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Rubber Ducks

Helping Lame Duck High School Seniors Prepare for College

I don’t think high school seniors are lame, but I do believe we treat them like lame ducks and that this has to change.

By May 1 of this year, most of the city’s high school seniors responded to the college of their choice by accepting their admission’s offer and handing over a check to secure a seat in the class of 2019. For many of the city’s schools, graduation ceremonies are set for the week of June 24. If your child is enrolled in a “college preparatory” school, it would appear that the school has either done or not done its job, and that the two months of May and June leave both teachers and students struggling to maintain a sense of purpose.

That final paper in AP Government, that last project in AP Calculus, the last debate in this class or that may not be met with the same, or, let’s just say it, any degree of enthusiasm by these essentially lame duck kids. But because they need to brave it out until the end of the month, perhaps there are some more meaningful activities that kids can engage in before heading off to school, some that can actually prepare them more effectively for life at college.

What basic life skills do kids need to know before going to college?

Here are a few areas of knowledge and skills that can help make that first year away from home a trifle easier:

  • Finances: Your preferred bank probably has a student account that you can help your child manage, but there are some basics that should be learned before handing over the plastic, including managing that account online, having a sense of budget and what can be spent on a weekly/monthly basis, and what fees might apply depending on the account you set up.
  • Nutrition: Your high school senior may already be eating at least one meal a day away from home (probably at Chipotle or some such similar place), but once in school and thrown into the world of food court dining options, eating habits can get out of control. Practical lessons on how to make the healthiest choices given your child’s target school’s eating options can be a good exercise in preventative health practices.
  • Sleeping: Does your child already set her own alarm on school days? If not, she’s going to have a very difficult time getting to class on time. Does she know how much time it actually takes her to get ready in the morning? How much sleep does she actually need to function well for the type of day she has planned?
  • Housekeeping: Who vacuums your child’s room nowadays? If it’s not her, then you’d better get started. One of the questions most colleges ask on the dorm application is whether or not you want a neat roommate. “Neat” covers a broad range of cleanliness. Making a bed, changing the sheets on a regular basis, doing a laundry should all be second nature by now. If not, adjustment is going to be more difficult for both your child and her roommate.
  • Health and Exercise: In our house, we had endless debates on whether or not a particular ailment required a trip to the doctor’s office. In order to make visits to the student health services less frequent and more meaningful, your kids should know what to look for when they are not feeling well and when to ask for help. Frustration with the decision making process is an additional stressor college kids don’t need. If your child starts college with regular exercise habits, all the better, but if not, encouraging weekly regular use of that multi-million dollar sports complex can save a lot on both physical and mental health challenges moving forward. Devices such as Fit Bits can be one way of encouraging participation in regular exercise for kids for whom tracking and sharing exercise results is appealing.

What other means of preparation can help our kids adjust to college more effectively?

Beyond skills required to live away from home for either the first time or for more extended periods of time, there are certain skills and activities that can make learning more effective in the college environment.

  • Time management: Juggling a new type of workload and a less rigid schedule than in high school can be a major adjustment. Most high school kids start and end their school days at the same time five days a week. But now, having two classes on one day and maybe none on another, etc. can lead to confusion and ineffective management of one’s time. Using “down time” to study and relax instead of just relaxing may be a new concept for some freshman students for whom cramming and last-minute submitting of papers has worked so far. Understanding this in advance and being provided with different means of adjusting to such a schedule can help your child avoid a lot of mistakes in freshman year.
  • People management and networking: At only one of the colleges we toured over the past two years did we get direct advice to “get to know and get close to your teachers.” Sure, students on different campuses raved about their teachers, but at only one school were we advised directly to establish relationships with them. Forming relationships on campus with teachers or advisors can provide your college student with a great resource for support with their current classes, for brainstorming on most effective learning plans, and for extending their network in general. Similarly, selecting appropriate extra-curricular clubs based on either current interests or unexplored ones can provide further support both academically and on a personal level. Learning how to face and make these connections may be something your child did not explore in high school.
  • Work study, study abroad and off-campus opportunities: Whether to solve the need for additional spending money, to help with tuition payments, or to broaden your child’s exposure to different experiences, work study may be a great opportunity. Most kids need help weighing these opportunities against required effort. Study abroad can afford great opportunities to live and study in a new culture, but depending on the school and the range of offerings, the decision to go aboard can be challenging. Also, getting more experience in the community surrounding your child’s school may be extremely beneficial, either in the form of an internship or part-time job. While this and study abroad are not freshman concerns, planting the seeds for these opportunities should start early.

