My prior articles have focused on changes to our school district’s curriculum. This column will discuss a new element to our instructional practice that is taking place across the district. The approach is called project-based learning or PBL. Last year, our teachers received training from experts in project-based learning and each created a PBL unit that will be taught this year. For some of our teachers, project-based learning had been incorporated into their instructional approach for years. For others, it will be a new practice.
What is PBL? The following definition comes from the Buck Institute for Education: “Project-Based Learning is a teaching method in which students gain knowledge and skills by working for an extended period of time to investigate and respond to an authentic, engaging, and complex question, problem, or challenge.”
An example shared during one of our training sessions showed students at a Michigan school studying the Flint water crisis and proposing possible solutions.
Prior articles have covered recent changes to the curriculum at Fergus Falls Public Schools and how technology is used to augment instruction. In today’s world, it is essential that students also acquire technology skills as part of their educational experience. This article will discuss those skills. We are in the process of a three-year implementation of the International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE) standards. This is a quick snapshot of what our students will know and be able to do:
Students leverage technology to take an active role in choosing, achieving, and demonstrating competency in their learning goals, informed by the learning sciences.
As I began writing about the updates to the district’s curriculum, it quickly became apparent that the topic was too large in scope for a single article. This column will focus on how we utilize technology to augment instruction. Next week will dive into the specific technology knowledge and skills our students will be acquiring.
The district took a huge leap in our use of technology to support instruction just in front of the COVID-19 pandemic. We made the decision to become a 1-to-1 school, meaning that all students would have access to a chromebook. This looks a little different depending upon the age of the student as access can vary from a classroom cart model where the devices are used during the day, but are stored in the classroom to a model where older students have a specific chromebook assigned to them and are free to use the devices at home.
This column will address the process utilized to adopt a new curriculum and will update readers on the most recent changes to our curriculum.
The district operates under an eight-year curriculum review cycle. That means that once a curriculum is purchased in a particular subject area, it will be utilized for instruction for eight years before being replaced. Selecting a new curriculum is a fairly lengthy process. It involves departments examining student performance data to determine the strengths and weaknesses of the curriculum currently being used. It also involves comparing the various curricula available for purpose to the local, state and national standards that we are required to teach. Departments and/or grade levels will make a recommendation that goes before the District Curriculum Review Advisory Committee (DCRAC) which is composed of school board members, administration, faculty and community members. If DCRAC gives the request a favorable recommendation, it goes before the entire school board for adoption.
The Minnesota Department of Education reviews the standards we are required to teach in each subject area on a cycle as well. Their process is fairly detailed. There are typically many opportunities for the public to be involved in the process before MDE officially approves new standards. Ideally, our district closely follows MDE’s cycle so that we are in alignment.
Before diving into recent changes, a short recap from last week’s article will set the stage:
This column is a thirty-thousand foot view of school finance and is in response to questions that come up in the community from time to time. I will start with a short synopsis on how schools in Minnesota are funded. Tax dollars are received by the state and dispersed to districts in the form of aids and levies. There is a basic formula determined by the state which gives greater funding weight to older students than it does to younger students.