"I believe that education is the civil rights issue of our generation." – U.S. Secretary Arne Duncan, October 9, 2009

Archive for the tag “education in America”

Technology and the Transition in Education

Change is in the air. Actually, it’s in the classroom. Education in America has been hit with a wave of technology from iPads to iMacs to electronic whiteboards. It’s exciting; the growth of technology and its application to the classroom allows more opportunity for learning. Teachers can teach more efficiently; no more fussy overheads or booting up the computer for 10 minutes. And with tools like Diigo, teachers can present and share a series of sites to their students instantly.

The possibilities for the use of the iPad for students are endless, and they are undoubtedly sparking creativity. Young elementary school students are using the iPad to make their own digital storybooks, featuring text, photos, and links to other sites and content. High school students are using them for anatomy demonstrations, turning in assignments, recording lectures, creating group presentations, and even for assisting in lab experiments.

With the boom in technology we are also seeing a rise in online education. Top universities are now offering classes online for free for students around the world. All students have to do is locate Internet connection, login, and they have access to assignments, video lectures, tests, and other course material. This is a cheap, efficient way to gain an education; giving even disadvantaged students the opportunity to gain an education (can you see why Bill Gates is working towards increasing Internet access? Brilliant).

Online education certainly has its perks, but when combined with the fact that college tuition is becoming more and more expensive every year, I fear we are headed in a bad direction. Lets face it, online education is cheaper and people may soon come to realize that they can earn their degree without traveling miles away, paying over-priced housing, books, and tuition and putting themselves in student loan debt. People may start to question, is the “college experience” even worth it? It’s society’s future, potential answer to this question that concerns me.

I do believe colleges can and should become more efficient institutions, but is there a way this can be accomplished without robbing students of the crucial ingredients they need to thrive? I’m talking about the physical, hands-on experience of learning, serendipitous discovery, the benefits of interacting with other students, putting our minds together, sharing, and growing together into well-educated individuals. These are all things one can gain from attending class, things no technology can ever fully replace.

This past quarter my lab group in Animal Behavior went out into the field to run our own experiment on crows and their mobbing behavior. We created a mock dead crow (a black sock filled with dirt, complete with fake feathers), laid it out on our established site, and observed crow behavior. This experiment was so fun because we designed it on our own and obtained some interesting results! Crows actually mobbed our fake crow and one feisty one had the nerve to attack it, physically plucking its feathers out! It was experiences like these that made me think, ‘I love college; I love learning.’

Now if higher education transitions to the Internet and college campuses disappear…who will run the crow experiments?



A Different Perspective On Education: What’s Up With Unschooling?

Is it possible for one to learn and grow without traditional schooling? Some parents and educators have questioned this themselves, leading to the philosophy of radical unschooling. This term grabbed my attention just a few days ago. What a unique, strange concept. I, as I am sure is the case for some others, have never considered educating children in ways other than the curriculum of America’s education system. Homeschooling, I believe, still lies under the category of the traditional classroom; or it can be viewed as a variation of it, where children are still presented with material the government expects them to learn well enough to meet standard on national assessments.

So what is unschooling exactly? It is essentially an unconventional way of acquiring knowledge. Unschooling can be thought of as independent or self-directed learning, where children are encouraged to grow and learn naturally through life experiences, pursue their own interests, and ask questions. With unschooling, everyone has his or her own path in acquiring an education; there is no one simple formula.

Many believe that our nation has defined what education is and that education in America rests on the notion that children will not pursue an education on their own. But the philosophy of unschooling believes contrary; kids are naturally inclined to learn, explore, and are innately curious beings.

This seems very interesting to me. I undoubtedly hate doing calculus homework but that doesn’t mean that I don’t’ enjoy learning or don’t have the desire to learn, it just means that I’d rather acquire my knowledge in different ways.

I think this is what unschooling is about, and it forces us to ask one question. Why are we forcing children to memorize, to read and take notes from textbooks, and to take tests if that is not the way they desire to learn? Most people may answer, ‘well that is just how you learn, gain an education, and become successful in life.’

