
There is very little, in fact no real PD for teachers throughout the year, however there is Tech Camp in the week before school starts so that interested staff can come in for 5 days and learn more about tech integration etc (and be paid extra for it!).
I am not saying these scenarios are unique to HB High what I am commenting on is the largely dysfunctional and ad hoc approach to improving learning through the use of technology. But then, let's not get ahead here, what about improving learning generally by creating better environments (smaller class sizes and more aesthetically pleasing classrooms/schools).
Talking about education and learning with BC and then seeing the realities of teaching at HB High was certainly my ladder down from the ivory tower this week. I am not saying this is a bad school, I am probably saying this is more of a typical school than we (or I, being non-US) realized.
So what are the answers? More importantly what are the important questions here? Let me suggest a few:
- What are the core 21st century ideals in education??
- How do we engage teachers and learners to adopt 21st century ideals in education?
- How do we find the money to pay for what is needed to launch students all over the world into a better system of education?
- What in global terms is 'a better system of education'?
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