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As educators, we should always be looking for ways to make our schools better learning environments. Every day, new stories are surfacing about how school funding is getting cut. In this post, I'd like to examine five ways that we can improve the educational experience for our students without spending a lot of money.
- Start school later in the day. This change would cost nothing, and undoubtedly lead to increased learning for our students. According to the American Psychological Association, adolescents need 9 hours and 15 minutes of sleep per night. With travel times in some rural areas of over an hour to arrive at school in the morning, sports and activities that often last late into the evening, and school start times before 8AM, most students do not get the required amount of sleep. Pushing back the school day by an hour would leave less students in a constant state of exhaustion, and more learning would occur.
- Allow teachers control over their own professional development through PLNs. Instead of paying for expensive "experts" to come into schools to deliver professional development to teachers, allow teachers to model life-long learning to their students through the development of Professional Learning Networks (PLNs). In this way, teachers can learn about the topics they feel are most important from others in the field through professional blogs, social networking sites like Plurk, Twitter, and Google+, and other resources. The reality is that most school/district sponsored professional development does not trickle down to changes in classroom pedagogy. Networking with other professionals is something that is critical to growth in any profession, and something that has been lacking in the field of education.
- Buy fewer textbooks. Textbooks are so 20th Century. The textbook selection process in larger states all but guarantees that any controversial, thought provoking, or polically charged topics are left out. There are problems waiting to be solved all around us that require research, writing skills, and mathematics. We live in a time when information is ubiquitous and free. Textbooks hold back students from having to think and teachers from having to be creative.
- Eliminate Standardized Test Prep. Despite what the companies that sell test prep materials tell you, there are many studies that show that special test preparation classes and lessons lead to no additional learning. We know from countless brain researchers that learning can only happen when students have an emotional connection to the material they are learning. I've seen fewer things in my teaching career that are less emotionally engaging than test prep materials. Requiring students to take time away from engaging, authentic learning to drill and practice using test prep materials is not only boring for the students and teachers, but it's ineffective and expensive.
- Involve students in the community. In these rough economic times it is vital that we maintain a good relationship with the community, since a large part of public school funding comes from local taxes. In addition, there are increasingly more community members that need help. Students need to learn the value of helping others and the rewards that come with service. Helping others in the local area is an opportunity for our students to solve real world problems with the skills they've learned in school, while also building a stronger bond between school and community.