I may sound like the philosoraptor here, but why does America’s curriculum have to be the only means of educating individuals when there are certainly other ways people can learn? Humans learn on their own through real-world experiences, by playing, experimenting, and following their passion; this is how we learn even before we enter preschool, so I wonder why our curriculum does not center on this notion. If it did, there would be an additional option to mark on my multiple-choice exams:  there are many possible answers.

What is your opinion of unschooling?


Post-Grad Concerns? Keep Calm and Dream Big

Having only two quarters to go in my college education, I’m slowly becoming nervous. It’s hard not to be concerned with the massive amounts of news stories on low employment rates and stories telling how total student loan debt has surpassed total credit card debt. When my parents were my age, they already had jobs, me, and a home, so why can’t I be independent too? Ah yes, we are in quite a different era. Back then, college was the above-and-beyond, but now it’s the norm for one’s education and it has made my generation’s lives drastically different from the one before.

I don’t particularly like this. I just don’t want to be thirty, still living with my parents, and still trying to pay back loans; I want to get my post-education life started!

In a perfect world, I’d have a job lined up to roll right into after I graduate, and move into a place of my own. I’ve been in school for what seems and eternity, and I’m anxious to obtain the outcomes I’ve worked hard for all my life. Is it so wrong to want that? No, but my eagerness warrants some attention. Only I can make this dream happen, and I have to delay gratification for some more years in order to do so.  Yes that means putting down the IKEA catalogue, saving money in the bank, building a network, building a resume, and getting a good job under my belt.

It looks like I’ll have to rely on my parents financially a bit longer. I’ll be leaving college with a bachelor’s degree, but with an accumulation of student debt along with it. This has always been in the back of my mind—the debt, it’s scary. My father always just tells me to focus on my studies, not to worry, and that my job will pay off my loans.

But will I find a job, and if I do, how soon?

Here is my plan. As always, it’s good to remain optimistic yet be smart about it. I know the likelihood of a job landing in my lap in very slim, so I’ll need to be prepared to apply and interview at several places, and be prepared for the fact that this may take some time.

While my post-graduation future seems almost entirely out of my control, the truth is, the future really does lie in my hands, just as it’s always been. In high school I earned straight A’s to get into an excellent university, and I ran miles and miles to earn a spot on the start line at the track and field state championships. I’ve made my own luck in life and I will do it again. I just have to keep dreaming big and continue being the determined, go-getter that I am. Just like someone once told me, how I’ve achieved my success in the past is a reflection of how I will achieve in the future.

Reforming Education In America: Finland Teaches Its Kids and America Too

I think it’s great that America is getting off its high horse and reaching out to other countries for guidance on how to improve its education system. In a bigger picture, I think that communication and collaboration is key to positive social change. One thing I’ve learned through academics and athletics is that it’s okay to ask for help, in fact, it’s a pretty dang good idea. Look to your role models and do what they do—this is how you can learn and improve! After taking the article into consideration, this is what I highly suggest America does to improve its education system.

Students in Finland are consistently performing well, making Finland one of the leading nations in education.

I just read an intriguing, eye-opening article on Finland’s educational system. The article, What Americans Keep Ignoring About Finland’s School Success, was very informative and offered some great insights on what our nation can learn from Finland’s education system, and how we can apply their nation’s values to help improve our own education system.

From reading the article I learned a very inspiring and impressive piece of information about Finland. For one, Finland reformed its education system with the focus on achieving equity—giving every child, no matter where they live, their family’s income, or their background, equal opportunity for education.

Does this seem quite the opposite of America’s education system? It is. We have private versus public schools and universities. It looks as if America has a “mini war” within it, where institutions with money, power, and prestige strive to be better, achieve more wealth, and strive to outdo its competitors. These schools want to be known for producing the most special, standout students. Given this approach America is currently taking, it’s no wonder our students are falling behind in academic achievement—only a select amount of students have the best education available to them!

