22 June 2011

Learning Through Real World Experiences

By Dayna Lauer

In today’s system of education, we frequently hear the phrase, “Teaching to the test.” Unfortunately with the addition of the adoption of the Common Core Standards, many teachers around the county are tossing out any ideas of weaving together the standards, the test preparation, and solid classroom instruction. Many are, in fact, simply teaching to the test. It is a regrettable effect and one that can be reversed.

I propose that standardized test preparation and common standards can be combined in a classroom centered on authentic instruction. By this I mean, instruction that has a connection to the real world in which we all live, advocates for higher order thinking, encourages conversation, and promotes depth of knowledge for ALL students. These factors can also be enhanced by technology integration. Thus it is imperative for teachers to begin structuring lessons around authentic tasks.

Recently I spent time working with teachers who intended to structure a task for students that would integrate multiple classes, meet multiple standards, and give students the skills needed to perform well on the state standardized tests in the Spring. I was amazed at their product! While it would take me much longer than this blog to describe all of the elements that were involved, here is the summary: students will visit a local arboretum during which they will receive instruction on the flora and fauna of the arboretum. While there, students will be measuring slope and distances on their walk. They will also be calculating their heart rate as they walk at various speeds around the arboretum. The students will then be responsible for producing a local field guide to the arboretum that incorporates QR codes. Included in the field guide will be student produced digital pictures of the plants, as well as student created artwork of the species. Students will also work collaboratively to create a Google Map walking tour of the arboretum and create a website dedicated to the history of the arboretum.

This authentic, interdisciplinary unit took these teachers three solid days of planning to create and they are excited to implement it in the fall. I am sure the results will be equally exciting. It is important to note, that the summer is the perfect time for authentic planning to begin, because while teachers may not be in the classroom during the summer months, they certainly spend countless hours preparing for the students they will meet in the fall!

Dayna Laur is a 13-year veteran social studies teacher at Central York High School and is a National Faculty Member for the Buck Institute for Education. She has her National Board Certification, a bachelor’s degree in history from Virginia Tech, a Master of Arts degree in education in curriculum and instruction from the University of Pittsburgh, and a Master of Science degree in 21st-century teaching and learning from Wilkes University. Over the past four years, she has worked closely with the Classrooms for the Future initiative in Pennsylvania, presenting to teachers, instructional technology coaches, administrators, and higher education faculty members on ways in integrate project-based learning in a technology-rich classroom environment. She has been featured as the model teacher for Authentic Based Classroom Instruction as produced by the National Institute for Professional Practice and as a model teacher for the Schools that Work Series as produced by Edutopia.

20 June 2011

No Question About It...Early Childhood Education Prepares Children for School

By Christy Renjilian

The Pennsylvania Office of Child Development and Early Learning (OCDEL) released the outcomes for children attending Pre-K Counts, Keystone STAR 3 & 4 early childhood education programs, and state funded Head Start programs. The findings are very impressive.

For Pre-K Counts, a program for at-risk three and four year olds, 99%, of the children showed age-appropriate or emerging age appropriate language, math and social skills on a standardized assessment tool. These children are entering kindergarten with appropriate academic and social skills and ready to learn. Less than 25% of these same children entered the Pre-K Counts program with age-appropriate skills. Currently, 254 York County children, or 1%, attend Pre-K Counts programs. The programs are administered by Crispus Attucks, KinderCare, York Day Nursery, York JCC, York YWCA, and the York City School District/CPC.

Keystone STARS promotes quality improvement among child care programs through quality standards and increased requirements for ongoing professional development for teachers. Nearly all children enrolled in Keystone STAR 3 & 4 programs showed age-appropriate or emerging age-appropriate language, math and social skills. Less than one third of the preschoolers began the school year with age appropriate skills. In a 2010 survey of more than 7,000 parents whose children attend a Keystone STAR 3 or 4 site, approximately 96% reported that the program and teachers’ experience met their expectations. OCDEL monitors compliance with Keystone STAR program requirements through a system of reporting, site monitoring and classroom environmental ratings. Independent assessors evaluate individual classrooms using the nationally recognized Environmental Rating Scales. In York County, 31 programs are either a STAR 3 or STAR 4. From 2006 to 2011, the number of York County STAR 3 programs has increased from zero to fifteen. A listing of STAR 3 and STAR 4 programs can be found at http://www.pakeys.org/

