Time is Changing in Gates High School

by Don Gillingham

“The standard Carnegie Unit is defined as 120 hours of contact time with an instructor, which translates into one hour of instruction on a particular subject per day, five days a week, for 24 weeks annually.” https://www.carnegiefoundation.org/resources/publi...

There it is, the standard for high schools across the country and across the centuries. I’m confident we are in the last days of the Carnegie Unit. I for one am not sad to see it go.

We are dangling our toes in the waters of change. Soon we will be swept by a current of new expectations. Technology and innovative teaching methods open our classroom doors and take learning into the heart of our ever changing world. The time has come for the leaders in Lutheran education to develop and promote an entirely different approach to teaching and learning. Perhaps Carnegie should give way to Gates.

Let’s look at some differences in the elements of education that must be in place in every approach to learning; a teacher, a calendar, a clock and text books. Let me invest a few lines in each element discussing the changes that have already begun to take shape.

Do you remember Mr. Teacher from Civics class? He was engaging, perhaps the only reason we ever took one of his classes was the force of his personality. We liked being around him. He had good stories and he talked about relevant topics. We could drag him off topic by mentioning the lead story from last night’s newscast. The jokes he told the class we shared between generations of students and his course outlines and final exams were remarkably similar to the ones our older brother took three years ago.

Teachers are still around but now our instructor might be in his rural hometown monitoring a chat room. The assessment tools he uses might well have been created by an educator who does nothing but craft assessments.

Turning in text books on the day of finals is a time-honored tradition. The teacher flips through the pages. Every once in a while, an eraser will be called for. In extreme situations a page may have been ripped or ripped out. New books would be needed when the Soviet Union collapsed, or the state ordered a new math curriculum but generally the text book had the questions and answers that we needed to memorize for the exam.

Today, a primary source from the University of Michigan Library might be footnoted in a research paper. A blog might be sited as a quotable resource. Students may be given the assignment to watch the “I Have a Dream” speech on YouTube. And Google can provide a real time overhead view of St. Petersburg, Russia or Florida.

As I moved from Michigan to Illinois, I discovered that not all schools began the Tuesday after Labor Day. Still the school year feels the same as the original Carnegie units seven hours a day, five days a week, 10 months a year. Summers off and approximately one Federal or State holiday a month.

Calendars are fluid now. Summer is a time for learning. Much of that learning is done “in the field.” We offer experience credits and internships. A 12-month calendar is in no way unusual.

Bells impose the tyranny of clocks on students. Start and end times are a staple of the Carnegie world. Every period is measured. Learning is portioned out in numbers of minutes. Endurance is a meaningful part of success in education. Teachers manipulate content to fill time or cut a topic short as students close their books in preparation to empty into the halls for a passing period.

Project Based Learning demands that an outcome drive the time assigned to an exploration. Blended Learning encourages a self-paced journey through topics. Mastery Learning demands that we truly internalize our learning before we move on to new topics. Scientific studies tell us that some people are built for morning growth and others work better after a dinner. Our new units of learning will accommodate these important truths.

Teachers and text books, calendars, and clocks will always be factors in education but they now need to be tools of restraint on those who hunger and thirst for learning.

The time for change has come.

It is time for a school year that does not bend to the agricultural seasons, time to acknowledge that some students simply don’t do well with a 7:45 a.m. start, time to flip classrooms and encourage online learning.

The Gates High School will employ live and virtual teachers, videos, newsfeeds, video clips and real-life experiments. The calendar will be 12 months long and students will design their day around, sleep and work and activities.

I am confident that the Lutheran system of education can design, promote and implement a new structure for learning, a new standard for measuring academic success. There are many in our circles that are experimenting with new learning philosophies. The growth of Learning Management Systems (LMS) is about to transform the landscape of high school education.

Think of the tremendous impact Lutheran thought leaders can have on education if we band together to develop and promote learning structures. Rockford Lutheran has joined with Racine Lutheran, Sheboygan Lutheran, and Living Word to create online content. The Concordia Universities are taking the lead in the development of dual credit opportunities. We can lead the way advancing international learning exchanges. We have the talent to create a menu of badges that define the experience of an excellent American Lit class. The lessons of all of our teachers can be enriched if we are able to share the power of a single LMS.

If we commit to open our minds and answer questions that could never be asked until now we can move to the edge of educational programs that work for our children. How many classes can a student take online? What credit will we grant for summer programs on the campuses of our Concordia Universities? ALSS can be at the vanguard of a movement to equate a diploma or a degree to standards of learning instead of hours in front of a teacher. Lutheran schools can provide students with a series of opportunities to demonstrate what they have learned.

I believe that in the very near future we will have graduation requirements that depend on achievement not time served. The inventory of tools that make personalized curricula possible is long and evolving. Individual articles have been written about: Online learning, Blended Learning, Flipped Classrooms, Community College Dual credit enrollment, Personal Learning Environments, Project-based learning and other ideas come to life in schools and classrooms throughout America. We have the opportunity to move from the “one size fits all” notion of education to a new customized approach to the pursuit of intellectual growth.

In The Element: How Finding Your Passion Changes Everything, Sir Ken Robinson says “The Element is about discovering yourself, and you can't do this if you're trapped in a compulsion to conform. You can't be yourself in a swarm.”

With the coordination and core services a of a Lutheran high school that properly understands the best application of teachers, text books, calendars and clocks a new model with emerge. Our students can sleep till 10:00am, go to school three days a week, year-round. Credits can be earned in three week long classes. Our students can be distinguished by their willingness to accept responsibility for their growth on a path that is designed with their talents and interests in mind.

Don Gillingham.jpg

Don Gillingham is the Executive Director of Rockford Lutheran High School and can be reached at dgillingham@rockfordlutheran.org.