Learning by doing versus preparation

I have written before that college is the ultimate software simulation, a four-year experience that allows you to learn and fail in a relatively safe environment. While my thoughts on this have not changed entirely, I do believe that there is still plenty to learn, fail at and learn more from at college while still preparing kids more effectively for the experience itself. We are learning time management from the time we enter school, but as the challenges to our time increase in number and sophistication, there is still room for continuous improvement. We’ll keep on improving at that one skill for many years after graduation as well, for example. But introducing the challenges prior to moving on campus and practicing options for meeting the challenge can be hugely beneficial.

Who is responsible for this type of preparation?

There are a range of knowledge and skills that can help students adjust to and be more effective as they progress through their first and succeeding years at college. Should parents be teaching their kids financial literacy? Absolutely! Does that mean that schools can’t or shouldn’t contribute to these lessons? Indeed, they can and should contribute toward this knowledge building. I am aware that some schools do teach some of the skills referenced here, but certainly not all and not as a parting gift package to each year’s crop of departing seniors. And yes, most colleges include portions of this in their orientation process, but introducing and reviewing these subjects during multiple points in the process is the most effectual means for it to stick.

For those of us who burdened our kids with nearly an extra month of school by enrolling them in the NYC public schools, we should consider making those last few weeks count toward the future. Targeted subjects could be taught in scenario (story)-based format, with online and in-class role plays for more effective practice. Alumni can be invited to school to provide stories of their experiences and lead group workshops to prepare the next years’ entering freshmen. Outside experts can come in to the schools to speak on nutrition and finance. There’s so much engagement that can be designed around practical preparation for college.

Yes, teachers need to finalize grades based on second semester performance, but let’s consider adjusting the calendar so that those classes can end sooner. That way the final few weeks of the year can be spent in practical college preparation rather than forcing our kids to struggle through their last semester of high school as a raft of  lame ducks, slowly floating toward the finish line.

Let me know your thoughts in the comments. If you know of a high school that already does this type of preparation, tell us about it. If you think college prep can be done differently, tell us how!

NB: Catching up on some posts here. This one certainly relevant as many of our kids take off for college this week!

E-Learning Days Pave the Way to More Flexible Educational Models

With winter starting to dig in its heels, I’m thinking again of the concept of e-learning days, as many schools and school districts have labeled them, days when kids do their work from home rather than attend school. E-learning days were first devised as a means of providing instruction on “snow days,” when students could not make it to school. Now some schools have added e-learning days to their school calendars in order to regularize virtual learning days as part of their regular curriculum.

As more schools implement e-learning days, or “cyber learning days” as some refer to it, the concept is evolving in terms of the range of tools being used to implement it and the degree to which it gets integrated into the culture of the schools and the means of instruction. Is the growth of e-learning days any indication that schools may be headed toward a more flexible model of instruction? Will students be spending more time out of the buildings learning on their own, or in the company of peers, and under the tutelage of community-based “mentors?”

As I’ve written before, most students would benefit from less time in the classroom participating in more practical pursuits of learning, especially as they get older and closer to participating in the workplace. The growing acceptance of e-learning days is a step in the right direction.

For the short term, incorporating e-learning days into the curriculum has a number of benefits both administrative and pedagogical.

Administrative Benefits

  • When e-learning days are used to provide instruction that would be lost due to inclement weather, e.g. snow days, they can minimize or eliminate the need to add extra days at the end of the year.
  • Eliminating extra days at the end of the year saves money as well in terms of getting kids to school, keeping the buildings open, etc.
  • Opportunities for professional development. Some schools are incorporating professional development activities into planned e-learning days, when teachers may work part of the day responding to student questions and part of the day working together (virtually) on professional development.

Pedagogical Benefits

  1. Building students’ (and teachers’) digital literacy.
  2. Increased opportunity for teamwork and problem-solving activities. Working at home, students can practice those skills which they will later on be applying in the workplace while at the same time receiving the support of fellow students and their teachers and perhaps parents as well.
  3. More consistent instruction than may occur on days when schools remain open on inclement days but attendance is irregular. By planning for a number of such days per year, we may avoid these gaps that occur when some students can make it to school but others can’t.
  4. More personalized learning and increased participation. For students for whom the classroom experience is overwhelming, there may be an opportunity to shine in online discussions assigned for e-learning days. Students can also focus more or less on specific areas of an assignment when working from home.

