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An Affordable Solution for AP Programs

An affordadable AP program image

Advanced Placement (AP) courses are an important factor for many parents and students who are considering enrolling in a Christian School. AP courses provide the highest achieving students the chance to study college level material. Parents and students see AP courses as an academic challenge, a way to better prepare for college, and an advantage on college applications. Yet many Christian schools trail their public school competitors in AP course offerings. Larger, well-funded public schools have the competitive edge among families with high academic standards because these schools can provide students a broad AP curriculum. How can Christian schools maintain their small class size and value-driven curriculum while competing with public and large private schools that provide a wide range of AP courses? Increasingly, Christian schools are looking online for the solution to this problem.

Online Advanced Placement courses allow Christian schools to easily expand their curriculum. Through online learning, courses can be tailored for the individual student. If you have a student interested in engineering, but your school does not provide an AP calculus course, online learning can be an efficient solution. Instead of losing that student, your school could provide a flexible and affordable online option for that student. Online learning keeps the education within your school. There  is no need to construct complicated relationships with public institutions in order to serve single student needs.

Online AP courses are the most affordable solution for Christian schools in many situations.

Who pays for it?
The cost of offering AP courses can be covered through tuition and additional fees paid by families. Schools can provide access to the online course, but students and their families pay the fee. Under some arrangements, the family also pays an extra fee that can help a school pay for administrative overhead and other programs.

What about faith?
Online AP courses are now offered to meet the educational goals of a Christian education. As a Christian school you strive to offer all your students a well-rounded and rigorous education. Offering an expanded range of AP courses online helps you achieve that with your most gifted students. You are helping them shine their light in the world.

How will it fit into the student’s schedule?
Online learning is flexible and allows schools to set their own start and end dates for an AP course. With the AP exam in May, students can start the online course as early as June to prepare for the next yearís exams. The summer months will provide your students ample time to prepare and increases their chance of securing college credit.

A Christian School Educatorís Guide to Online AP courses

AP Online courses put a Christian school on equal footing with its public counterparts without placing additional strain on the school’s resources. Learn more about it in our new white paper, ìOnline Opportunities for Christian SchoolsDownload this free resource for Christian educators using the link below.






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How to Make Your “Pig” Fly

How to Make Your “Pig” Fly

Pig fly

Have you ever had an idea for the future of your school but others aren’t buying it?  I hope so.  Leaders who are leading and not merely managing focus on the future, asking “what should we be doing to prepare our students for their futures, not our present?”  Leaders do not maintain the status quo, they create a new normal.

Thinking carefully about what is and what might be requires attention to the present and to emerging trends.  It requires an open and agile mind.  It requires the ability to hold fast to our first principles and worthy traditions while having the courage to innovate.  Harvard Business School Dean Nitin Nohria recently challenged faculty and alumni to embrace both tradition and innovation:

We must have the conviction to hold fast to the many traditions that have defined us for so many years: the case method, our residential campus, our focus on a transformational learning experience. At the same time, we must have the courage to innovate. Because today’s traditions were, in fact, innovations in their time.1

Your idea may look like an eagle to you.  To others it may look like a pig.  What do you when you are having a hard time getting the “pig” aloft, when you “pig” is stuck on the runway?  What do you do when others do not embrace your ideas for change?  

Here are a few practical suggestions that will help you maintain your vision while bringing others along.   I have borrowed some of these ideas (in quotations) from Krippendorff’s excellent article “How To Stick With It When Your Ideas Are Ahead Of Their Time.” 2 

