Zach Both

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How would you redesign the current high school program?

I have the opportunity to help completely redesign a local high school program. There's no debate that drastic reforms are needed and I was hoping you would have some ideas on what should be added, what should be altered and what should be scrapped altogether. I'm looking for a wide range of answers from specific details to broader ideas on the whole system. Don't hold back. Im looking forward to hearing what you have to say.

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    Dec 7 2011: And I really digging the gamification video. I especially agree with the point system. Positive is way better than negative.
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    Dec 4 2011: http://penny-arcade.com/patv/episode/gamifying-education

    I'm a game designer, so the ideas proposed in the above link are very interesting to me. Even if games are "not your thing", I do recommend watching it. It's a very thought provoking video, in my opinion.
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      Dec 5 2011: great video. gamification is definately the way to go.
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      Dec 5 2011: Well, there are games and games. Civilization was a laudable example of how to teach good governance and appreciation of the art of politics (or policymaking) while Red Alert, Age of Empires and others are not. The latter are simply about amassing wealth in order to buy more weapons BUT WITH NO CIVILIANS and THAT is extremely dehumanizing. Meanwhile, Civilization included civilians and every move you made as a player had a political price -- if you raised taxes to buy more weapons, local discontent rose and once it reached a certain level, your own population would side with any invader in case of attack.

      The dehumanizing games have already exercised powerful, negative control over kids. During the Columbine Massacre, the student killers laughed liked they'd hit a jackpot of points; there is footage of an Apache helicopter attack in Iraq where the radio talk was regularly punctuated with cheers of approval and laughter; there is footage of private security contractors driving down a highway in Iraq taking free shots at anybody who happened to be roadside along their path.

      That's scary because it seems clear to me that these hyper-realistic shoot-em-up games are completely blurring the big thick bright red line our conscience should have between symbolic targets in a game and real human beings with parents, spouses, kids and grandkids.

      Then the soldiers go home and wonder why they get locked into the psychotraumatic vortex called PTSD.
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        Dec 5 2011: While I don't exactly agree that the cheers of approval and laughter from soldiers can be attributed to video games (you can find examples of that far before video games came around), that's not really the point of gamification. If you haven't watched the video, I recommend you do. It has very little to do with playing actual video games.
  • Dec 9 2011: students should not have to ask permission to use the restroom. Teachers should express themselves as who they are and not follow a strict code of conduct, kids become more involved when they can relate to their teachers. have kids identify their hobbies and intrests, then Let them construct a project on the scholarly aspects of their interests Ex. hip hop music could be turned into music theroy or music production technology. most kids have cellphones so integration of that technology and enrichment on its circuitry could be a option. theres a common penalty for students who exceed and absence limit that results in stripping students of all their hard earned credits, i was given this penalty after my early tardies had allotted in absences, in retrospect it is my biggest grievence with public schools and is detrimental to the self esteem of kids who fall victim to its irrelevant wrath.students of all ages commonly all ask the same question to themselves whats my purpose?believe me when i say students will absorb allot of knowledge if you show them how to find the answer, in fact alot students have lower interest in learning when they think the answer cant be found. offer philosophy classes they are very underrated but in my opinion are greatly helpful for intrinsic learning.rows and isles are boring and dull let kids move there desk to any location they feel is comfortable allow students to decorate the room, its their learning environment so it must be naturally inspirational to them you could slip in a clever lesson about creativity and aesthetics. that reminds me if there is a group of kids talking, invade their group and relate the discussion to education. i have seen jaws drop when students realize how many academic subjects relate directly to their lives. swearing has become common use no one is trying to disrespect anyone. so let the swears slide. behavioral punshiments shouldn't inhibit the students ability to learn instead embarass him in front of his peer
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    Dec 8 2011: I'd just like to come back to the points system in gameification for a second. I agree completely with the positive message that you are trying to send with it as in you are earning by learning rather than losing marks for not knowing things. In Ireland the secondary education system is run on a points system basis. You spend 5-6 years in school, the first three of which are all built up to one big exam called the Junior Certificate. The idea is that you get an idea of what you want to do during these years and then narrow down. So after the JC you take 3 mandatory classes (English, Maths and The Irish Language) and 4 optional subjects from a list of 20, then study these for 2 years and sit the Leaving Certificate exam. The LC is points based ie. an A plus=100 points an A=90 etc. Then college courses here have entry requirements eg. Journalism=440 points. You are graded on your top 6 subjects and those points essentially decide if you go to college. On paper it is a good system but the arts and creativity are very undernourished. I just said I would use this as an example of where a gameification points system could go wrong!

    Zach I like your idea quite a lot. Giving them three years of experiencing many different subjectsand then having them focus further in their final year is a very sensible way to go I think. However I would suggest that you not limit them to one subject or even one area in their final year. Perhaps allow them to take two options and focus in on them. It will give them a broader view on things in my opinion. As well at that age I dont think anyone is sure of what they want to do for the rest of their lives! A student may pick one thing to focus on and by the end of that year find they have no long term interest and are left high and dry. Have a look at work placement with local businesses too. We run that here and it works very well. Hope this is of some help!
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    Dec 7 2011: Please forgive my poor taste.
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    Dec 7 2011: Thanks for all the suggestions everyone but I think this thread got a little off topic haha. I'll propose my ideas to help further discussion.

    While it is absolutely needed, a total reform of the largest public school district in Wisconsin would be near impossible (this district is where the high school in question is located). Hence these ideas are meant to work within the current school system's guidelines. I should further state that the high school being referred to is very small. About 30 students per grade level.

