What my students are plotting while I’m across the world…

Greetings from Finland. I’m a Skyline High School teacher who’s here to learn more about what is touted by many as one of the best school systems in the world.

Meanwhile, back in Oakland CA, my Introduction to Education class is following my trip, researching the Finnish education system, and preparing policy briefs for school reform.

A little bit about the course:

Skyline High School is organized as numerous small learning communities.  I work in the Education Academy. (There are also academies dedicated to digital media, green technology, performing and visual arts, sports and exercise science, and others.)

In the Education Academy, sophomores start in my Introduction to Education class.  Over the next two years, they will take Education Psychology and Peer Education, both taught by our academy director.  The academy is populated by students who are interested in becoming teachers, nurses, counselors, or social workers.

About my students’ Finland project: 

 I am launching a three-year, cross-curricular project with my students. This year, my students will research the Finnish system and make reform recommendations to our school’s governing body. In the eleventh grade, they will take up the endeavor again, doing primary research at our school to see if students, staff, and administration agree with the reform proposals they have assembled. During senior year, they will pick up the project once more, moving into an action phase in which they will attempt to influence policymakers and raise funds to turn their proposals into real reforms.

So… back to tenth grade and our current project.

Last week, I introduced my classes to our project: “At the December Faculty Council Meeting, you will present your proposal for school reform at Skyline High School based on your research into the Finnish education system.”

I allowed a minute for students to basically freak out.

Confession: I love presenting the final product to my classes first.  I love that it raises their anxiety.  I know this sounds cruel, but I do it because it drives my students’ minds to questions.

While they were abuzz, I set up a PowerPoint slide on the screen and called for questions.  Here is what they asked.  Below each bullet, I’ve included some of my notes from our conversations:

  • What is the point of this project? How does this fit into our curriculum in Introduction to Education?  What am I going to learn from doing this project?
  • Individual or group? Most of our work in this class happens in teams.  My students love working together because they can help each other and socialize while they work.
  • What is the Faculty Council? Who are we going to present to and why?
  • What is the project going to be? Are we creating a paper, a poster or triptych, a PowerPoint, or something else?
  • Any work outside of class time? Will we have enough time over the next several weeks to complete all of the work?
  • Will this really change anything at Skyline? Will our proposed reforms actually happen, or is this just an exercise?
  • Who is going to be at the December meeting? Who is the faculty council?
  • What will the presentation look like? Will we all have to stand up and talk?  How long will we have to talk?
  • What day in December is the meeting? When exactly is this due?
  • When are we starting? How much time do we have to do this?
  • Do we have a rubric for the project? How will we be graded?

Jakaria asked my favorite question: would this project really lead to positive change at our school? She was not satisfied with the idea of learning about the Finnish system and comparing it to our own. She was not satisfied with learning about the school reform process or mastering new communications skills as she wrote a persuasive essay and created a presentation. Jakaria wanted to know whether this project would lead to a lasting legacy at her school.

I answered her, “I don’t know.”

What I do know is that, three years ago, students in the Education Academy began a project to bring more comprehensive health services to our campus.  They researched the need for medical and counseling services, briefing our school and district leadership about their findings.  Today, we have a medical services building on campus staffed by nurses and counselors, due, in part, to the work of that team of students.

Will Jakaria and her team make spearhead positive changes at Skyline?  I’ll let you know in 2015.

Meanwhile, stay tuned for posts about my trip to Finland–and my kids’ progress on their projects.