August 30, 2011 - 10:01 PM
This week, my work at the Center for Advanced Technology Education took me back to my hometown of Cottage Grove, 26 miles south of Eugene. The goal was to meet with Thomas Horn, the principle of Kennedy since 2007, and discuss the possibility of implementing our Strategies for Online Academic Reading in a classroom or two this upcoming fall. The more students we have participate, the larger our sample size and ultimately, the more significant and applicable our findings may turn out to be. As it turns out, rather than convincing (aka selling) Tom that this opportunity would be the start of a mutually beneficial relationship, one in which both our research team and his students would gain something, I spent the majority of our two-hour meeting listening intently to his goals for the school and the experiences he has had with his students.
That said, Tom Horn is a visionary. Spending the majority of my primary and secondary school years in and around Cottage Grove, I consider myself fairly familiar with the area's demographic make-up and many of the problems the community faces. As a student at Cottage Grove High, my exposure to Kennedy alternative high school was limited, although the school's proximity to the swimming pool where I was a lifeguard for 4 years gave me more than the average CGHS student. To "us", being a student at Kennedy was synonymous with any combination of the following: being poor, doing drugs, going to juvenile detention, and leaving CGHS, usually by way of expulsion. And for the most part, these were all true. Even now most of Kennedy's students come from the poorest homes in Lane County, if they have homes at all. Prior to 2007, it seemed as if Kennedy had the sole purpose of providing a holding tank for the community in which south Lane County's toughest kids could be kept busy for several hours of every weekday. Not that many traditional high schools around the country don't also serve this purpose, but Kennedy was in sharp contrast to the brand new, community-supported establishment down the road.
One of Horn's immediate goals is to reconstruct Kennedy's image within the community. And to a significant degree, he has been successful. In our meeting he mentioned the change in people's perceptions about the school. Fascination and enthusiasm, rather than feigned approval are now more characteristic responses of the school's surveyors and other inquisitive members of the community. Horn's work thus far has been transformational for both school's vision and for the students themselves.
Focusing on five specific areas, around which the school's activities revolve, students take part in project oriented learning within their own community. These areas are agriculture, architecture, energy, forestry, and water. Through local collaborative projects with agencies and non-profits such as Willamette Watershed Council, the U.S. Forest Service, the BLM, and Aprovecho, students learn first-hand about environmental issues and what it takes to survey, assess, and potentially solve many of them. Academically, these projects provide ample opportunity for the students to progress through practical experience and problem solving. Horn mentioned to me that in the last few years, his students have improved their reading and writing scores simply by reading and writing more, although now many of them have an invested interest in learning.
Horn has transformed Kennedy Alternative High School into Kennedy School of Sustainability. He has rejected the "us" and "them" dichotomy that often stigmatizes alternative schools, and has redefined the school as a place where students can become both well-rounded students as well as environmentally conscious citizens. For many of his students, the experiences at Kennedy are life-changing, and the success he's seen isn't likely to change any time soon. Coming full circle back to why I was there in the first place, Kennedy openly welcomes collaboration with local colleges and sees it as a great chance for students to see what life can be like after graduation.
Here is a link to the school's homepage. Check it out.
August 28, 2011 - 10:04 PM
As I have mentioned in earlier posts, I work for the Center for Advanced Technology in Education (CATE) here at the U of O. Also, as a McNair Scholar I am working on a research project studying how students seek information on the Internet that started this summer and will extend into fall and possibly winter term. There is no coincidence here. While working for CATE, which entails curriculum design and recording instructional videos, I am also working under the supervision of Dr. Carolyn Knox on my research project. There is no coincidence here.
At CATE I'm learning a lot about the field of education and educational design in particular. This aspect of my experience has been both enlightening and at times overwhelming. The more I learn, the more I become aware of how little I know. I am constantly reminded of the vast body of knowledge we have created about subjects I would never think twice about. Yet, I am thankful that someone has. And I am thankful that I, if I felt so inclined, could learn about it from books, professors, journals, internet articles or any other way disseminating valuable educational information. However, I recognize that my privileged access to our culture's collective knowledge body is granted to me, in part, because I am a university student. Millions of people here in the U.S. and abroad do not have the privilege of a four-year college education and most are more than capable of completing one provided they had the financial resources.
My interest in technology and education lies in the inestimable potential the Internet has to share information with and include historically marginalized populations. Technology has brought global populations together in a number of ways, but none have done as well as the Internet in recent years. We view, share, create, and collaborate online in an unprecedented way. Not only that, but recent projects such as Carnegie-Melon's Open Learning Initiative, MIT's OpenCourseWare, iTunes U, and the Kahn Academy have revolutionized the way many of us think about learning and teaching on the Internet. Soon, terabytes of valuable and reliable (hopefully) information will be at our fingertips.
Our reliance on the Internet for communicating and gathering information is not likely to decline any time soon. "The Cloud" as some call it, has the potential to take many of us to new heights, to invite new people into the global discourse and to cultivate new ideas.
August 25, 2011 - 10:06 PM
Hello?...Are you there?...Has anybody seen my Inspiration?
