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An important day – Our first college counselor visit!

Today was an important day in the history of the new high school. We received our first visit from a college admissions counselor!

A representative from Life Pacific College stopped by to talk about the college and life as a freshman. I thought that this was pretty significant in that Life Pacific College is actually out-of-state, so the counselor needed to find information about us as a smaller school and then make a deliberate attempt to stop by for a visit.

It was a good feeling to be considered worthy for a stop on the college admission tour.

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Engaging language learning in the classroom

I came across this article that noted how the continued internationalization of the world economies is spurring the growth of language studies and translation services. While there are certainly economic advantages to knowing more than one language, I prefer to emphasize the personal satisfaction and enhanced cultural awareness that learning a language can have for students. I believe this can help bring the world a bit closer together.

It was with this in mind that I recommended all high school students in our school complete at least two years of world language study as part of their learning experience. The advantage of learning in a hybrid context is that we are able to offer a wide range of classes to a relatively small student population. Students can choose a language that truly interests them. Another advantage is that this offers a larger global classroom to my students who are learning their language alongside students from around the world.

This year I have students learning French, Spanish, German, Japanese, Mandarin Chinese, and Latin. The courses are accredited and are taught by state-certified teachers who are based throughout the United States, or even globally. In fact, our French teacher is living abroad in Tunisia, Africa!

I have appreciated observing how the students are getting involved in their language studies. They are demonstrating a high degree of motivation and self-management as they work through their classes. They are actively recording their speaking using a service such as Vocaroo, and attempting to dialogue with other students worldwide through the class discussion boards. Overall, I am noting a high degree of student engagement in their learning, which is essential if the learning is to be vibrant.

A wide selection of science classes in a hybrid school

Students gained access to their online classes today, and they appeared eager to get started learning again. As we begin this year, I was reminded of my post on choosing between honors-level and “regular” classes. The advantage of learning in a hybrid context is that we are able to offer a wide range of classes to a relatively small student population. For example, this year I have one student taking a class in marine science and four students choosing biology as their science. I have one student taking honors-level Earth and Space Science. Two others are taking chemistry, with one challenging herself by taking the honors-level class.

As I talk with them regarding their science choices, each commented that they appreciated having the freedom to choose an area that interested them. My honors-level chemistry student is particularly self-motivated to learn more about this field and appreciates “the challenge of going deeper.” I am glad that each student will be able to interact with other students worldwide who are also enrolled in the same class.

I love how we can engage students in their learning by offering a range of options, knowing that the courses are accredited and are taught by state-certified teachers who are science specialists in their field. I hope that the teachers will be able to pass on their passion to our students.

First day of school! – Year 2

We are off to a good start!

With much excitement I welcomed back our returning high school sophomores and welcomed our starting freshmen. We may not be a large learning community, but the focus and dedication to learning is already present in the room. My first focus for the day was for us to get to know each other better. I believe that community is very important, and I would like our students to feel comfortable with, and trusted by, each other, so I thought that this was valuable time to start together. It was fun to hear the different stories of an exciting summer. We even have a few international travelers in our midst. After some time reviewing our new learning schedule and talking about good study strategies we got to learning right away. Their first on-campus classes provided good introductions to the disciplines of literature and history. I feel that the day went by too quickly!

Honors vs “Regular” Classes

It is course registration time for the high school students and the question has been raised about the difference between honors-level and “regular” classes. I shared the following information with our students and parents regarding the difference between the two:

A typical honors-level class goes “deeper” into the subject matter and allows much more exploration of the content area. As a result, there is typically a greater demand on the student to work harder and learn more. If students are eventually considering any AP (Advanced Placement) courses for college credit, then honors-level coursework will help prepare them for the demands and rigor of those courses, too. It is also true that college admission officers like to see a breadth of coursework and challenges on a student’s transcript. Honors-level courses help demonstrate their commitment to learning.

I thought the following list from the Washington Post provides a good overview of “Who is a successful honors math student?” I encouraged students to ask themselves if this description applied to themselves as learners for any subject area. If so, I would recommend considering an honors option (and many did, too!)

The honors math student is one who:

  • Considers math to be one of his/her favorite subjects.
  • Is a critical thinker and enjoys exploration and problem solving.
  • Always wants to understand and not just rely on memorization.
  • Does not expect or need every step of a problem “spoon fed” to understand.
  • Can easily recall concepts and skills learned in previous math classes and incorporates these skills into new concepts being taught without having to be told or re-taught the old skills.
  • Is self-motivated.
  • Has excellent attendance.
  • Is willing to do homework every night.
  • Works well with other students.
  • Is bored if a math class moves to slowly.
  • Feels a responsibility equal to the teacher’s to ensure that he/she is learning as much as they possibly can.
  • Won’t be too frustrated by learning what may seem to be useless skills because he/she knows that high school is primarily a time for building those skills in preparation for future advanced studies in math, engineering, chemistry, medicine, etc.
  • Is not simply taking an Honors math class to look good for college, but is also taking it because he/she wants the challenge of a harder course.

Overall, I was left with the sense that this list describes a high school student engaged in his or her learning.

Worthy examples to emulate

I received an email yesterday with a link to the 50 Best Christian High Schools in the nation. As I reviewed this list, I considered the definition of “quality” that was used to compile the list. This included aspects such as the provision of learning support for academics, the emphasis on community service, fostering diversity and global awareness, the variety of extra-curricular experiences that students can have, and the integration of faith and learning as part of the learning experience.

My emphasis has consistently been on engaging students in their learning, equipping students for service, and empowering them to change the world. I believe this focus on students and their experience of school life is central to what we do. While I appreciated similar emphases from the list of schools, I cannot help but wonder how our model of school compares. I think we are off to a good start.

Deeper integration of engage, equip, empower in the school ethos

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I shared here about a faculty professional development day where I presented my philosophy of vibrant learning as the basis of a greater, school-wide philosophy of education. I am very pleased to note that this philosophy and orientation to learning is now being integrated deeper into the greater school ethos. In fact, our new school logo emphasizes the key elements of vibrant learning, namely engage students in their learning, equip them with the appropriate knowledge and skills that will help them achieve their goals and serve in their community, and empower students to change the world to make it a better place.