Why our classroom and the “real world” purposefully look a lot alike

Dear student,

I think you will find that our learning environment mimics the “real world” that you hear adults talk about as much as is possible as a part of the free and compulsory American public school system. In an attempt to prepare you for the world of “colleges and careers”, as is my charge as your teacher under the federal Common Core State Standards, this mimicry is very purposeful.

In what specific ways does our classroom mimic the world of learning and work that adults are preparing to hand off to us?
Good question, young scholar.

First, you will find the environment to be focused on a firmness of product with a flexibility that encourages individualized processes. This is part of the reason that our physical layout doesn’t exactly resemble a typical classroom. This is in alignment with the development of several of the elements of the IB learner profile, and is a deliberate attempt to encourage you to explore many methods of learning and decide which apply best in which situations for which task.

But if I have to choose, doesn’t that mean I might not get it right all the time? Isn’t it easier if you just tell me how to do what I have to do?

More great questions! I’ll offer you suggestions based on research and best practices and direct you to resources, but, no, I won’t tell you what you have to do. It’s not a purposeful way to approach our goals in the IB Programme and the Common Core. The rubrics and prompts are very clear, and lots of exemplars are available. When you have responsibility, there is always an opportunity for failure. Failure is an inevitable part of life that one must learn how to incorporate into the continual learning and growth process gracefully. If viewed through the right perspective, as simply data from the environment that your hypothesis needs tweaking, failure becomes information and all information is useful. To encourage a culture of risk-taking, but recognizing the sometimes monetary high stakes tied to getting “good grades”, we will be using a flipped/mastery learning model, which we will discuss in detail the first few days of school. We are a course whose goals include effective communication and collaboration: we talk to each other, and we work together often.

Why are collaboration and communication such a big deal?

I challenge you to find a career in which one works in complete isolation in 2014, and to eloquently refute research that suggests that the Internet is facilitating even more connectivity and collaboration in the workforce. We will use technology purposefully and often to facilitate this collaboration, another purposeful decision I have made as your expert-guide. Having a “paperless” classroom is possible in 2014, and is often required in college-level classes; likewise, a certain prowess using computers to communicate across distances in real-time via video-conferencing is a cost-effective manner of conducting interviews and progress-report meetings within a multinational firm. Vine is an effective advertising platform. Exciting jobs are posted on Twitter. Interviews happen on Google hangouts or Skype. We will practice these as well as other “new media” communication methods. And yes, I do expect you to find access to a computer of some kind with connectivity to the Internet.

What if I don’t have access to a computer and/or the Internet from home? I don’t know how to use Google docs! Am I gonna fail?

If you value your education, you will make this happen, and I am very glad to help: accessing and using appropriate resources to complete a task, resilience, and problem-solving are all very important “real world” skills. That’s why they’re such a dominant theme in both the IB and the Common Core. We have a class set of iPads (and access to a PC lab if we need Java or want something other than touch typing), so your in-class time is covered. Your study halls are also covered: you can go to the library and sign out a laptop if working there distracts you. You can ask me to borrow an iPad. You can, if you want to incur the risk, bring your laptop from home and connect to our guest network. Before school and after school for about an hour each direction, the library is also open and computers and laptops are accessible. If you need a computer outside of the school walls, there are lots of options. With a little forethought to get the paperwork in order, you can sign out a laptop or iPad for an overnight or a weekend. If you have Internet at your house, you can us it to connect from home. If not, you can be strategic, and take it to a friend or relative’s house to work. Or you can go to any of many of our great local libraries. One is walking distance from the high school. I’ve found wifi in parking lots (of our high school, even!), cafes, hotel lobbies, unsecured networks in my neighborhood, etc.: your skills should be at least as good at mine. Our videos, wiki, and docs are all intended to be accessible from anywhere, with any device, so if you have a smart phone but no computer, you’re good to go too. If you find that our content is not accessible on your device, we have discovered a problem that needs solving, and I have purposefully built professional relationships with people within the school-community and within the region who can help us solve it.

As we will study throughout the year, the context in which actions occur is very useful in determining what they might mean to a recipient. This letter is my attempt to help you to understand the purpose behind your next 10-month learning experience. It is an attempt at answering the “why” about the “how” of our learning will occur as it relates to the “what” of our content. I look forward to working with you.

Best,
Ms. Pierce

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