Archive for September, 2009

IEPs for Everyone?

Well, not quite, but the NJ Dept of Ed will be piloting what it calls Personalized Student Learning Plans in 16 schools (14 traditional middle & high – including a former employer of mine, Northern Burlington Regional High School – a charter school, and a vocational school) starting in the 2009-2010 school year.  The pilot program is scheduled to run through the end of the 2010-2011 school year.

From the above link:

PSLPs are one facet of Governor Corzine’s and DOE’s effort to transform secondary education to better prepare students for the workforce and college. The plans utilize adult mentors, including parents, teachers and counselors, to help students recognize and achieve their education goals.

“It is imperative that we increase the rigor of our high schools to better prepare children for work and college, but it is equally important to help students get a better grasp on where they are headed,” said Commissioner Davy. “The interest we received from schools wanting to take part in this pilot shows that this initiative has the potential to have a tremendous effect on the quality of each and every child’s education and future.”

During the two-year pilot, PSLPs will be studied to determine how to best use the plans to help students focus on their individual personal, academic and career development needs and goals.

Also this:

“PSLPs offer students a framework for setting goals and mapping out their future,” said Commissioner Davy. “They are like global positioning systems for students’ futures. Like GPS, the plans will be able to offer a clear path to their goals but also will be able to change course if students want to go in a different direction at some point in their academic careers.”

The learning plan formats developed by the pilot districts will include at least the following three areas of development: personal, academic and career. In addition to goal setting, examples of activities that students may engage in while creating and carrying out the plans include:

  • Personal Development: survey learning styles; inventory personality and interests.
  • Academic Development: select courses for graduation as they relate to interests and skills; discern individual student learning opportunities (internships, and service or independent learning); utilize support services and referrals as needed.
  • Career Development: Survey career interests and skills; Engage in career awareness and exploration to heighten understanding of opportunities available and generate interest (6th grade); Carry out career planning and preparation activities while developing academic knowledge and skill readiness (9th grade).

Evidently, 20 states plus the District of Columbia already have similar plans in place.  Does anyone have any experience with PSLPs?  How have they been received by students, parents, and faculty/staff?  Any advice for the NJ teachers piloting the program this year?  I would also love to hear about the experiences of the folks who are actually implementing these programs this year in NJ.

A final, hopefully not-too-cynical question: is it significant that there are only three teachers on the 33-member PSLP Advisory Committee (link to PDF)?  Should teachers have greater representation, or does a little under 10% of the committee sound about right?

Related: News story from today’s NJ Star-Ledger.

How I Spent My Summer Vacation

This summer was a lot of things for me and my family, but “relaxing” was not one of them.  With a 4-year-old and a 1-year-old (who’s going on 16) to keep entertained, it felt like the summer was a blur of museum visits, amusement park rides, movies, and trips to my ancestral homeland (the Jersey Shore).

Fortunately, amidst all the running around, I was able to engage in two professional development activities that gave me great cause for optimism about the state of social media and technology in education.  The first was speaking with a group of educators at my former place of employment, Hunterdon Central Regional High School.  Will Richardson wrote fairly extensively about it here, but the Cliff’s Notes version is that a group of 20-25 teachers from across disciplines will be piloting a 1:1 netbook program with about 300 students this year.  Doubtless, HCRHS is an affluent district, but unlike many others with more money than sense, they really front-loaded their teacher’s training this summer with discussion and reflection on constructivist teaching and the role that personal computers can play in that.  In other words, it wasn’t “tech tech tech”, it was “teach well with tech”.

I was particularly happy to see two new educational bloggers emerge from this cohort, library media specialist Heather Hersey and English teacher Cathy Stutzman.  I’m really looking forward to reading their public reflections and learning from them, and I’d be lying if I said that watching all this from the outside didn’t make me just the teensiest bit envious that I won’t be a part of some potentially great things at Central.

Another event I was honored to be a part of was Patrick Woessner‘s panel discussion entitled Digital Citizenship & Social Media in the Classroom and Life (click for link to mp3 archive of our chat).  I joined Chris Betcher, Matt Montagne, and Kevin Jarrett via TinyChat for a group videoconference with teachers at Patrick’s school on topics such as Internet filters, use of social media tools with elementary students, and all manner of other neat stuff.  To be talking about a topic about which I’m passionate to a captive audience was thrilling enough, but to do so while bouncing ideas off these guys (and building off their own thoughts) was really a privilege, and I hope it signifies good things to come at this school in St. Louis.

I guess what ties what’s happening at these two schools in New Jersey and Missouri all together for me is this feeling that something is changing in education that is coming from the ground up.   These changes are not coming as a result of administrative directives; in fact, just the opposite is usually true – the movement is coming from teachers who are realizing where the next big shift in education could come from, and how we can harness that for the benefit of our students.  They are becoming school leaders through action and example, not simply by virtue of a degree, certificate, or job title.  It also underscores for me my belief that while the technology enables us to do some really cool stuff, the oft-cited “21st Century Skills” are as much, if not more, about the human connections we help to create, both inside and outside our classrooms and schools as they are about the technological tools we use to foster communication.  Students, much like potential customers or clients, are tired of being spoken to/at – that doesn’t fly anymore.  They want to be part of a conversation, and the teachers at HCRHS and MICDS are, directly and indirectly, fostering conversations about learning as well as about content, which is neither new nor revolutionary – it’s just not done enough.