It’s a Shrinking World After All

Do you remember your high school days when you had the opportunity to solve a medical mystery with a classmate living in Madaba-Manja, Jordan, by examining real data, drawing conclusions, and suggesting the diagnosis and treatment of patients in your Medical Problem Solving course? Or how about that period after lunch in your Bioethics course when you wrote and defended a position paper about vaccinations to your classmates at The Dalton School in Manhattan? Can’t quite recall those days in high school? Neither can I. But believe it or not, those days are here–and those days start in Louisville next August.

“Global citizenship” and “innovation” are the newest buzz words in education right now. In my more than 20 years in education (11 in public schools and nine in private) I can tell you what students learn (Newton’s Law of Physics, the Pythagorean Theorem, Brown vs. Board of Education) has gone virtually unchanged at any school, public or private, but how students learn continues to evolve (from Encyclopedia to Google search and from a telephone conversation to a Google Hangout).

Dr. Tony Wagner of Harvard University said it best: “New test-prep programs, online learning platforms, e-texts, charter school hybrids, and so on, are proliferating, but they are only changing the nature of how we deliver the same old content…What matters today, however, is not how much our students know, but what they can do with what they know.”

I think a college preparatory education can be categorized into three types: good education (education that teaches students basic skills and facts); great education (education that teaches students how to apply the learned skills and facts); and exceptional education (education that is relevant and teaches students how to apply the learned facts to a current and relevant problems in the context of the global community). As a former AP Calculus teacher, I will use the AP Calculus class to demonstrate the difference between good, great and exceptional education. A good math class will teach students how to find derivatives and integrals (i.e. find the derivative of y = 3ex). A great math class will teach students how to apply those calculus skills (i.e. apply the integral to find the average value of traffic flow at the intersection of streets A & B). An exceptional math class will teach students how to apply those calculus skills to a relevant problem in the context of the global community (i.e. research and discuss the current trends of the Ebola data, and use the data to develop a differential equation that you think best models the current Ebola trends. Present and defend your differential equation to your peers in Louisville, New York, Connecticut, Texas, California, Indonesia and Germany).

Is the latter really possible? As educators, can we really challenge our students to apply their knowledge in a global context, outside a classroom’s four-walls? Absolutely. One opportunity is through the Global Online Academy. Over 50 schools worldwide including The Dalton School in New York City, Sidwell Friends in Washington DC, Lakeside School in Seattle, Polytechnic School in Pasadena, and international schools in China, Japan, Germany, Africa, Indonesia and Jordan, make up the consortium called Global Online Academy (GOA). Schools that are members of GOA enroll students in GOA courses (Medical Problem Solving, Global Health, Neuropsychology, 9/11 in a Global Context, IOS App Design, Biostatistics, Architecture, Fiction Writing, and Game Theory, are some of the more than 30 GOA courses) which consist of up to 18 students from member schools around the world and are taught by high school teachers from one of the member schools.

Students who are enrolled in these courses will be required to peer edit their classmates’ work and collaborate on projects across time zones and international borders. They will be held accountable for doing this weekly (unlike a traditional, one-dimensional on-line course).

Should GOA courses take the place of courses taught in today’s classroom? In my opinion, absolutely not. In a technology-driven world full of texting, Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat (and who knows what else is coming), I believe students need face-to-face interaction with teachers and their peers more than ever. GOA is meant to be an education “plus” experience, offering students an opportunity to be an active member of a global classroom, expand their course choices, have their voice heard across domestic and international boundaries, and most importantly, transform their educational experience from great to exceptional. VT

By TRACIE CATLETT | Your Voice Contributor
Assistant Head of School for Academic Affairs, Louisville Collegiate School