In agreement with the article, I think America needs to veer away from this competitive attitude and have schools cooperate with one another. America has a goal: achieve academic excellence so we can compete globally. But this goal cannot be reached if everyone is looking out for their own self-interests. We need to grow up, lend each other a helping hand, and sacrifice for the good of the group. Perhaps academic achievement isn’t something we can directly obtain, but merely a by-product of fundamental changes to our education system. If we can establish a policy on equity, I think all the pieces will fall into place for us.

Do you think it’s possible to establish a policy on equity here in America?


Moody’s Mega Math Challenge Brings Dessert to America’s Education Table

It’s one thing to perform well in math in the classroom, but applying mathematical knowledge is another. It takes skills in problem solving, creativity, and the ability to perform lateral thinking. One of The Moody’s Foundation, Moody’s Mega Math Challenge, seeks to highlight mathematics in hopes of instilling greater passion, confidence, and enthusiasm for the subject and its related fields.

According to Moody’s CEO, Raymond McDaniel, the program “is an opportunity for students to… create modeling solutions to real-world issues.”

Although the Foundation’s emphasis is on mathematics, I feel the Foundation’s concept can extend beyond math and into education as a whole.

Thinking about what they’re trying to accomplish got me thinking about what I think our nation hopes its students get out schooling. So here is my answer, in my opinion, about the goal of education in America.

The goal of my education isn’t to simply memorize facts and formulas, but to apply them in innovative ways to the real world. I wish to walk away with a more open mind, the ability to think critically, the ability to self-analyze and analyze others, to ask and learn not the “what” but the “how and why,” to adapt and change in order to become who I want to be. I wish to be curious and satisfy my desire for knowledge, to stimulate my mind, to read between and outside the lines, over the fence and to the moon, to think laterally, vertically, use my left or right side of my brain as I please, to collaborate with others, communicate my ideas, to be innovative, to leave more than an ecological footprint on this world, but to make a significant, positive mark that says, “Alison Was Here.”

I ask you to take a step back and think about the purpose behind your education. You’ve been armed with tools and knowledge, rapidly building and refining them since age five; now what will you do with it? Ventures like Moody’s Mega Math Challenge push students to not just answer this question, but to actively demonstrate it. I think our nation needs more challenges like this to stretch students’ minds. There is a world that extends far beyond the classroom and I think having the opportunity to apply one’s knowledge and to problem-solve in the real world adds something significant to one’s education. You could say this concept Moody’s Mega Math Challenge embodies brings dessert to America’s education table—you may enjoy the main course, but it’s the dessert that really satisfies your cravings.

Interested in the challenge? Register for Moody’s Mega Math Challenge by February 24, 2012 at 6:00 p.m. EST!

“I’ve Got No Strings To Hold Me Down”: Shifting Education In America

Schools in America have been controlled, to some extent, by the strings of a puppet master. President Obama proposes we cut some of these strings loose on teaching in the article, Obama in State of the Union: “America is Back”. He made an astute statement in his speech, one that I had been longing to hear from our nation’s leader: “teachers matter.”

Teachers are the key to education in America; they were in the past, they are now, and they will be in the future. This is why I agree with President Obama’s proposal that we turn around the teaching profession into one that is appealing, highly valued, and well rewarded. Why is this important? If we want the best teachers teaching our children, then we need to give teachers the best. If we believe teachers matter, the way that we treat them must reflect that attitude.

President Obama made another proposition. He suggested that we cut some strings loose on schools in America and allow teachers to teach more creatively and passionately. I couldn’t agree more. I think teachers should be encouraged to step away from the curriculum, using it more as a guideline. By doing so, we can shift the focus of teaching off of standardized tests.

With the heavy emphasis on meeting standards on standardized tests and limited time in the school day, teachers are forced to teach concepts and lessons geared towards achievement on these tests rather than ones that would be most enjoyable, memorable, and most beneficial to children’s education. This, I believe, limits children’s education, where they are only gaining a small amount of what is truly available to them.

If every teacher made their own twist on the curriculum, think of the diversity of minds that we could create through education. No two students from different classes, different schools, or different states would emerge the same

This could have substantial benefits for America; the greater the diversity of minds, the more we allow our society will advance. Is this not one outcome we want from improving education in America? What effect do you think greater freedom in teaching will have on education in America?

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