Challenging Our Expectations: Creating a 21st Century Learning Environment

As our students become more and more connected to vast amounts and sources of information through the use of available technology, the role of the teacher, the school principal, the local superintendent and school board and state departments of education must shift to accommodate this new generation of learners. This presentation focuses on a more rigorous trajectory of learning where ALL students graduate college and career ready but not necessarily through the traditional school setting. Of primary interest will be the impact this new trajectory will have on the "adult learners" in our schools. Specific examples of nontraditional practices will be shared that have challenged the thinking, and more importantly the policies, of education leaders throughout our state.

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Notes by Marcel Kielkucki, Director of HS Completion Programs, Kirkwood Community College (
Presentation by Dr. Tommy Bice—Deputy Superintendent, Alabama
Started discussion with a anecdote when he was in Birmingham and started an alternative school—36 young men who had a lot of trouble with the law. Staffing was tough—longest someone lasted was 2 days. One day a young man came in, stuck a knife in the table, and said, “You don’t get it!” Didn’t call the police, and instead talked to him. Said you expect us to learn all of these things, but you don’t have a clue what we come with, what we fight to come here, but if you listen to us and get to know who we are and what are needs are we’ll do anything you ask us to do.
The system we call school wasn’t working—we have to create a system that meets the needs of our students.
Now he’s a relentless advocate for student voice, and he went to work for the state because he saw that policy was what was getting in the way and needed to be changed.
Why are we here? We’re here to help influence policy in addition to learning. The innovation is out there, but the adults can stand in the way.
We’re at a point to not only influence the future, but also the present.
Almost everyone wants schools to be better, but almost no one wants them to be different.
Best practices keep us captive, we need to instead look at next practices.
We need to push the conversation—referred to Ford’s quote that if he asked the public what they wanted, they would have asked for a faster horse.
Why are we doing this?
1) new competition from other nations, not the district down the road
2) college and career readiness—ability to draw inferences/conclusions, analyzing conflicting source documents, supporting arguments with evidence, and solving problems with no obvious answer
Gave an example about what would we do if a student pulled out a cell phone to answer a question on a test. In education, it’s cheating, but in the real world that is what employers would expect an employee to do.
We could have a computer lab in every classroom if we let students use their cell phones in the classroom.
Are educators the ones preventing moving things forward? (CAVE people—Citizens Against Virtually Everything)
We cannot wait any longer to move things forward—King’s quote “We have not time for the tranquilizing drug of gradualism.”
The Value of Student Voice cannot be underestimated. We need to change the system to create one that allows students to succeed, not survive. Example—who asked the children why they dropped out in school?
Has personally asked many kids the question. Those who he talked to have said it’s the system, not race, SES, etc.
When we interviewed students, they found many T/G gifted students.
Alabama created First Choice—which created flexibility of the Carnegie Unit, and wreaked havoc on scheduling. Why is time still the determinant? Challenged them to find a study that 180 days, 140 Carnegie Unit equals learning—it fits what we’re comfortable with.
Seniors in one school don’t go to school everyday—they have on and off campus sessions to help better prepare them for college. Decided instead of building a new $70 million on a new building, they instead put it to instruction because of the flexibility in the schedule.
Mobile now have drop back in academies—self-paced, individualized instruction. Now have 700 students back in school. Storefront models, etc.
We must believe we must teach all children whose schooling is important to us.
Dropouts have gone from 7,000 to 2,000 with new initiatives in Alabama yearly.
Learning needs to be constant with time as the variable. A place where student progress is measured by proficiency (credit advancement with testing out!) A place where schedules are varied based on individual student needs, and a place where demography doesn’t determine a child’s destiny.
Where are our new engineers, scientists, etc.? Stuck in Algebra I for 36 weeks!
Always remember to proceed until apprehended!