In a welcome change, Virginia is making plans to revamp high school education. The process got me thinking, What classes should be required and how can we truly make high school relevant for all students?
Digital Literacy: Through this course students will seek to understand literature and digital technology. Students will read and examine various types of autobiographies and biographies and “write” their own life stories using a variety of digital tools. Students will create their own narratives and design a digital project of their own.
Through the course students will learn what it means to be a responsible digital citizen and digital storytelling and presentation. This course will broaden student understanding of literacy by requiring students to engage with literacy and technology. Students will develop comfort and control over modern technological tools and will create an online digital portfolio.
This class would “replace” ninth grade English.
Nutrition and Wellness/Human Biology: Students will examine the impact of nutrition on wellness by learning about diets, nutrients and the human body. Students will be introduced to the human species by studying human anatomy and physiology, physical fitness, genetics, and health.
Since the purpose of school is to prepare students for life, shouldn’t we include a class on nutrition and child care? Most of us will never truly use Algebra II or World History I, but most of us will eat, cook, and raise our own children.
Fit for Life: The goal of this course is for students to adopt a lifelong personal lifestyle that will achieve physical fitness. Students will identify and understand the various components of physical fitness including nutrition/diet, stress management, cardiovascular endurance, strength, and flexibility.
I imagine this class could be completed outside of school as a blended class with occasional school-organized fitness opportunities in the community. I’d love for this class to be required for all 4 years.
American Studies (2 credits) Replacing an English and United States History class, this interdisciplinary course examines our nation and culture using literary, historical, visual, and social perspectives with an emphasis on our current world.
Students will examine: What does it mean to be American? How have race, gender, socioeconomic class, etc. shaped America? What are key ideas associated with America? Students will engage with primary and secondary sources of all kinds dealing with history, literature, culture, law, society, etc. There will be an emphasis on creativity, analytical skills, reading, critical thinking and verbal articulations.
Citizenship Class (2 credits) This course offers students a chance to become a more engaged member of the community. Students will examine individual and state identities leading onto topics including democracy, justice, and the role of government. Students will examine an issue, undertake research into the issue and develop a plan of action. This community activity will link learning and life by connecting a meaningful community service project with academic learning and personal growth. Citizenship Studies enables learners to use and develop a range of skills such as communication, analyzing, advocacy, planning and collaboration.
Geopolitics and Science (2 credits) Instead of progressing through Earth Science and World History textbooks, students will examine the world we live in through current events. Doing so provides instant relevancy. Students will take on the roles of historians, geologists, climatologists, theologians, etc.
Two Interdisciplinary or Project-Based, Thematic Math Classes
If you look at the classes I’m recommending, I’m hoping you notice that my goal is to provide a purpose to each class so instructional units aren’t simply disconnected ideas. For example, World History should not be taught as it’s chronologically organized by textbooks, when a thematic approach is far superior. Far too many math classes are equally disconnected, lacking big ideas with no purpose. Much of what our students learn in math lacks context and purpose. Learn a new tool, practice, homework, quiz. Learn a new tool, practice, homework, quiz. Repeat 178 times.
Before you jump down my throat, I know there are many math teachers are doing great things in their classes and others feel handcuffed by state standards and end of course tests.
Currently in Virginia, Algebra, Geometry and Algebra Functions Data Analysis or Algebra II are required for high school graduation. A study by Michael Handel of Northeastern University revealed two important facts: less than a quarter of adults report using math any more complicated than basic fractions and percentages for their jobs. Equally important, the study discovered that some of the best blue-collar jobs require higher-level math; it’s not just the college-bound who need Algebra and above.
Across the Commonwealth and the United States, end-of-course math test scores are the lowest and serve as roadblocks to graduation. The answer to these issues lies in how we approach math. Less math isn’t the answer, rather we must embed math instruction into other classes to ensure it’s more engaging and meaningful. Instead of stand-alone math classes, math should be incorporated into STEM and CTE (Career Technical Education) classes or students--and teachers--can create project-based math classes. By revamping how we teach math, students will have the opportunity to apply and think mathematically instead of simply memorizing rules.
These reforms, which dramatically challenge the status quo, emphasize relevancy; interdisciplinary instruction; and fewer, but deeper, more meaningful standards.