  • Be prayerful.  One of my favorite verses is Proverbs 16:9: “The heart of man plans his way, but the LORD establishes his steps.”   We should plan and work hard to see our plans realized but God is sovereign.  He may redirect us to an entirely different end or may direct us to the same end but along a different and unexpected path.
  • Guard your motive.  Be sure that your motive is holy.  We must remember that we were created for one primary purpose, to glorify God.  Everything else, no matter how worthy, is secondary.  Make sure that your ideas are not about you or your school but rather how others may “see your good works and glorify your father in heaven.” (Matt. 5:16)
  • Listen.  Not all of our ideas are good.  Good ideas often need modification.  Even if our ideas are excellent, we need to listen as a matter of respect to others and to understand their fears and concerns.  One of Steven Covey’s Habits of Highly Successful People is to “seek first to understand and then to be understood.”  This is a derivative of the biblical injunction, “be quick to hear and slow to speak.”
  • Keep it simple. “Usually when an innovator sees the world is going to change, the logic behind the change is obvious … The world changes all the time. It’s easy to see it is going to happen. What distinguishes innovators from the rest of us is not that they see farther into the future; it’s that they take action. While “experts” bring up complicated logic to explain why things will not unfold as the innovator thinks, the innovator just starts moving. Jeff Bezos saw that the Internet was going to change retail, so he left his job at the high-tech investment bank D.E. Shaw, and started selling books online … So don’t over think…outthink. When your logic is complicated it means you don’t understand. Think until your logic becomes simple, then act.”
  • Keep believing. “Remember that an innovative vision is usually inconsistent with prevailing logic and beliefs (otherwise it is probably not that innovative). It may be inconsistent with practices and rules … Steve Jobs, for example, knew it just made sense for record labels to distribute content digitally, so the iPod and iTunes became the natural net to capture this future.” It seems so obvious now, now that digital music is common. But it was not obvious before Steve Jobs pushed ahead with innovation. It takes time for other to catch up. Many “will not get it” until after the fact. So, don’t give up-keep believing, keep pushing forward. “Albert Einstein once said, “It’s not that I’m so smart, it’s just that I stay with problems longer.” Great innovators stay with their visions longer while others get distracted or disillusioned.”

Do you have any “pigs” sitting on the runway?  They can fly!  It just takes prayer, humility, handwork, and patience.  Don’t give up–keep innovating.  Our students’ futures depend on it!

References

1. Nohria, N. (2012, January 1). Priorities. hbs.edu. Boston. Retrieved October 27, 2012, from http://www.hbs.edu/dean/priorities/

2. Krippendorff, K. (2012, May 31). How to stick with it when your ideas are ahead of their time. fastcompany.com. Retrieved October 27, 2012, from http://www.fastcompany.com/1838871/how-stick-it-when-your-ideas-are-ahead-their-time

 

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How to Enhance Teaching and Learning at No Extra Cost

How to Enhance Teaching and Learning at No Extra Cost

Change is hard, even dangerous.   Attempts to change the behavior of others or an organization’s deeply entrenched practices will run headlong into active and passive resistance, if not outright hostility.

Acutely aware of the difficulty but confident in the rightness of the cause, we embarked on changing the school’s traditional schedule.

This was no small undertaking.  The schedule had been in place since the school’s founding.  Various school constituencies had a stake in the current schedule.  The prevailing consensus was, “If it isn’t broke, don’t fix it.”  And arguably, it was not broken; “We were doing just fine, thank you very much.”  Classes were full.  Faculty and student retention rates routinely stood at 94-95%.  We had a 100% college admission rate.  The senior class was routinely awarded millions of dollars in college scholarships and our ACT/SAT scores were high and rising across all tested disciplines.  Complicating the problem was a lurking skepticism about school “reform.”  In the U.S., too many educational fads had come and gone, creating a “this too shall pass” cynicism.  This was particularly true concerning “block scheduling,” which carried with it negative connotations, mostly deserved.

So why mess with a good thing?  Because, as Jim Collin’s points out, “Good is the enemy of great.”  We were good but we were convinced we could do better.  The choice before us was clear; we could rest competent and content or press toward our goal of creating a Christ-honoring world-class program that propelled teachers and students to higher levels of achievement.  We chose the latter.