Addressing Concerns

Even as more schools begin to adopt this approach, there remain some consistent concerns around e-learning days:

What about kids with no access to computers?

While most schools who have implemented e-learning days are also able to ensure that students have access to computers at home, they do have a number of contingencies should internet access be a problem:

  • In some schools, the e-learning day material is downloaded onto student computers or iPads in advance.
  • Other schools permit work assigned for e-learning days may be handed in 2 days to two weeks later to account for technical or scheduling issues that arise.
  • Schools also recommend students with no internet access use available community resources such as libraries and local businesses with free Wi-Fi.

What if students have trouble with the material?

Each school or district is adopting its own policy, but in general, teachers can support students on these e-learning days by:

  • Holding “electronic office hours”, that is being available during certain hours of the day via text, skype, or other means.
  • Responding to student email questions.
  • Providing videotaped lectures or notes to accompany their lessons for the day.

At the end of the day, as schools begin to adopt more technology to support learning, building e-learning days into the curriculum becomes increasingly easier. For schools already using content or learning management systems, students can upload their assignments for instructor or peer review that same day. Teachers can easily access the material for grading. Communications via cell phone or personal computer make feedback and team work an extension of social interaction students are already familiar with. Having students watch a teacher’s lecture at home as part of an e-learning day rather than in class is just another example of the flipped classroom we see gaining in acceptance as more teachers use class time to address more specific questions.

E-learning days are not meant to replace classroom instruction but can be part of a fantastic movement toward a more blended, more flexible curriculum model that uses technology to its best advantage.

Contact Designs2Learn to discuss how we can partner with you for more impactful learning design. Click here to participate in our Educational State of the State Survey, now open until the end of January.

Technology and Learning Design for Autism

Today, we’re sharing the second in our series on entrepreneurs who are using technology and learning design for social impact. We’re talking with Nancy Munro, founder and CEO of KnowledgeShift, a company providing learning services and technologies in a range of industries. Mobi-RolePlay is a KnowledgeShift offering that supports learners who have autism.

Designs2Learn: Can you provide a quick snapshot of KnowledgeShift? How’d you get started, what services you provide, etc.?

Nancy Munro: KnowledgeShift started out as a company that provided customized eLearning services to large corporations.  As time went on, we became experts on various technologies used to deploy, measure and evaluate adult learning in a corporate environment.

How did the idea of Mobi-RolePlay come about?

Approximately 5 years ago, we knew that mobile learning was going to be a new emerging market in the learning space, but we didn’t want to get into the business of creating “apps. ”  So by happenstance, I stumbled up on IVR (interactive voice response) technology and a light bulb went off.  This technology would allow me to build interactive conversations that work not only from mobile phones – but any phone!  It was much easier to deploy and manage that working with Apple or Android software for mobile applications.  We then went down the path of creating simulated role-playing.  The application allows for someone to practice having a conversation with a real person.  The real person has been pre-recorded, but it still feels like you’re talking to them live.  As we created simulations for professional situations a friend of mine who is a speech therapist suggested building some for kids that have autism to practice social conversations.

What have been some of the biggest challenges in working on a project such as Mobi-RolePlay for learners with autism?

The first phase of launching Mobi-RolePlay for kids with autism was – figuring out what they talk about, which types of conversations to build for each developmental level and how to make it all seem natural.

What kind of responses have you gotten to the offering? 

We have sat down with teachers and schools who work with kids with autism. They all love the idea of allowing the student to practice on their own.  Teachers really liked the fact that they could build their own conversations based upon what each student needed to focus on.  The application comes with a built in library of practice conversations, but the real bonus is tailoring the role-plays to each student.

We did get mixed feedback on the fact that the student has to use a telephone to connect to the simulations.  So we are working on a version that can be deployed from a computer using the built in microphone of the computer to capture their responses for each conversation.

What are some other social impact projects on your roadmap? 

