Posts Tagged ‘Get Creative’

7 Tips for Building a Better School Day

August 11, 2013



Courtesy of

1. Begin the Day “Over Easy”—with Breakfast

At Ellis Elementary in Denver, teachers are reinventing homeroom as a morning meeting over eggs and toast. “When students eat a good, nutritious breakfast, they can hit the ground running,” said Mayor Michael Hancock during a visit to the school last year—yet a 2011 survey found that though 77 percent of young children eat breakfast every day, only 50 percent of middle schoolers and 36 percent of high schoolers get a regular morning meal. According to nutrition researcher Gail C. Rampersaud of the University of Florida, “breakfast consumption may improve cognitive function and school attendance,” and Ellis principal Khoa Nguyen notes that tardiness and missed school days have dropped off significantly since the program began. And he’s noticed other benefits. “Both the kids and teachers know that they will have a few minutes every morning where they can eat, chat about what’s happening that day, and not be rushed,” he says.

2. Emphasize Learning, Not Testing

As a result of government policies like No Child Left Behind—which requires schools to improve on students’ standardized test performance year over year—educators are overwhelmed with testing and test prep. And that has contributed to an increasingly dysfunctional public school system, says Diane Ravitch, Ph.D., research professor of education at New York University and author of the upcoming book Reign of Error. “Schools and teachers are under so much pressure to get students to pass that most of the school day is spent teaching to the test. Subjects that don’t appear on the tests—art, foreign languages, even science and history—are being dropped from the curriculum,” she says. The result, says journalist Paul Tough, author of How Children Succeed, is that we’re producing many grads who are great test takers but not great learners. “Students don’t know how to deal well with confrontation, bounce back from defeat, see two different sides of a problem,” he says, “things that are essential not just in adulthood but in continuing your education past high school. It turns out the students who are most likely to graduate from college aren’t necessarily the ones who do best on the standardized tests, but the ones who are able to develop these other qualities.”

3. Teach 21st-Century Skills

In a Gallup poll this year of 1,014 young adults, those who said they had learned “21st-century skills” (like developing solutions to real-world problems) during their last year in high school were twice as likely to describe themselves as successful in the workplace. How can we get students to develop such talents?

Three ideas:

a. Emphasize long-term projects. Consider the way most professional jobs work, says Tough. “You’re probably not working on one assignment today, and another one tomorrow, and another one the day after that. Instead, you’re working on a project over a period of time—revising it, perfecting it, presenting your findings to others.” Those are precisely the skills that students need to develop, he says.

b. Use technology. How can schools get kids to embrace technology inside the classroom the way they do outside of it? According to former teacher Will Richardson, author of Why School?, “it’s got to be in service of answering big questions.” For example, at the Science Leadership Academy, a public magnet high school in Philadelphia, 10th graders studying chemical engineering asked: How can we make an efficient biodiesel generator that people in developing countries could use to create their own electricity? “And they did it!” says Richardson. “Technology was able to augment the students’ work, allowing them to connect with leading engineers or create 3-D computer models.”

c. Make classes multidisciplinary. At New Technology High School in Napa, Calif., classes combine different disciplines (think: digital media arts/geometry). Last year, in bio-fitness, ninth grader Haley Kara used deductive reasoning to diagnose a mystery illness; and in chemistry, 10th grader Brian Shnell designed a bio-dome that could sustain life on another planet. “Splitting subjects into slots is easier for us,” says Richardson. “But that’s not what the real world looks like. It’s much messier.”



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