I am happy, and frankly relieved, to share that the new schedule has exceeded our expectations.  It is an Extended Period (EP) schedule, not a block schedule.  This is an important distinction.

What Is an Extended Period Schedule?

The Extended Period Schedule is a hybrid of a traditional schedule with features of block scheduling, but without the drawbacks.  Teachers start at 7:30 each day.  This new schedule has three components:

  • Traditional seven period days on Mondays, Tuesdays, and Fridays
  • Two days of Extended Period Instruction (EPI) and
  • A late start on Thursdays.

Monday  (traditional schedule)                 8:00 a.m.     3:00

Tuesday  (traditional schedule)                 8:00 a.m.     3:00

Wednesday  (EPI)                                           8:00 a.m.     3:00

Thursday late start & (EPI)                         9:00 a.m.      3:00

Friday  (traditional schedule)                    8:00 a.m.      3:00

Why the Change Was Made

We changed the schedule to provide students with more hands-on, active, engaging, and collaborative learning opportunities.  Extended periods provide more time for practicing writing and editing skills (essential for college success), for interactive science labs, for learning how to work on collaborative projects (also an essential skill for college and work), and for integrating technology into teaching and learning.  Extended periods provide time for more variety, more creative instruction, and more practice resulting in richer learning experiences and deeper learning.  In short, extended periods enhance teaching and learning by giving teachers and students time to think, not merely digest information.  Students move about and work in teams.  And, as our Learning Unleashed program (1:1 computing iPad program) is rolled out, students move from learning to use technology to using technology to learn.

The Extended Period Schedule also includes a late start Thursday.  The Thursday late start provides time to train teachers to work in teams to create integrated, creative, and engaging lessons that include the appropriate use of technology.  Teachers are also engaged in technology and pedagogical training on Thursday mornings.  The late start on Thursday also provides extra time for students to complete homework assignments, work on projects, and study for exams.

How the Change Was Made

Change is hard but not impossible.  To increase the likelihood of success and to ensure that the change was systemic and enduring but not cosmetic, we implemented a four-pronged strategy: Education, Communication, Training, and Accountability.

Education

Our first task was to break through a comfortable mindset rooted in academic and geographic isolation.  Too often administrators and teachers are isolated from developments in the world.  This is particularly problematic for Christian schools where staff and students can be culturally isolated, existing in a marginalized Christian bubble.  We may catch a glimpse of world affairs through the news but understanding the deeper implications for our students requires more information and deeper analysis.  It requires constant exposure gleaned by “being in the world.”

We began several years ago to heighten the awareness of our faculty about how the world has changed and the implications of those changes for our students.  We demonstrated through reviewing international test scores, movies such as Two Million Minutes and quotes from leading industrialists, technologists, and economists that our students now compete against the best students in the best schools anywhere in the world.   Here is but one example:

 With the ability to make anything anywhere in the world and sell it anywhere else in the world, business firms can ‘cherry pick’ the skilled…wherever they exist in the world. Some third world countries are now making massive investment in basic education. American firms don’t have to hire an American high school graduate if that graduate is not world-class. His or her educational defects are not their problem. Investing to give the necessary market skills to a well-educated Chinese high school graduate may well look like a much more attractive investment (less costly) than having to retrain…a poorly trained American high school graduate.1  (Neef, 1998)

This was not a one time presentation. Multiple presentations in a variety of venues were made over several years.  This “set the table” or “set the mindset” for further discussion.

Communication

Communication was sustained, accurate, and careful.  The communication that occurred over several years was intentional and followed a logical path.  The communication did not start with the end in mind (e.g., Extended Periods), it began with deepening understanding of the fundamentals of Christian education, the place of the Christian school in culture, a deeper understanding of what it means to think Christianly, the shifting context in which our school operates (a globalized, technological, always connected world), an increasingly diverse and competitive educational marketplace (traditional public schools, charter schools, private schools, Christian schools, homeschooling, and online schools), the rise of Asia, and the fall of the U.S. from the top-tier of academic performance relative to the rest of the world to the middle or lower tier relative to the industrialized world.

