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Log in to Witsby: ASCD’s Next-Generation Professional Learning and Credentialing Platform
April 1, 2002
Vol. 59
No. 7

Web Wonders / Customizing Our Schools

Throughout the 20th century and into the 21st, educatorshave struggled to create schools and classrooms that are responsiveto the interests and needs of students and that support studentlearning. Visit the following Web sites to learn more about a fewof the most promising innovations.

The Beginnings: Dewey

In his landmark 1916 work Democracy and Education,John Dewey argued that if learning is to take place, educatorsmust use their sophisticated pedagogical and subject-area knowledgeto create a connection between the interests and needs of eachof their students and the curriculum. Dewey also argued thatthe whole school environment, not just the formal curriculum,influences the understanding and attitudes that students acquire.For online texts of Dewey's seminal works, see the ColumbiaUniversity Web site (www.ilt.columbia.edu/publications/dewey.html;note copyright caveats) or search the Internet Public Library andthe Gutenberg Project (www.ipl.org/reading/books/index.html;note downloading instructions).

Essential Schools

“To set clear goals about the intellectual skills andknowledge to be mastered by all the school's students; tolower student/teacher ratios, personalize teaching and curriculum,and make student work the center of classroom activity”—theseare some of the Common Principles of the Coalition of EssentialSchools (CES) (www.essentialschools.org).CES is a network of schools, support centers, and teachers committedto restructuring schools to promote better student learning andachievement. The Coalition hopes to reinvent schools “throughtransformations in school design, classroom practice, leadership,and community connections.” The CES Web site provides linksto Coalition schools; a Fieldbook with tools for analyzing curriculum,using peer coaching, and managing whole school change; and forumsfor educators. Visit the Web sites of Harmony School (wwwharmony.pvt.k12.i.us)and the Met School (www.metcenter.org) to see how these two membersof the Coalition approach teaching and learning.

Charter Schools

Freedom from many of the regulations that govern public schoolsallows charter schools to be organized around particular visionsof education. Proponents believe that charter schools can providestudents with the opportunity to choose an education environmentthat fits their interests and needs. The U.S. Charter Schools Website (www.uscharterschools.org)is a joint project of WestEd and the U.S. Department of Education.The site offers information about charter school legislation ineach state, contact information, and profiles of individual charterschools. Find out what effects charter schools have on studentachievement and on other public schools. Learn how to start acharter school and obtain funds. Join a forum to collaborate andexchange ideas.
The Charter Friends National Network (www.charterfriends.org)focuses on state-level charter school support organizations andactivities. It includes the latest information on federalregulations and provides resources for developing accountabilityplans, creating family-friendly charter schools, and mobilizingand motivating staff members.

Project-Based Learning

In project-based learning, students work individually or inteams to investigate a real-world problem that interests themand to create a product that illustrates their understanding.Advocates believe that this approach builds on the individualinterests of students and promotes a deeper understandingof subject matter. The past few years have seen a renewalof interest in this form of instruction. The George LucasEducational Foundation (www.glef.org/classrooms.html)collects and disseminates information about innovative educationmodels, with a focus on project-based learning and real-lifeexamples. The Project Approach in Early Childhood and ElementaryEducation (www.project-approach.com),developed by Sylvia Chard at the University of Alberta, Canada,provides information about the pedagogical theory supportingproject learning, examples of student projects, and an electronicforum.

Heather Voke has been a contributor in Educational Leadership.

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