Friday, July 9, 2010

AACTE - Alabama Association for Career and Technical Educators

I just finished KP's first summer conference at the AACTE conference in Birmingham, AL. This kicks off a busy summer as we launch and promote our new products for the 2010-11 school year. Southern hospitality is embodied by all here in Alabama. Everyone I met is warm, approachable, and has a passion for exploring better ways to reach students. We made our first announcement of KP Food Science and KP Assessments here and it was overwhelmingly accepted.

Following the improvements to our Sous Chef 7, called the KP Curriculum Suite, the KP Assessments service represents a highly requested feature that enables students to access the curriculum online. KP Assessments also allows teachers to create custom lesson plans and tests for classes or individual students. Students can be assigned user IDs to log in from any computer in the high school or from home using the Internet to view the text, activities and videos. Additionally, the students can access their assignments from mobile devices, which are growing in popularity among students. Assessments at the end of each module, and digital reports of students’ results, enable teachers and students to keep track of progress consistently.

These new features are a result of KP's desire to promote individualized instruction and semi-automated assessments while maintaining a focused modular approach to education. With KP Assessments, teachers can create dynamic lessons for classes of varying levels, catering to advanced students as well as those with special needs. This technology also broadens the influence and scope of the course by allowing students to access their instructional materials from home, fostering parental involvement and better preparation for in-class lessons.

The teachers here in Alabama see the potential of what KP Assessments can offer for their students and are excited about implementing the new "homework" model. For example, reading activities and general comprehension of material can be assigned as homework, freeing up classroom time for more labs and hands-on tasks. Furthermore, many teachers here in Alabama (and around the country) are facing increased classroom sizes. They find that digital curriculum with at-home access will help them maintain a high-quality and relevant course.

Our other featured product, KP Food Science, was also well-received by Alabama educators. With a CORE heavy emphasis on science, math and labs, KP Food Science combines the rigor of chemistry with the enjoyment and practical application of foods, cooking, and nutrition. While KP Food Science is designed for a food science or food chemistry course at the high school level, many culinary arts teachers are incorporating it to help them qualify for CORE academics credit. With over 50 interactive demonstrations, this project-based curriculum will suit the needs of any one semester or year-long course.

ALACTE was a fantastic conference and a wonderful kick start to KP's summer promotions. We always love coming to Alabama and developing new relationships with CTE educators across the state. Based on the feedback, the teachers here continue to support KP's efforts to create new educational products and services. Alternatively, maybe they are just excited about our new summer promotion to give away free iPads to teachers that review our demonstration disk! It's hard to tell whether teachers were more motivated by our upgraded software or by our free hardware (perhaps it's a tie). Either way, I think we are on track for a great summer. Thanks Alabama! I look forward to seeing you next year.

Nai Wang
KP Education Systems

Friday, January 29, 2010

A New Role for CTE by Mary Horne, Editor in Chief

The Millennium Generation describes the students currently occupying middle and high school classrooms across the country--the ones that teachers repeatedly must ask to "unplug" and pay attention. This particular generation has been the subject of countless news articles highlighting their disappointing performance on international reading, math and science tests, raising doubts about their ability to compete in a world economy.

The struggle to reach the Millennium Generation is evident in the concentration of professional development courses focusing on methods of educating these high-tech students, many of whom have short attention spans and very little interest in their teachers' "antiquated" teaching practices. The ultimate goal of these seminars and inservices is to raise test scores and school ranking while attempting to prepare this generation for the adult world of work and citizenship. Are the students in the American public education system sufficiently acquiring literacy, numeracy, and technological skills to survive global competition? Will those who do not move on to higher education, as well as those who do, be prepared to meet demands of the 21st century work force? Educators in all fields feel the pressure, but more expectations are falling on career and technical education (CTE) teachers than ever before.

Two major players in improving education to meet the needs of 21st century learners are technology and CTE. According to Dr. Bill Daggett, founder and President of the International Center for Leadership in Education, "The changing American workplace is impacted by fast changing technologies. Leaders must prepare graduates for this rapidly changing world by instilling the concept of lifelong learning in a technological world." In order to motivate the Millennium Generation to appreciate lifelong learning and to adapt to ever changing educational and career demands, educators must utilize the technology that is such an integral part of their students' experience. Administrators are now expecting teachers to become proficient in technology they never had as students. CTE teachers today not only need to stay on top of the professional standards of their particular fields, but they also need to learn new technological skills, many of which their students have already mastered.

In addition to updating equipment and training staff to keep up with technology, schools are also challenged to make the core skills--reading, writing, science and math-- relevant to the students, to show them that their academic achievement is directly tied to the quality of life they will have after they leave school. CTE has been identified as the ideal setting for students to put literacy, numeracy, science/technology and critical thinking skills into meaningful practice. Dr. Daggett and staff at the International Center for Leadership in Education developed the Rigor/Relevance Framework™ , which incorporates the six cognitive levels of Bloom's Taxonomy with five levels of knowledge in action, to illustrate the ideal combination of high academic standards and real-world applications in curriculum, instruction, and assessment. The Framework functions as a plan for instruction (either at the classroom, institution or community level) and the goal of this plan is for students to finish school with the ability to use the higher level thinking skills that are outlined in Bloom's Taxonomy in conjunction with knowledge of multiple disciplines (math, science, language) to create solutions to unpredictable problems and situations.

Although "Writing Across the Curriculum" and "Crosswalk to CORE" are not entirely new concepts in public education, Daggett's position is that merely reinforcing some core academic skills in the CTE classroom is not enough to prepare 21st century learners for the demands that they will face in the work force. "Career and technical education," argues Daggett, "must be seen as a primary deliverer of strong academic preparation." He proposes that schools need to restructure from a program in which core knowledge is taught in a vacuum, removed from practical applications, to an "applied academics program where vocational skills become the platform in which the academic skills are delivered." School improvement, according to Daggett, is not just a matter of raising standards, because rigor alone does not make students successful outside of the classroom. "Relevance makes rigor possible,” says Daggett. For the highest achievement, students must be able to apply the knowledge to situations they might actually encounter in their careers, rather than simply study the concepts detached from relevant contexts. While restructuring to fit the Rigor/Relevance Framework™ might not be in every school's near future, teachers can still use the basic principle of multidisciplinary knowledge in action as a guide to address the needs of their students in their curriculum and to prepare for the future. For Millennium Generation learners, and the generations that follow, career pathways are vehicles for relevance and rigor.

This new attention on career pathways might cause some anxiety for CTE teachers who are unsure of the many expectations that are being placed upon them; however, CTE educators and students benefit from this exciting shift in education that emphasizes application, rather than just acquisition, of knowledge. Courses that were once considered "elective" and of secondary importance to the core academics are now becoming center stage in 21st century learning. Students' interest in the professional field can be used as motivation to foster competence in the core skills--skills that are not separate from the profession, but are in fact integrated within it and necessary for students to achieve their highest potential. Many of these skills are reinforced (even if informally) in the CTE classroom anyway, but perhaps not enough. Taking a more holistic approach to education will be a challenge, but it is also a prime opportunity for educators to contribute in the development of a skilled, competitive, and adaptive American workforce.

"The great aim of education is not knowledge but action."
Herbert Spencer, 19th century philosopher

Mary Horne