We currently donate the use of Mobi-RolePlay to anyone who wants to use it for their child or student with autism.  We have also begun working with colleges and universities who participate in a national role-playing program for students who are seeking a BS degree with an emphasis on selling.  We are donating the use of Mobi-RolePlay to any college who wants to use this with their students to help them practice sales role-playing as part of the annual curriculum. This competition is held annually through the Pi Sigma Epsilon organization.  Currently we have three colleges using Mobi-RolePlay for this, the most involved of which is Northern IL University.

What advice do you have for others who are interested in focusing their talent and expertise on social impact projects?

Luckily we have an alternative source of revenue from the corporate side of the business, so we do not have the pressure of generating income from the use of this with students.  Just in general for anyone wanting to start a business, make sure your business plan recognizes that it may take more time than you estimate to really get momentum.  That being said, some of the more social focused programs ramp up faster because of the story behind what they are trying to accomplish.  Leverage social media as much as you can – if it’s a great story the network will help spread the word more effectively than you could do on your own—but be authentic, that same network that can be your arms and legs for momentum and quickly cut you off at the knees if they sense your intentions are not genuine.

Thanks for your time, Nancy, and for the work you do. We look forward to hearing more about the evolution of the Mobi-RolePlay technology in both the corporate and educational spaces.

See these sites for more on KnowledgeShift and Mobi-RolePlay. Stay tuned to Designs2Learn for more on learning design and technology for social impact.

Lessons from The Magic School Bus

The_Magic_School_Bus_title_creditOr “Take Chances, Make Mistakes, Get Messy” but Consider These Tips . . . “

The Magic School Bus series has been captivating readers since 1985, and with 87 million books in print, continues to enhance the lives of readers of all ages to this day. Lily Tomlin’s voice portrayal of the eccentric Miss Frizzle on the television animated series brought the series to new levels of popularity starting in 1994, and a new Netflix series will bring on new magic starting in 2016. While the anthropomorphic bus is a star in its own right, it really is Miss Valerie Felicity Frizzle who carries the stories in both print and on televisions and her popularity continues to grow through Cosplay and appearances at Com Con and via the creative energy of hundreds of fan artists across the globe.

So, we are all quite taken with her thirst for adventure and her ability to turn things around. But the truth is that we’d probably approach a real-life Miss Frizzle with some amount of caution, judging her initially for her fashion choices and her apparently scattered approach to classroom . . . er . . . management.

But whereas things typically begin in a less-than-calm manner in Miss Frizzle’s classroom, and although things do not often go according to plan, the outcome of each adventure is, actually, real learning. Frizzle is more in control than she appears to be and constantly adapts according to the need (as does the actual school bus). The kids are engaged in hands-on problem solving. Everyone learns something and is satisfied with the results.

So, while we absolutely advocate experimentation, and we understand that as educational practices evolve over time with the adoption and adaptation of technology, some best practices need to be maintained to maximize success and minimize failure in all online educational programs.

  • Start with what you know about best practices in teaching and learning.
  • Evaluate how the technology can support those practices and if not, consider how to adapt one or the other to achieve the best outcomes for your intended audience.
  • Consider optimal means of maintaining contact with your student audience, both programmatically/administratively and as part of the learning design.
  • Partner effectively to achieve optimal results.

We’re in the midst of a period of great experimentation, and there are fantastic tools and platforms being developed every day. We do need to take chances, make mistakes, and get messy; but we also need to know how to best serve our student audience in the process of innovating.

To learn more about best practices for being part of today’s educational evolution, contact us at Designs2Learn.

Have You Hugged Your Millennial Today?

iStock_000012999746SmallYesterday’s post on LinkedIn by Lee McEnany Caraher on the “5 Tips for Working with Boomers” inspired me into a little bit of TBT action in terms of bringing back this post from earlier this year. I thought it only fair to provide some tips for working more effectively with millennials.

I have to start out by saying that I borrowed the idea for this title from Michael Rochelle of Brandon Hall Group, who advised an audience of webinar a while back to do just that: Hug your millennials. That informative session, called “Top Talent Management Trends,” and the fact that, as Rochelle noted, millennials will be the majority by 2018, resulted in our creating a list of 10 ways we think you can keep your millennials happy and productively employed.

1. Always make sure your millennials know how they are doing.

Progress reports are an easy addition to your employee portal to help motivate people to complete their training courses, certifications, tasks, etc. Do this on a regular basis rather than simply annually.

2. Communicate frequently with your millennials about what they need to be doing.

Development plans with clearly articulated goals should be a part of any system to help drive performance forward.

