Celebrating Joy in Learning

A New Day Dawning in Centennial School District?

There is a new initiative afoot in the Centennial School District.  It has been growing for a few years now and it is terribly exciting.  You probably haven’t heard it mentioned before because there isn’t a formal name to this initiative but I will be very surprised if you aren’t hearing from your children that things are changing. School is increasingly exciting, interesting and even at times, really fun!

What is happening is that joy in learning is working its way back into the day.

Time and again we are seeing pockets of excitement and patches of enthusiasm surging to the forefront.  Our launching of full day kindergarten has been fantastic.  The teachers are having a ball and the kids are thriving.  A robust kindergarten program is the launching pad for future success.  Most of us educators can quickly crush an interesting conversation by diving into data and educational theory so I will try to avoid those pitfalls today but it noteworthy to repeat, the evidence of the benefits of early childhood education are indisputable!

Moving up the grade levels, a fascinating partnership with Khan Academy, the revolutionary free world class educational on-line content provider is allowing us to customize our education for each and every student in ways we could only dream about 10 years ago.  While focused on third through fifth graders for this year it is surging out of these grades and into other courses and grades across the district.  Our third through fifth graders worked on a Khan Academy competition called LearnStorm—impressivey, our district is ranked in the top 5 of over 10,000 school districts in the nation that participated.  And we did that well because our students were having fun and taking great joy in their own learning.

The following video was created to share Centennials success with the LearnStorm competition, our Khan work is all outside the normal instructional day.  So, our students are getting their normal education plus Khan.  The video also serves as a great introduction to the work our teachers are doing with your children and Khan Academy please click on this link:

https://drive.google.com/a/centennialsd.org/file/d/0B7ujtkLZ6nlyMVJzZ1BsZFEzSlU/view?usp=sharing_eil&ts=59f0c51f

I love how excited these students are to be hitting their personal goals and celebrate their own learning.   These students engaged, voluntarily in over 52,000 extra (let me repeat that, extra) math assignments, which totaled well over 4,200 extra hours of math learning.  That is above and beyond the normal course of the day.  As something of an education nerd, I love that. And it certainly helps us on our goal of becoming a top math district in the region if not the state.

The thing about our current collaboration with Khan is that we are meeting approximately 1,200 students where they are educationally, and it is occurring in Willow Dale, McDonald and Davis.  And, the students can access their khan accounts from anywhere—and they are.  Learning is happening well outside our four walls, seven and half hour days or between two book covers.  Learning is happening all over the place at all sorts of times.

Furthermore, the use of Khan Academy is starting to occur in the middle schools and Tennent, and moving those schools forward.  Khan is a powerful, interesting and free tutorial type program put together by some of the best educators in the world.  It captures a systematic, standards based curriculum that supports our students where they are, matches lessons to what they need and provides numerous learning opportunities.  Out classroom teachers are vital to this work as it extends and personalizes the teaching they are doing.  Khan doesn’t work nearly as well without classroom teachers support—regardless of what math program a district might buy, Khan can make it better.    For us it is simply a case of students finding out what they know, and don’t know, and then getting better.  We are finding that students, when they have the tools to learn and grow, choose to do that.  There are many neat things about Khan Academy but one of them is they a lessons translated into a wide array of languages.

Humans are born to learn.  Increasingly we are creating learning opportunities for kids and teachers to thrive and grow at their own pace.   We were not born to do well on a standardized test because at the end of the day, life is not a standardized test.  It is about choosing the best path forward in any given situation.  It is about figuring out how to get to work, get the kids to school and make the mortgage payment.  It is about being a positive and constructive member of society!  In Centennial, we are celebrating our diversity. We are celebrating learning and we are exploring and pushing the intersections of Arts, Academics and Athletics.  And the students are increasingly loving being there.  We know we aren’t perfect but we are better than we were.

Our mission statement celebrates the Arts, Academics and Athletics.  Increasingly, we are blending these concepts.  Art is taking our academic work to the next level.  Technology is influencing the arts and all of it is influencing our overall programming.

A case in point is at the secondary level, Dr. Best, Principal at William Tennent High School, has an incredibly exciting learning program rolling forward.  A team of students applied to be on a team to re-think, even re-engineer what a contemporary high school education should look, feel and sound like.  This team is visiting and meeting with top researchers, design thinkers and entrepreneurs across the region and we fully expect incredible recommendations when this program culminates in the spring.  But most powerfully, we expect this program model to roll into next year with new students and ideas focused on making learning in Centennial more powerful and more authentic.  Imagine year after year working intentionally to make this the best system we can.  At the end of the day, credits, seat time and compliance with the state isn’t really about learning—it’s about compliance. Our projects are increasingly supporting our diversity, our innate creativity and the belief that all people regardless of where they are right now want to get better at what we do.  After all, all of us are born to learn.

Across Centennial you are starting to hear about the great joy and passion that our teachers are creating with our students.  They are increasingly focusing on authentic learning and growth.  Sure, school can be hard, and it’s not always fun, but increasingly we are focused on what is important and interesting.   Your students will continue to explore Genius Hour, continue to have on-line learning opportunities, continue to become empowered in their own learning and continue to personalize their learning.

Great things are happening in the Centennial District, and perhaps the greatest things are that joy and fascination in learning is growing by leaps and bounds.

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