Language was also important.  We made a decisive distinction between being “world-class” and being “worldly.”  We differentiated between being excellent and being elitist.  And, we used terminology that was accurate yet benign.  For example, we realized early that many of our teachers and parents would confuse our new schedule with block scheduling.  Although the EP schedule had a few elements common with a block schedule, it was not a block in the traditional sense.  It was also more than a traditional schedule.  What to call it was the question.  Although not creative, we choose to call it an “Extended Period” Schedule because that is what it is; it extends the period from approximately 50 minutes to nearly 90 minutes, extending the time teachers have to engage students in deep learning and collaboration.  Language is important.  It must be accurate while avoiding negative connotations.  Because the language we use is important, it must be planned and intentional.

 Training and Accountability

Our greatest fear was that teachers would lecture to students for 90 minutes.  We knew that if that happened our students would be bored to death, our academic goals would be undercut, and our parents frustrated.

We also knew that habits die hard.  The only way to ensure that extended period teaching was more than an elongated lecture, we provided practical training coupled with constant supervision and accountability.  We began the training process two years ago by approaching the matter indirectly.  With a desire to improve student learning and anticipating an extended period schedule, we devoted two years of training to how the brain learns.  The training included books (e.g., How the Brain Learns and teacher written responses to the contents of what they read.  We also hired outside experts to train our teachers on the science of how the brain learns AND on how to teach based on this science.

In addition to this foundational training, we also hired four Christian professionals with extensive experience teaching in extended periods from two other Christian schools.  They spent two days with our teachers showing them how to create lesson plans and how to teach the effectively in extended periods.  This practical “hands-on” training was just “what the doctor ordered.”  While the training on brain research laid the pedagogical foundation, this practical “how to” training is what finally created the “mind shift” we were looking for.  We noticed a discernible level of “buy in” and even enthusiasm after this training.  The theoretical was married with the practical and a new perspective on teaching was conceived. We started out with worldview, the goal of developing a world-class school, and the study of cognitive science and ended up with the creation of actionable lesson plans.  We moved from theory to practice, from presentation to application, from “this too shall pass” to “I can and want to do this.”

Training, however, in the absence of accountability is a bit like throwing jello against the wall and hoping it sticks.  Notwithstanding initial enthusiasm, most of it slides off to the floor.  Training is the same way.  To put teachers through a day or even a week of presentations is unfair to them and does not change practice.  Practice changes practice.   This means that teachers must practice what they are being taught at the time they are being taught and from that point forward.  There is no going back.  The application of training to teaching is not an option, it is an expectation, a requirement.

This means that teachers must be held accountable to incorporate the training in the classroom.  The only way this can be done is through direct observation, the requirement of artifacts to demonstrate application, and through evaluations that measure consistent classroom application of training.  Anything short of these measures will result in minimal, spotty change, if any.  Without this level of accountability, we foster the “this too shall pass” attitude that plagues so many schools.

On the observation side, the junior and senior high principals and the Director of Curriculum and Instruction (DOCI) spend most of the day on Wednesdays and Thursdays reviewing EP lesson plans and observing every classroom.  They offer help and advice but also look for compliance. It has been said that “what gets measured gets done.”  While we would love to think that everyone is intrinsically motivated to do what is asked, the truth is that all of us need accountability, administrators no less than teachers and students.  If something is worth investing time and money in, it is worth monitoring and evaluating.

The Cost

Some change can be expensive but most change costs very little in money but a great deal in thought, hard work, and even courage.  Aside from the purchase of books and honorariums for our trainers, there is little cost associated with our change to extended periods.  But, there is a potentially huge payoff in student engagement and learning.  Low cost combined with significant gains in the quality of teaching and learning creates a high Educational Return on Investment (EROI) and increased marginal value for our parents.  Everyone benefits.