Less than one in five preschoolers enrolled in state funded Head Start began the year with age-appropriate skills. By the end of the school year, nearly all showed age appropriate or emerging skills. Head Start is a comprehensive program serving low income children and their families. On average, these children are at a high risk of entering kindergarten developmentally behind and of failing in school. Approximately 0.4% of York County children are enrolled in state funded Head Start. The Community Progress Council (CPC) operates Head Start.

Area kindergarten teachers report that children who attend high quality early childhood education programs make a smoother transition to kindergarten and have the necessary language, math and social skills to be successful. In fact, one elementary principal noted that the curriculum has been revised to address the fact that children are entering with more skills.

The United Way of York County, through Focus On Our Future, provides training and technical assistance to help programs improve their quality, offers scholarships for early childhood educators pursuing higher education, and works with families to support their efforts to ensure that their children enter kindergarten ready to learn and succeed. Over the past 16 years, the United Way of York County has invested over $6 million dollars in high quality early childhood education. This investment is clearly paying off.

For more information go to:

Christy Renjilian is the Director of Focus On Our Future for the United Way of York County. She has a Masters degree in Social Policy Analysis from the University of Chicago. Christy has more than 20 years of experience administering early childhood education programs and has been with the United Way of York County for more than five years.  She lives in Springettsbury Township with her husband and two children. Christy can be reached at renjilianc@unitedway-york.org or 717-771-3808.

13 June 2011

Parenting in a Digital Age

By Ben Smith and Jared Mader

Not too many weeks ago, following a weekend hiking and camping trip, my daughter was excitably searching the web for a Camelbak hydration pack -- just like the one that her friend had been drinking from over the last few days. At age seven, she is quite savvy with her devices, so, of course, I told her to Google “Dick’s” (Sporting Goods) as a good starting point...at that very moment, I realized that her literal interpretation of my instructions were filtered neither by experience or by digital awareness. Her innocence was not to blame, but rather the uncensored content that is just one click away. So, what could I have done differently -- that brings us to the scope of this post.

First, we as parents need to make sure that we’re having the conversations about the dangers of online activities at home. This cannot just be a message that is heard in school, but it must be a cultural understanding. Don’t know where to start, that’s okay, http://www.commonsensemedia.org/ has done a great job of posting the top ten things parents need to know when talking with their kids about Internet usage and safety. We cannot talk about cybersafety without addressing Facebook. Children can officially sign up for an account beginning at 13. Once the account is created students post information to their wall with any web enabled device. Parents can find guidance for their children at http://www.facebookforparents.org/.

Second, it’s time to arm yourself with all of the information that you need to know, from cell phone safety to web filtering and everything in between. CyberSmartParent is a Google Site committed to providing current information about how to keep your family safe in an increasingly more connected world. Simple things, although challenging to enforce, like requiring your kids to share all of their online passwords with you, checking their cell phone usage, and using web filters to monitor or regulate the times of day that they are online are all ways that you can show your kids that your are active and interested in their web presence. In our house, all of the computing devices remain in the common area. No web surfing gets done behind closed doors. We also talk about who you can tell your password to and how to handle emails soliciting information.

Third, it’s never too late, but preferably before your children ever begin to engage socially in the web, you need to become more aware of the dangers of cyberbullying, online predators, and the acronyms and language that they use to mask their real message. The Better Business Bureau has done a nice job of describing Cyberbullying, as well as has provided some of the most commonly used acronyms when translating these digital conversations.

Finally, and most importantly, you need to be vigilant. Our digital footprints are extending far beyond the walls of our homes -- protect them. Have regular conversations with your kids about the lasting effects of what they post and how they act, when working online. If they are using Facebook, create your own account and become friends with them so you can see their posts. Adding a filter to your computers is not enough, as we know that the filter will one day not be there, and the choices that your kids make will be the result of your vigilance along the way.

