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Radical Public Education Strategies in the US

by JoAnna Haugen Dec 8, 2009
Gone are the days of lesson memorization and taking notes with a #2 pencil.

Technology is expanding, research is identifying more efficient teaching methods, and parents are setting higher expectations in the face of budget cuts.
As a result, public schools in the United States have had to step it up to keep pace with changing times.

Classroom experiments such as The Wave and strategies to address the growing variety of students and learning needs have come and gone over the years, but even so, public school is a much different place than the one where your grandfather walked barefoot uphill both ways many years before. Here’s what’s happening in the classroom now:

Learning Theories and Classroom Strategies

Forget the droning voice of a teacher dominating the classroom. Today’s classroom experience is about the students. Several recent learning theories and classroom strategies have surfaced that recognize no two students are exactly the same, therefore different teaching theories must be employed to reach every student.

Howard Gardner’s theory of multiple intelligences notes that intelligence is more than IQ. People learn and understand information through a number of avenues, and while our society places attention on highly articulate and logical people, there are others who show strength in other areas. Gardener’s list of intelligences highlights those who excel in words, numbers and reasoning, pictures, awareness of the body, music, interaction with people, self-awareness and nature.

Recent theories also highlight the strengths and opportunities available when learning is put in the hands of students. In problem-based learning, students assume responsibility for acquiring knowledge while the teacher provides tools and becomes a facilitator in the learning process. Teachers provide the basic background on how to solve certain problems, and then students are given case studies, which are essentially “story problems” with missing information that require critical and logical thinking to solve.

The theory of constructivism is based on the idea that we all have a unique understanding of the world around us and that learning requires an adjustment of our way of thinking in order to grasp new experiences. Classroom learning revolves around using prior knowledge to understand new information. This opens the door for hands-on learning and open-ended classroom discussions that ask students to interpret and predict what will happen in particular situations.

Gender-Based Education

Long gone are the days of segregation … or are they? There has been a growing trend in recent years to separate students based on gender. Supporters of this type of teaching strategy argue that boys and girls learn differently and this offers a safe learning environment where students can speak freely.

This learning strategy has fired some people up, though, especially because it almost appears to move backward in time. Many also argue that it is not only gender but other factors, such as socio-economic status, that need to be considered when discussing cognitive development in students.

Nonetheless, gender-based education is moving forward. Whether it’s here to stay is another question.

Mobile Technology in the Classroom

Though many schools are banning cell phone use during classroom hours, many others are embracing the growing number of students who are intimately familiar with today’s technology trends. Apple has hopped on the bandwagon and is offering a wealth of programs through iTunes U, which has more than 200,000 educational audio and video files available for download.

Recognizing that students are versed in their technological gadgets, teachers have become more lenient in allowing the use of cell phone calculators and immediate connections to WiFi for information searches. Others are asking students to create audio and video podcasts as classroom projects.

Virtual High Schools

Taking technology even further, students have the opportunity to attend classes through a virtual high school. Some schools offer courses through this module while students may choose simply to complete all their coursework through an online curriculum.

The flexibility afforded by virtual high schools is a huge draw for students and schools alike. The ability to pick up Internet-based coursework anytime and anywhere means that traveling families and working students can still complete high school with a high-quality education. Virtual high schools give students who feel stifled in ordinary classrooms the opportunity to take an array of challenging and interesting courses—ranging from the history of photography to engineering principles—that might not be found in the standard American high school.

Technical Academies

What do you want to be when you grow up? Now students can decide at the ripe old age of 14 when they have the opportunity to attend a technical academy in lieu of high school.

Technical academies offer students a fast track into their chosen field of study (which ranges from media and technology to bioscience and early education). With strict entry requirements, they require students be serious about their classroom work. In addition to the standard math / English / science regimen that most high school students sit through, students attend courses that introduce them to and immerse them in a particular field. When they graduate, students at these academies often walk away with technical diplomas, which give them an opportunity to jump into the working world or get a head start on higher education studies.


Do you think these techniques are effective for helping people learn? Would you change anything? Discuss in the comments.

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