The Results

Although it is too early to have data to measure the results, I can share that all of the anecdotal feedback from students, parents, principals, and teachers has been positive, in fact, more positive than we expected at this early stage.  This is a tribute to professional, gracious, and hardworking teachers who deeply care about students and about doing a superior job.  It is also attributable to extensive Education, Communication, Training, and Accountability.

Change is hard and risky but it is not impossible.  With vision, planning, and hard work, undergirded by prayerfulness and a love for staff and students, we can create change that changes the lives of our students.

What have you changed lately?

 

Reference: Neef, D. (1998). The knowledge economy. Boston: Butterworth-Heinemann.

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You Can Do This!

Girl_computer_success_good_news_winYou Can Do This!

By Zach Clark

A recent post by Barrett Mosbacker entitled, “I Just Returned From the Future” has certainly sparked some dialogue among those we’ve shared it with. Responses have ranged from frustration and despair to enthusiastic choruses of “let’s do this!”

The post certainly challenged my own thinking and I thought I would share my notes after praying and thinking about this issue of leading our Christian school leaders and teachers to understand where all this may be headed for our students.

1. It is true that great teaching isn’t defined by technology.

But, teaching (great or otherwise) that fails to help students demonstrate subject mastery using contemporary technology tools will produce students who lack the skills to integrate their knowledge and wisdom into contemporary mediums. Are we successful if we graduate students who can think deeply and critically, who are well written problem-solvers but don’t have a clue how to utilize contemporary tools in relation to others?

The basics of great learning and the utilization of contemporary tools and mediums are not divorced. But, for some reason we school folks treat them like they are.

We would never teach the principles of great writing and then have students get out a stone tablet and chisel. But, nowadays, we have students still print out their papers for peer editing and teacher editing. There are few excellent companies in America today that would utilize that approach to collaborative editing and final editing. The lack of productivity would be unacceptable. We must be focused on growing top tier teachers who understand that their jobs now utilize different tools today because students will be utilizing different tools in their future.

2. Dear reader, don’t get frustrated with me, but I still hear too much talk about teaching PowerPoint, Word, Excel, video editing, and other so-called technology skills.

We should be talking instead about expecting students to communicate visually, with integrated communications tools. We should be helping students use contemporary technology to unleash the power of groups in projects, collaborate over long-distances, and dialogue with peers across the hall or across the globe. My face flushed hot with embarrassment for a teacher in a high school classroom I visited in another Christian school this week to see that students had been producing fourth grade elementary-style crafts projects to demonstrate their knowledge of biblical integration concepts. Unbelievable! Unacceptable! I know I’m not as good an educator as you, but I’ll take bets on how much better some teams from your local businesses could help students actually learn to utilize today’s technologies in how they work together, communicate, and demonstrate mastery.

When I think about the skills that some Christian school educators believe are “technology skills” I shudder. Students, get out your three-ring binder notebooks! Let’s not use Evernote or OneNote. Students write in your planners! Don’t use your iPhone calendar or Google calendars. Students take this essay question home and write me your answer! Don’t text me your answer. Don’t email me your answer. Don’t post your answer. Students, please turn in your drafts! Don’t upload them for my comments and edits. Students, please help me pass out the thirty copies I printed this morning of our sheets! Don’t ask me to post in online and review it with you on the projector screen, so you can access it from home later. Students, please add to the class discussion! Don’t upload an audio comment on what you actually think. We are dealing with a generation of teachers/leaders who think that technology is a “thing” an “add-on” rather than a change in the tools we use to actually live and work.

Continue Reading…

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I Just Returned from the Future

clip_image001I just returned from the future.

In one of the strangest experiences I have had in a while, I lived the future as I read about it! I did not realize it for a while but then it struck me suddenly over dinner—”I am what I’m reading!”