The web is an exciting place, filled with opportunity and new ideas. We just want to be sure that we are protecting our families from those elements that exist to do them harm. Hopefully, some of these tools will guide you and your children in this new journey that you will be embarking on with them.

Ben Smith is a physics teacher and science chairman at Red Lion Area High School, where he has worked for the past 22 years. He is also a partner in an educational technology consulting practice called EdTechInnovators (http://www.edtechinnovators.com/). His work with schools has taken him across the U.S. and overseas to work with the Singapore Ministry of Education. Ben serves on the Board of Directors for the International Society for Technology in Education, a nonprofit international organization. Ben lives with his wife Lottie in York Township with their two children – Caitlin, 14, and Ian, 10.

Jared Mader is the Director of Technology for the Red Lion Area School District. He has served in this position for four years, after teaching Chemistry for nine years. In that time, he has led technology integration professional development initiatives. He is a member of the Discovery Educator Network and has been identified as a PDE State Keystone Technology Integrator. He also serves as a partner in an educational technology consultancy, EdTechInnovators, providing professional development to districts across the United States and abroad. Jared lives in York with his wife Janell and 7-year-old daughter Emma. You can contact him at maderj@rlasd.k12.pa.us or jared@edtechinnovators.com.

Walking Into the Future of York County

By Shanna Weist

There have been major changes in the economy and the housing market over the past few years. In some parts of the United States property values have dropped significantly, foreclosures are at record highs, and fluctuating gas prices have made long commutes more costly.

As a result of these economic forces, the preferences of what type of homes and communities people want to live in has changed as well. The National Association of REALTORS conducted the 2011 Community Preference Survey to explore how American’s preferences regarding communities and housing have changed over the last seven years.

The survey reveals that, ideally, most Americans would like to live in walkable communities where shops, restaurants, and local businesses are within an easy stroll from their homes and their jobs are a short commute away. According to the survey, when considering a home purchase, 77% of respondents said they would look for neighborhoods with abundant sidewalks and other pedestrian-friendly features.

However, 80% would prefer to live in single-family, detached houses over other types of housing such as townhouses, condominiums, or apartments. Ideally, Americans want both walkability and single-family homes. When asked if they can’t have their ideal situation, the majority of Americans would choose living in single-family homes over a walkable community.

The survey also revealed that while space is important to home buyers, many are willing to sacrifice square footage for less driving.

How can York County use this information?

York has not been immune to national economic trends. New Construction growth has slowed dramatically but our population continues to rise. What municipalities in York should do now while there is pause in new construction is to take the time to plan for the future. Directing growth into areas where the infrastructure exists with the creation or revitalization of walkable communities.

Currently York County has very few municipalities who have enacted ordinances for smart growth communities such as Traditional Neighborhood Developments or TNDs. Traditional Neighborhood Development is a type of land use that permits a compatible mixture of residential, commercial and civic uses integrated with open space to create a balanced community. TNDs typically have higher density in exchange for open space preservation. The concept of TND is not new. There are hundreds of TND communities across the United States - some as close as Lancaster County. The Community Preference Survey revealed that 56% of Americans want to live in smart growth communities such as TNDs.

The York/Adams Regional Smart Growth Coalition developed a TND Handbook for municipalities. Now seems to be a ripe time for municipalities to study the idea of adopting a TND ordinance.

The Survey is good news for York City and our boroughs because it shows that people want to live in walkable communities convenient to businesses. However, when it comes time to consider redevelopment projects in our urban areas it may be wise to place greater emphasis on detached single-family home development. The results have shown that while Americans want walkability they are not willing to give up single family homes for it. Can we have them both? Yes, with the proper ordinances. Now is the time to enact them.

Shanna Wiest is the government affairs director for the Realtors Association of York & Adams Counties and has been with the association since 2005. In her position, she advocates for homeownership, economic development and smart growth planning. Shanna also serves as the secretary/treasurer for the York/Adams Regional Smart Growth Coalition and the president of the Economics Club for the York County Chamber of Commerce. Shanna earned a bachelor’s degree in economics from Dickinson College and her Master’s of Public Administration from Penn State University. Shanna lives in Springettsbury Township with her fiancĂ© Joe