3. Be sure to make your experts accessible to your millennials.

Team pages and expert forums are only a couple of ways that employees can seek expert advice to help move projects forward, close sales, etc.

4. Create a culture and work environment where millennials can seek the support and easily collaborate with their peers.

Millennials have been doing this throughout their school years through Facebook, Tumblr and other tools. Anyone who has parented a teenager knows that very few assignments get completed singlehandedly. Associate groups and peer-to-peer forums are just two ways that employees can share knowledge and expertise.

5. Provide easy access to informational resources that will help your millennials succeed on the job.

Well-architected libraries and repositories of information tagged and indexed according to job role or work group, etc. can make information more meaningful and help employees sort through “the tsunami” of information out there today.

6. Design concise, engaging, and targeted training for your millennials.

Todd Tauber of Bersin by Deloitte shared a great data point a while back from the Pew Research Center on about how most millennials sleep with their phones, which when coupled with how they use social networking sites and download videos gives you a great indication of how targeted your learning needs to be.

7. Ensure that your millennials feel connected to the company’s success.

Frequently refreshed content about corporate initiatives, incentive programs for top sales performance or other ways of recognizing contributions to your company’s success can help increase the level of engagement and help drive your key performance indicators in the right direction.

8. Make it as easy as possible for managers to see how their millennials are doing.

One of the greatest obstacles to improving performance is the inability to track and report on it effectively. Managers need easy-to-use dashboards to view learning progress, comment on work products, update development plans, etc.

9. Provide easy-to-use feedback tools for managers to work with.

Whether it’s setting goals, commenting on the development plan, or providing feedback on a business presentation, unless managers have the right tools, it will be hard to steer our millennials in the right direction.

10. Capture and provide the data for senior leadership to see that your learning and development processes and tools are clearly engaging your millennials in ways that help drive the company objectives.

Rochelle noted since the 1930s, we have moved from an apprentice-centered, to a teaching-centered, learning-centered, and now relationship-centered learning approach. In truth everything is more connected, and we all take a part in driving the success of the company forward. Rich reporting dashboards can help everyone, from individual employees to managers and leadership, see these connections more effectively.

OK, admittedly, our top ten could apply to any aged employee, but given specifics of millennial DNA, it behooves us to focus on the type of engagement that will not only result in more successful employee retention but also higher levels of productivity and overall increased revenues.

As Rochelle noted, we need to link everyone by technology and “picking the wrong technology is the worst think you can do.”

Stayed tuned to Designs2Learn for more on best practices in learning, design, and technology.

Learning by Actually Doing

I Learn By Doing vs Reading Man Choosing Education StyleThose of you who have read my previous blogs know that I am a huge proponent of 70:20:10 learning across the educational continuum. We’ve seen this tested in the corporate world through the great work that Charles Jennings, Jay Cross and many others have done and written about. Recently, as I’ve toured the country with a rising high-school senior looking at different college options, we’ve paid close attention to the work study, internship and other experiential opportunities offered on and off the college campus. Depending on the type of program you are enrolling in, many schools offer great options for field-based or on-campus jobs or internships that help college students build skills and networks while still in school. So, should we and how can we apply 70:20:10 in K-12? Yes, now more than ever, and here’s a few ways how.

  1. Make more time for project-based learning where the project involves actually building something. K-12 curricula must include long-term projects that allow students to work through problem-solving activities over a period of time. The ideation and project planning processes, working toward interim goals (aka project milestones) and the concept of final deliverables all provide real-world practice and can incorporate many of the standards required in today’s public school paradigm.
  2. Collaborate with outside experts, mentors, and business partners. Just as in the workplace, we look to those with more experience to support our individual work efforts, so should project-based learning be supported by partners in the business world willing to put in the time to bring these projects to fruition.
  3. Incorporate technology to provide the performance support to build on the interdisciplinary skills required to work on and complete the project. Today, many teachers are using blended learning programs to strengthen individual learning within a classroom setting. DIfferent students working through a team project will need different levels of support. Whether it’s access to Khan Academy videos or support by groups such as Digital Promise or others, there are systems in place to help support the type of activity that can ensure individual success within a team-based project.

This week’s pick for cool K-12 experiential learning is Tools at Schools. They are doing some fantastic work in the schools through fantastic learning design and thoughtful collaborations. Stay tuned for more on making learning more meaningful and accessible across the continuum.