Chances are you'll probably find it hanging out with your Creativity and your Motivation. The three of them are near inseparable. This is because they push each other, each one of them knowingly and unknowingly contributing to the whole that is their friendship.
These three friends, each one unique and indispensable to the group, can create masterpieces when they work together. And like all good friends, they rely on each other; when one is lacking, the others pick up the slack.
The reason they get along so well is because they all share the common belief that Passion is the key to success and happiness. From this shared value, they can articulate their differences. Because after all, each of them has a different perspective and they may disagree about any number of things. But it is this sole similarity that holds them together.
I have always been interested in inspiration and how powerful it can be, but today is the first time I have been inspired enough to write about it. My inspiration comes from many different places. Most commonly from movies, music, art, books, nature, friends, and stuff I've found on the Internet. But in the end, I've found that it's the combination of inspiration, motivation, and creativity that really makes the difference. To provide another metaphor, the spark is the inspiration, the fuel is the motivation, and the engine is your creativity (some of us may only have a standard 4-cylinder while others are working with a prolific V12, Da Vinci anyone?). The point being that without all three, your car won't start.
Being at least somewhat ambitious, I feed off inspiration and embrace its spontaneous nature. The tough part for me, and for most people I assume, is acting on it. An idea, no matter how ingenious, is only as good as the action that follows. This is where your motivation kicks in, your drive, your tenacity.
Going into my senior year, some might wonder if my motivation is waning. And to be honest, I have had low points, but then I realize that the end of one thing is just the beginning of another. After graduation I will face a whole new set of challenges and with any luck, what I have learned these last few years will prepare me to overcome them.
Stay Motivated. Stay Creative. Stay Inspired.
August 16, 2011 - 6:46 AM
Tuition: $8, 883 dollars. Food and Housing: $8, 501 dollars. Books and Supplies: $1, 050 dollars. Making life better for yourself and your future children: priceless.
Or at least it should be. But the first expense on this list is rising, and the prospects that come from getting a degree are becoming slimmer. In other words, volatile tuition costs and a scarce job market can make even the brightest students think twice about what it means to get a college degree. For many more people are beginning to think that maybe it just isn't worth it. In my opinion, this is wrong; it is worth it. Aside from the more money you will make, there are numerous other quantifiable and unquantifiable benefits that come from earning a college degree. Benefits shared by you and your family. In fact, we benefit from the people around us having a higher degree of educational attainment. Education is after all, a positive externality.
However, for various reasons the money usually allocated to fund state institutions of higher education has taken a sharp nose dive in recent years. It has become less of a priority for our state legislators and maybe that is a reflection of our priorities as the public. But a recent article in the Register Guard would suggest otherwise. The article titled, "UO aces fundraising efforts" shows that despite our weak economy, UO fundraising has remained as strong as ever bringing in "more than $100 million in gifts for the fourth year in a row". With so many people giving so generously to the UO, $73 million to academics and $43.6 million to athletics during the 2010-11 fiscal year, you would be hard pressed to say that people don't care about higher education. Not to take away from the phenomenal job of fundraising we do on this end.
In light of our lack of state funding, our alumni, students, parents, and other friends of the university have stepped up to the plate. Our donors have shown us that they care about our education and that they want us to succeed. Contributing to UO academics is one of the greatest investments a person can make. We will become the next generation of leaders, politicians, teachers, engineers, scientists, journalists, artists and entrepreneurs. A gift to the UO supports students in all of our academic pursuits.
Because of current donors and donors in the past, the students of today and tomorrow have a chance at making a better life for themselves and the people around them. As a student who has directly benefitted from these gifts, I am forever grateful for the generosity shown by donors.
Thank you and Go Ducks!
August 15, 2011 - 10:32 PM
Last Thursday and Friday, the McNair Scholars summer research and seminar program came to a close with our works-in-progress presentations of our summer research. Eleven of us each gave a 20 minute presentation followed by ten minutes for questions from our audience. These presentations were designed to give us practice presenting our research and answering questions in front of a, this time, laid back and friendly audience. This was a great opportunity for us to demonstrate our public speaking ability and our knowledge of our respective fields of study.
Students presented work from many different fields of study. Thursday was dominated by work in the natural sciences such as, molecular biology, biochemistry, nanochemistry, and molecular cloning. The last two presentations that day were on communication disorders and language socialization. Being outside of the natural sciences, I had very little background knowledge about what many of the students were studying but each of them put their work in context and explained the technical processes in ways we could all understand.
Friday, two students from the psychology department presented their work, one studying visuo-spatial contextual processing and the other measuring stress levels in parents of children with Autism Spectrum Disorders. After these two we moved out of the sciences with my presentation on online educational resources. Following mine, a student presented her work studying the experience of undocumented people seen through the lens of Theater Arts and magical realism. To finish it up, my friend Bara delivered a powerful presentation evaluating and comparing international non-governmental organizations such as the IMF and World Bank with smaller, micro-level organizations.
Watching all of these aspiring academics was an inspirational experience that gave each student a chance to establish themselves as researcher and show their dedication to contributing to our body of knowledge.