Curriculum Night

October 23, 2006

On Wednesday I attended the curriculum night at my son’s new high school. He is a sophomore this year and we moved him from the local public school, Berkeley High, to a very small private high school, Maybeck (named after the architect, Bernard Maybeck). The story is long, but it should suffice to say that both Tynan and his parents were falling through the cracks in Berkley’s large urban public high school.

As I progressed through curriculum night, strolling through Tynan’s schedule, I was very pleased to find myself hankering to attend high school again (youth really is wasted on the young!). When you enter a school where the teachers all like to have fun, are passionate about teaching, and are excited about learning — well, it is hard not to fall into step.

One of the most interesting aspects of the evening was meeting his biology and Math teachers. His biology teacher, a recent graduate from UC Berkeley (Ph.D in Endocrinology), mentioned that he had set up a yahoo groups for the kids which among problem sets for the AP test was linking out to the webcast biology lectures at UC Berkeley — a program which ETS oversees! ETS and our professors gets many emails from people all over the world who watch and learn from these open lectures, but to now have my son learning from them really personalizes the value. Wow. What a nice circle.

His math teacher, a young woman with a Ph.D from Harvard (biochemistry?), also has a yahoo group and is using it to post solutions to the math homework. These two young teachers were so enthusiastic, and so full of ideas it was inspiring. Melody, the math teacher, talked about her decision to teach high school and how she was driven to make math more meaningful for kids in a way that no one ever did for her. She wants to teach the kids that learning is about exploration and teach them the skills to help them how to teach themselves.

She may not realize how on track she is. In several recent focus groups with UC Berkeley undergrads (not a scientific study), we found that many of the Cal students interviewed felt they were missing this type of guidance from their teachers. Those who are lucky enough to enter college with this skill find it much easier to succeed.

Another interesting thing to me is that they are using Yahoo Groups to support their small courses — between 5 and 12 students — and find value in extending the dialogue from the intimate class setting into the virtual environment. Educational Technology Services also develops and supports a collaboration and learning environment (CLE), we call it bSpace. Many of the classes that use it are large lecture courses (think 250 or 500 students). I realize that I may have fallen into a limiting assumption that using a CLE is most often a way to make up for the deficiencies inherent in large lecture courses — the lack of community and ability to easily collaborate. While I think the CLE value to large lecture courses remains high (when utilized correctly), I submit that as we see in Tynan’s courses, community can be strengthened using online collaborative tools even in a small class environment. I’ll write more about this more in a future entry.

Clearly, I am happy that my son is in such a dynamic environment with such wonderful teachers. I am also glad to know that as he makes the transition to college life (and now I am more confident that this transition will really happen!), he will expect to be engaged both in the classroom and through technology. This means those of us out here in higher-education-land had better keep on learning, listening, and observing so as to be prepared. Right now I am lucky to have my live-in subject and fish-bowl life.


2 Responses to “Curriculum Night”

  1. Loni Hancock Says:

    You are a very talented writer. I’ve known ever since I read your letters from India — you should post them.
    Maybe writing will be your third career — after art and technology. A renaissance woman!

  2. pdwiojx tuax vrgcx clyvgmanj xtobpdj haez jkoqvp

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