Let me explain.

As I write this I am nearing the end of my annual Think Week (you can read details about Think Week in these two articles: How to Reduce Stress While Getting More Done; and in How To Find Time to Focus, Think, and Work). During my Think Week my primary focus is prayer and reading. On this trip I took several books with me including Humility (Andrew Murray), The Culture Code (Clotaire Rapaille), Think: The Life of the Mind and the Love of God (John Piper), Derailed (Tim Irwin), Death by Meeting (Patrick Lencioni), and Generous Justice (Tim Keller).

I also took Anywhere: How Global Connectivity is Revolutionizing the Way We Do Business (Emily Nagle Green). This is the book I was reading when I realized that I was living the future. I will summarize some of the key points of this book and their implications for our schools in a subsequent post but for now let me simply state the theme of the book;

Within the next ten years the global ubiquitous digital network will connect most of the world’s people, places, information, and things, which will fundamentally alter the way we live, work, teach, and learn.

The author, Emily Green, knows what she is talking about. She is the President and CEO of the Yankee Group—one of the world’s premier research firms on the impact of the global connectivity revolution with operations in North America, Europe, the Middle East, Africa, Latin America and Asia-Pacific.

One of the most fascinating parts of the book is her description of five consumer segments: Analogs, Technophytes, Digital Shut-ins, Outlet Jockeys, and Actualized Anywheres (AA’s). As I was enjoying my dinner and reading it suddenly dawned on me just how much I was exhibiting the characteristics of the Actualized Anywheres. The short description of AA’s is that they “bring the concept of a ubiquitously connected consumer to life.” This is when it struck me—-I was literally living the future she was describing!

Here is how I know. I wrote down how I was handling my recreational and work related tasks during Think Week. Here is a short list.

Continue Reading…

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Should Teachers Text, Facebook, or Twitter Students?

Texting_Ariana_Cell_Phone_textDo you think electronic communication between teachers and students should be forbidden or restricted? What are the benefits and risks of texting with students? How have you used texting and/or social networking as an educational tool.

What about Facebook?  Twitter?

Share your thoughts with the hundreds of educators who read this blog.

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How To Find Time to Focus, Think, and Work

Future_plan_Strategy_telescope It is hard to find it hard to find time to focus, think, and work on important projects.  We are constantly interrupted and distracted.  The immediate crowds out the important. 

In his excellent article Who Else Needs More Mental Focus?, Michael Hyatt, Chairman and CEO of Thomas Nelson Publishers, the world’s largest Christian publisher, offers very helpful tips for improving one’s focus. (see a short excerpt and link to his article below)

I have used many of the same practices for years.  In addition to Mr. Hyatt’s recommendations, I also do the following to carve out time for focus, thinking, and working on critical projects.

  • I schedule several hours every Friday morning off campus to focus and think.  I do not come into the office.  I can be reached by cell phone in an emergency but my administrative assistant has been instructed that I am not to be interrupted.  This is some of the most productive time in my week.
  • Each year I take several days for a “Think Week.”  I got this idea from Bill Gates who pulled away each year for an extended time of research, reading, and reflection.  I have adopted this practice.  I spend these days praying, reading, reflecting, and writing.  I take a substantial amount of reading material with me.  Because I use my iPad exclusively for reading I am able to carry an entire library of books and research articles with me.  I read and reflect from morning to evening only interrupting my reading for eating, running, and showering.  It is usually during Think Week that I come up with long-range initiative such as our BCS SMART SCHOOL program.

Click here to read Mr. Hyatt’s article, Who Else Needs More Mental Focus?

A few weeks ago, I had to prepare for a board meeting. I really needed an extended period of time to review the material and prepare my presentation. In doing this, I realized that I go through a similar pattern whenever I need to increase my mental focus and get a lot of work done in a short period of time.  Here are ten tactics I use that may help you…

What do you do to improve your focus and creativity as you lead your school?

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