Friday, September 21, 2012

Positioning Our Educational Program for the Future

In our new world where communication is instantaneous and comes from everywhere and everyone, where the evolution of technology and biology is making it possible to grow human organs, where information is doubling every 18 months and the computers now found in toys are more powerful than those carried on the first man-on-the-moon missions, we are feeling the compression of time.  

Eras that once lasted ten or twenty years are being compressed into five and ten years, and soon one to two years. We are quickly moving from a knowledge and information society to becoming the innovative society. Understanding this shift is critical when we consider what is important for our students to learn and know.

Muhtar Kent, Chairman of the Board and Chief Executive Officer of The Coca-Cola Company made the following points in a talk regarding how his company is positioning itself for the future for the Consumer Analysts Group of New York.  The trends are summarized by Michael McKinney of the Leading Blog:
  1. A powerful shift in the epicenter of global economic growth. By the year 2020, the world’s economic power will radiate from many nations and not just a few. Despite the current economic woes, we’re going to see 20 trillion dollars of global GDP growth created in the next 10 years. Most of this will be in the emerging and developing economies of the world. In the next 10 years, we’re going to see a billion new consumers rise to the middle class.
  2. Rapid urbanization as people move to cities for opportunities. Today, the world’s cities are growing by 70 million people each year, and that will continue for at least the next decade. That’s the equivalent of adding a metropolitan area the size of Atlanta to the planet every 30 days for the next 10 years.
  3. A world wrestling with energy and resource scarcity. In the coming years, as wealth grows and consumer demand increases, we are going to be faced with constant scarcities and cost pressures. Demand for fuel, food and other commodities will expand significantly. This will have long-term cost implications for all of us. In a world of constant cost pressures, it is essential that we achieve a low-cost structure and that productivity is embedded in everything we do.
  4. A reset of consumer attitudes, values and expectations. Consumers worldwide are focused on value. They expect to engage with brands in a dialogue as opposed to a one-way monologue. They do not want to be told what to do. Today's consumers are dictating what they want... how they want it... when they want it... where they want it... and what price they are willing to pay. This is an important trend—and one that threatens to break the traditional distinction between buyer and seller that has been at the cornerstone of modern business and economics.
  5. An emerging new era of innovation brought on by these first four trends and fueled by sustainability imperatives. Most new breakthrough innovations over the next decade will spring from a world radiating economic power from multiple sources... from a world with more empowered consumers... and from a world where natural resource scarcity is the norm. New ideas and innovations will originate well beyond the four walls of a company. Innovation will be just as likely to come from customers, suppliers, and consumers. Innovations will be truly global. They will no longer just trickle down from developed to lesser developed nations. They will just as likely originate in emerging nations as well.
The implications of Mr. Kent’s assertions for education are remarkable. Our children will soon be living in a world that is not only technologically and economically compressed, but a world where they will be interacting with a more diverse set of friends and co-workers in a world that is politically organized in ways that we’ve yet to imagine. How do we help our students to develop the intellectual, ethical and interpersonal foundations that they will need to become productive, engaged members of society in such a flat world?
Two years ago, a Program Development Committee under the leadership of David Gilbert, our Academic Dean, took on the challenge of examining not only our teaching methodology and curriculum, but looking to see how other schools around the country and the world were tackling these issues in order to begin a thoughtful review of our programs.
While we have not yet dramatically changed any portion of our program, we are looking at the work of such authors as Tony Wagner and his book, The Global Achievement Gap, which was read by the entire faculty. We have also begun to investigate teaching practices which integrate subject areas and provide learning opportunities that are more rigorous and relevant to our students.  One such program calls for groups of students working individually and together to analyze and solve problems.  We believe this approach, called Problem Based Learning or PBL, holds considerable promise for educating our students. It will provide them with the opportunity to tackle issues and problems that they will find engaging and challenging.While doing projects is not a novel idea at GDS, the new approach would drive learning deeper and attach it more rigorously to expected outcomes.
Greensboro Day has taken on what we believe to be several overarching concepts to address curricular and pedagogical practices that will be critical to the future success of our students.  One is a greater emphasis on global perspective. Our History Department is in the process of reviewing its program so that students are provided a greater world view and understanding of both the historical and present facts and trends that drive global relationships and economies. Another is a closer examination of how we teach and group our students. We have adopted Differentiated Instruction to ensure that our students are being challenged at an appropriate level. Assessing each student’s knowledge base and engaging them in work that stretches their understanding and peaks their interests is vital to developing the life-long learning skills that will support them as learners.
The importance of our students understanding sustainable practices cannot be underestimated. The planet simply will not have enough resources to sustain the type of human growth and development that is expected. This subject is addressed throughout the curriculum and is an important element of both the ethical and economical dimensions of our educational program.
Initiatives that we are currently examining include:
  • The Use of Time - We believe that extending the time of our classes will allow students to focus and engage in more depth.  This will result in an Upper and Middle School rotation that will limit the number of classes a student has each day, which will decrease the number of times students have shift their thinking from one subject to the next. We are also exploring two days of "late" starts which research indicates will provide students with an important increase in the amount of sleep they get, which will lead to greater attention in class.
  • Foreign Languages - WE are in the process of exploring the adoption of Chinese starting in the fall of 2013. This will be our first shift from a Romance Language since we opened in 1970. 
  • Backward Design (UbD) – As a school, clarifying specific outcomes that we expect our students to be able to demonstrate, not just on a quiz or summative pencil and paper test, but through presentation, cross questioning and demonstration is critical to what is taught and learned in class each day. Knowing our intended outcomes for students will lead to more specific and targeted instruction.
  • Differentiated Instruction (DI) – One size does not fit all. Because of different individual and family experiences, ways of learning and natural ability, our students enter our school each year with different amounts of knowledge. Teaching all students the same material in the same way creates a class that can be both extremely boring for some and quite exciting for other students. Clarity of outcomes and understanding what our students know and don’t know is critical to our success in teaching and inspiring them.
  • Ethical and Character Education - With a greater knowledge and access to information, it is critical that our students have a firm grasp on what is ethical and how ethical decisions can be made in the face of more and more opportunities to act unethically. We are developing programing through our counseling department to address this important area.
  • Technology – It is both a tremendous advantage and brings with it many challenges. We have initiated a team of counselors, administrators, teachers and technology leaders to examine our expectations of students in the area of technology. What began as an extension of the teaching process and the teaching of a new skill has exploded into a social networking universe that has no boundaries. Providing a “safe” networking platform for our students was a great advantage, in the very near future the majority of our MS and US students will have internet access that we cannot control through their handheld devices . What is our role in teaching students what is appropriate and inappropriate to say and do in the cyber world, and how can we control and monitor their explorations? How can parents?
In addition, technology offers very powerful learning opportunities ranging from the organizing of information on a laptop to cross-cultural experiences, research, polling for opinions, and additional learning opportunities through virtual classrooms.

The world is changing faster than ever, and it is critical that education keep up or our students will not be prepared for the world into which we send them after their senior year. Our intention is to move purposefully into the future so that there is an alignment of our program and teaching methods with what students will need to know.

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