High school program changes: thoughts?
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|Tue, 04-23-2013 - 12:33pm|
Yesterday the small rural K-12 school that my teens attend announced its plans for next year. The issues they're trying to address are very small enrolment, and a tiny staff whose time and skills are not being optimally engaged -- such that students with other options (like grandparents living in a larger city) are tending to drift off to live elsewhere.
So the plan is that each month would be divided into an Academic half and and Elective half. Two weeks of every month are called Academic Intensives, and include a large-self-directed component. They would focus only on core courses: math, English, sciences and history. Each course would have periodic group-based teacher-led labs or seminars or tutorials, but most of the work would be independent, based out of textbooks or off the computer.
The remaining two weeks each month would be available for "Immersive Learning." There would be electives offered according two overarching themes each year, and students would be encouraged to choose one of the two, which would fill one of those two Immersive Learning weeks. It would be possible to switch between them, and it would also be possible to take both, though the assumption is that the academically-inclined students would just take one. For next year one of the themes is "Valley Learning" and pertains to ecology, agriculture, nutrition, foods, small business skills and a few others. The other is "Mountain Learning" and pertains to backcountry sports and survival skills, avalanche science, wilderness first aid, mapping, geology, photography. Month by month the focus moves through these various thematically-related areas of learning. Students who had not chosen to do both streams of electives would have one of those weeks available for supervised self-directed study of their academic courses.
So most students would have one week of immersive electives a month, two weeks of classroom-supported academics and one week of entirely self-directed academic study.
Part of this would work really well for my kids: eg. the increased proportion of self-directed academic study during the Academic Intensive and self-study weeks. But for ds16 in particular, the elective expectations don't seem likely to suit his needs. He's a kid who is passionate about music, politics, philosophy and computers. This year and last he has been happy to graze through the school's funky collection of electives (he's been doing courses in Outdoor Education and Personal Fitness all year, and next week he's doing a week of small engine repair). But next year he would really like the freedom to be able to focus on academics and on developing his own interests via electives, rather than being exposed to new areas. He'll be doing choral music as an elective (in another school district, not during regular school hours), and he wants a course in computer programming, possibly law, political science or psychology, and digital media / design. Apparently he could work with staff to create an elective for himself in one or two of these areas, but they would have to fit into this second Immersive Learning week -- which would reduce his school time devoted to core academic courses (math, sciences, English, history) to half of every month. A lot of the more traditional option courses (Spanish, creative writing, theatre, art, shop) disappear under this arrangement, replaced by funky areas of learning like building snow shelters and pressure-canning. Because dd14 is still at an age where I think it's helpful for her to be exposed to things she might not naturally gravitate to, I think the Mountain and Valley elective streams offer some interesting possibilities.
When I asked dd14 what was "intensive" about the Academic Intensive weeks. She said that her impression was that contrary to now, "during math they would expect everyone to actually do math." She said that with a smirk -- but it might answer to some of her frustration about the slow pace of progress of classmates in some of her current academics. She is free to move ahead under the current regime, but in some courses there's still a fair bit of group learning which depends on other students being at point X in the curriculum. On the other hand, the more intensive focus would also allow her to move faster, not just her classmates, so maybe the mis-match would continue to be a problem.
I'm not sure how ds will have his elective interests met, but that issue aside ... based on your own experiences, that of your children in high school or just your gut feelings, how do you think a format like this might have worked? Does it sound like it has possibilities for gifted students? This whole plan for next year is a work in progress and I feel like if I can figure out my feelings about it and articulate my ideas I stand a good chance of being able to influence how it takes shape. Anyone care to contribute their impressions?
One bonus: if dd10 were to join the high school for an academic course like math next year, she'd have two weeks of classes and then two weeks with complete flexibility for travel and other pursuits. Because she'll still be mostly homeschooled that additional flexibility will work well.