Options in Education

As our society becomes increasingly curious and technologically advanced, the quest for innovation is more prevalent than ever.

Adults are not the only ones who get to reap the benefits of our revolutionized ways; children ages 1-18 are able to discover new possibilities via inventive learning methods that are in practice right here in Western Wake.

Traditional teaching methods in schools do not always benefit every student. Technology and research have allowed experts to pinpoint learning difficulties, personality types, students’ needs and interests to be able to provide new choices in education.

Local options Afton Nature School, The North Carolina Virtual Public School, Apex High School Academy of Information Technology and “flipped classrooms” within the Wake County Public School System showcase classroom innovation for every age.

Flipped Classrooms
First used locally by Katie Gimbar, an eighth-grade algebra teacher at Durant Road Middle School in Raleigh, this new classroom model involves flipping the role of the teacher from lecturer to facilitator.

In the flipped classroom model used at many Wake County schools, students watch videotaped lessons at home, followed by classroom sessions meant to apply the concept. Here, student Bridget Barrett watches a lesson via YouTube. At left, teacher Sarah Echols records a math lesson.

Instead of learning concepts during a 45-50-minute lecture, students are expected  to watch a 10-minute video at home. Class time is then utilized as a workshop period, where students are split into groups and work together on applying the concepts they have learned.

Sarah Echols, a sixth-grade math teacher at Davis Drive Middle School in Cary, decided that flipping her classroom was necessary for the success of her students.

She said, “By creating instructional video lessons on my own and allowing students to preview them before they come to class, I am allowing students to take ownership of their own education.

 “Students can retain the information easily by taking their own notes, rewinding and re-watching the videos at their leisure. This helps with the ever-exhausting part of a teacher’s life: remediation and review, and also utilizes the power of note-taking for each student.”

Students without home access to computers can watch the videos at school before the group work begins.

Student engagement is a big goal for teachers, and in Echols’ case, she believes the flipped classroom model solves this challenge by capturing students’ attention and helping them create their own personal connection to real-world math content.

“Students are inspired to learn, care and become masters of each topic, but more importantly, at their own pace,” she said.

Education that is adaptable to individual pace helps ensure that no student is left behind or is too far ahead. Echols mentioned that students with learning disabilities often benefit the most from this model.

“ESL students or students with ADHD struggle with lecture-style classes,” she said. “Being able to go home and re-watch the material is reassuring to students who can’t ‘get a concept’ the first time it is taught.

“Advanced students often benefit due to the differentiated lessons in the classroom and will even create, design and videotape their own lesson for math class.”

Wake County Public School System

Afton Nature School
Promoting self-guided learning, Afton Nature School offers a curriculum tailored to the minds of  society’s curious young leaders.

Within a strategically designed classroom, students have access to a kitchen area, an art studio, a math center, a science exploration center, a library and a music and dramatic play area. Outdoor space allows students to develop gardening, sports and yoga skills. Both indoor and outdoor environments foster exploration, physical wellbeing and education.

Lorre Garland, director of Afton, said, “Our Reggio-Inspired programs prepare children to collaborate with peers to seek answers, solve problems and reach conclusions.

“The project-based approach engages children by using what they are fascinated with at the time as the focus of the curriculum. In-depth projects develop higher order thinking skills as well as tune cooperative skills.”

Many are not familiar with the Reggio method of teaching, which states that students should maintain some control of how they are leaning.

To this, Garland adds, “Nature and the natural world are the focus of Reggio projects at Afton Nature School. Children spend as much time as possible in the outdoor classroom learning and exploring. They are encouraged to express their thoughts in ways that best suit their learning and expressive styles such as through art, writing, drama and music.”  

Afton’s goal is to provide its students, ranging in age from 1 to 7, with strong social and physical development which will allow for smooth transitions into traditional academics. Students learn not only by listening, but by touching, practicing, smelling, seeing and moving. This is a “polymorphic” approach to teaching, which reaches the students who do not find simply one learning method effective.

The students’ success is measured by documentation, as part of the Reggio approach. Documentation provides a critical link between all members of the educational community as well as a historical record that students, teachers and parents can revisit. This also allows teachers and parents to track the fulfillment of learning objectives.
Afton Nature School

North Carolina Virtual Public School
Following the success of online courses within universities, the North Carolina Public School System has created a unique virtual learning program that allows middle and high school students across the state to take courses online, taught by some of the most qualified teachers in the country.

This new model of learning uses audio and video, blogs and virtual tutors to help guide students through their online courses, which occur during school hours from a computer lab. The program was created in 2005 with one goal in mind — to provide education to more students at no cost.

Chief of Outreach and Support Elizabeth Colbert said for those enrolled in the North Carolina Virtual Public School System, “We provide about 150 courses for secondary students across our state. The majority of our students are in high school or they are middle school students ready for high school level courses. Traditional students may take required courses like English 3 or Algebra 1.”

Along with required courses, Colbert listed a series of additional courses offered such as Advanced Placement, world languages, career and technical education courses and a variety of electives including forensics.

“Our fastest growing population is students who participate in the Occupational Course of Study blended program. In addition, we provide a selection of Credit Recovery Courses,” she added.

Students are expected to have a computer with Internet access, basic computer skills and the ability to complete their work on time.

Alumni of this program report that not only did they receive quality education, but it also encouraged them to hone their computer and time management skills and the ability to work on their own.

This program has earned North Carolina the title of “Leader in Virtual Learning,” having drawn in more than 50,000 students. Homeschooled students and  private school students can also enroll in the online courses offered through this program, for a fee.
In 2012, the program had an 80.77 percent passing rate for students and is currently the largest state virtual school in the nation.

North Carolina Virtual Public School

Apex High School Academy of Information Technology
While most high schools provide core skills that are transferable to any career, Apex High school has taken things a step further with its Academy of Information Technology.

As part of the National Academy Foundation, students are led on a specific path to enhance their understanding of information technology. The program attracts about 360 students per year, who together take IT-related courses with a core set of teachers.

Their four years of high school are meticulously planned and involve courses such as Principles of IT and MS Office, Specialist Certification, Multimedia & Webpage Design and e‐Commerce and Computer Programming I.

Kimberly MacDonald, director of the Academy, said, “The benefits of the AOIT program at Apex High School include a solid preparation for college and career development.

“Students in the program are exposed to soft skill development in all of their courses and students also develop career readiness. With an information technology focus, students are exposed to technology in all courses.”

Additionally, local business leaders team up with faculty members to provide both a strong education foundation and real world experience for academy students.

Students have the opportunity to apply for paid internships based on courses taken and various interviews. This allows students to gain hands-on experience and start building their résumés.  

While the academy is rigorous, students who graduate come away with invaluable experience and knowledge that will springboard them into college-level study and careers in IT.

“Students will excel in the university system because they learn how to work efficiently in groups and teams,” said MacDonald, “as well as develop, research and deliver engaging presentations.  

“Students in the program have been exposed to information technology during all four years, so they also have a strong foundation of technical skills.”

Apex High School Academy of Information Technology

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