    It seems like schools love to be categorized. You have college preparatory schools. Art schools. Technical schools. Etc Etc. This in many ways is flawed. Schools should be able to cater to all types of students with all types of skills. That's why I propose that the first three years of high school are spent filling the prerequisites required for graduation. At the same time students should explore multiple areas and subjects that may (or may not interest them). It's by trying new things that you realize what you like or dislike.

    Now here's the kicker: The fourth year is spent as an in-depth independent study with a focus on internship and mentoring. Simply speaking, students will spend their senior year pursuing whatever interests them the most. For me, I was deeply passionate about filmmaking in high school. In this program, I would spend the entire year planning, writing and producing a film that would be shown at the end of the year. Another student who may be interested in business would work pursuing something entrepreneurial like starting a business of some sorts. For those who are not quite sure what they want to do, they would be provided with a list of things to choose from. The possibilities are endless.

    This would allow student's education to be hands-on and individually-tailored. They say the best way to learn is by doing. Thoughts?
  • Dec 6 2011: I would create some permaculture principles as part of the learning community. Using the positive, solutions-oriented holistic design science of permaculture, we can redesign our urban environment to integrate harmoniously with nature, learning to observe and solve problems the way she does. There are several resources for course materials on the internet.
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    Dec 6 2011: When games and other tools of indoctrination repeatedly involve you in experiencing a given virtual reality more intensely than direct personal experience,and thereby to trust it more, they strangle your soul.

    Have a nice day!
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      Dec 6 2011: I don't think that shooting someone in real life is experienced "less intensely" than doing so in a video game. Also, I don't understand what you mean when you say "they strangle your soul". However, I really don't think it's in good taste to have this conversation here, since Zach made this thread hoping to get suggestions on how to redesign his current high school program. If you start a new topic about this, I'm sure there will be many people (myself included), who would love to talk about it.
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    Dec 5 2011: Carlos, I agree: I simply went into instant fulmination rather unthinkingly.

    My apology.

    Still, virtual reality is rendering direct personal experience increasingly obsolete and, well, that scares me.

    Have a nice day; I had no intention of offending.
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      Dec 6 2011: No need to apologize. I know it is a topic that a lot of people are concerned about, and thus, should be talked about and debated (Perhaps not here though, in the interest of not "hijacking" Zach's thread). I was not offended at all, and actually, I would really be interested in having that conversation/debate with anyone who'd be interested.
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    Dec 5 2011: 1. Shut down the school so you can fire all the teachers fairly.
    2. Poll the kids to see what they want to do, or could learn by doing. (Get the abstract thinkers into artwork and the manually intuitive into woodworking and whatnot)
    3. If the number of "don't know" is too big, bring in a variety of artisans, tradesmen and professionals so kids can shop around (In the West, we're good at locking kids into zero reset mode and pulling the plug before restart).
    4. Hire the ones the kids like. (We all learn best from people we like).
    5. Renovate the school building in function of the new activities (every activity deserves a dedicated space).
    6. Under the renovation line item, include installation of dormitories where kids can sleep over (precious for kids from disturbed and disturbing family lives).
    7. Other thoughts are (1) "classes" may not need fixed classroom periods, but each teacher has a homeroom that functions as an ongoing workshop and the school functions like a mall for skillset shopping, (2) take care to select artisans and such under Point 3 hereinabove for maximum diversity of every sort -- an excellent model to emulate is the one used in Switzerland for selecting cabinet ministers where you find yourself stuck looking for an extremely specific blend of professional, ethnic and background criteria in a candidate in order to preserve global balance that makes every citizen feel an emotional bond to the government of a country with perhaps the least famous capital in Western Europe, (3) give kids the option to pursue a course until the teacher gives them a simple "certificate of competence" or "certificate of excellence" but at a lower level, let the transcript simply state "n" weeks' exposure to a given subject.

    There's more but this should get you started.

    Cheers!
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    Dec 4 2011: There are several core courses that I find essential.
    1. Communication. I know it's taught in school already. But the existing program is designed to run for a total of almost 5 minutes over a period of 12 years. This doesn't cut it. Every course and every person, every company that you come into contact will be made more grand or less grand by your ability to effectively communicate. Communication is of course not merely speaking or merely listening. Communication skills are learning skills. When a person or group can communicate well, it can teach or learn well. It doesn't really matter if you have a great violin if you don't know how to use it. But if you possess good communication skills, you can acquire knowledge in any and all subjects with ease. Communication skills will help you with personal relationships be it parent, friend, lover or child. You'll replace frustration with understanding. You'll replace fear with ability. You'll be the most powerful human you can be.
    The thing is...there are virtually no teachers who currently have good communication skills themselves, whether school teachers or parents. We as a society have to design a program first that is effective, train our teachers (includes parents) and then they can train our students. This is the most important course in Med School, Law School, Psych, Business School etc and "oh yeah, it's not a course". How'd they miss this one?

    2. Responsibility. Sounds simple. It is. But it takes a while to learn how and where to apply it. It takes a while to gain a universal perspective on the subject so that one might aptly apply it. It cuts across the fabric of most everything and defines a large percentage of how we view ourselves, our abilities and therefore what we can achieve for ourselves and others. It is a BIG DEAL.
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      Dec 5 2011: Interpersonal communication, conflict management and alternate spiritual belief systems & traditions, plus modern dance or some sort of art physical expression are almost mandatory. Ideally, the teacher just shuts up and mines the kids for what they can teach each other.

      The trouble with many Western teachers is that they are used to functioning autonomously, with few teamwork skills yet they're supposed to oversee a classroomful of kids who are supposed to function harmoniously after being seriously indoctrinated with the fallacy that the only path to success is to get noticed as a celebrity or some other sort of dysfunctional individualist.