As businesses, industries and technologies evolve at tremendous speeds, local schools and colleges strive to update their curriculums and make sure students are prepared for the next step.
One local example is part of the Preparation for Tomorrow initiative from the Southern Regional Educational Board. Through the program, the Randolph Technical Center is a pilot site for the Energy, Power and Engineered Systems career concentration, which is designed to offer rigorous academics and job-ready skills in an area that targets the economic needs of the area.
The program concentration focuses on areas of energy and power systems, energy transmission and distribution, electronics and control systems and the business of energy. Based on the engineering design model, each course involves student teams in researching, designing, building and testing model products.
Nick Brewster and Brennen Blake, both juniors at Elkins High School, follow design layouts to construct a project in hydraulics in the Energy and Power Foundations course at Randolph Technical Center. The models later were tested for efficiency and evaluated by other students in the class. (Submitted photo)
Instructor Jeff Broschart recently was named a master teacher, and he will train other instructors in energy and power during summer technology centers that work through the Southern Regional Education Board.
The Randolph Technical Center in Elkins will offer four courses in the industrial equipment maintenance career concentration beginning in the 2013/2014 school year. This is in response to legislation that requires career and technical centers in West Virginia to align course offerings with local employment opportunities.
The curriculum, based on collaboration with Gary Clay of the Manufacturers Association, helps provide trained employees in the field for local industry. Upon completion of the fundamentals course, students will move into courses concentrating in hydraulic and pneumatic systems, electrical maintenance and the fundamentals of welding technology. An integral part of each course will be work ethics skills.
This program will pilot the Simulated Workplace initiative for the West Virginia Department of Education.
A Careers in Education program will be implemented in fall 2013. Juniors interested in teaching careers may apply for the four-course concentration. Courses will carry weighted grades and offer college credit to those completing the program. Students will study learning, child development and diversity, as well as educational psychology.
The program will culminate in a teacher preparation experience with extensive observation and actual classroom teaching experience in an approved school setting. Part of the final course prepares future teachers for the Praxis I test, pre-professional skills tests required for admittance into a college program.
In Randolph County schools, changes in the curriculum also are on the upswing. Pamela Hewitt, assistant superintendent of curriculum and federal programs for Randolph County Schools, said the county will implement the Next Generation Common Core Standards in all schools during the 2013/2014 school year.
"All grades kindergarten through 12 will use these standards in the areas of English language arts, mathematics and social studies," Hewitt said. "The Content Standards and Objectives make the way teachers teach more focused and flexible, while making the way students learn more engaged and personalized."
Hewitt said the Next Generation Standards represent the next logical step in the progression of the statewide movement called "Education West Virginia: Enhancing Learning. For Now. For the Future." The mission of this movement is to develop self-directed, motivated learners who demonstrate the skills and knowledge that are fundamental to becoming successful adults in the digital world.
The Common Core State Standards Initiative is a state-led effort that established a single set of clear educational standards for kindergarten through grade 12 that states adopt voluntarily. So far, 45 states and the District of Columbia have adopted these standards. They clearly communicate what is expected of students at each grade level, allowing teachers to be better equipped to know exactly what students need to learn and establish benchmarks for measurement.
"So many students move from one school district or one state to another," Hewitt said. "This will help students make that transition because of a uniform requirement of learning across the board from state to state."
Hewitt said the Next Generation Common Core Standards focus on core conceptual understandings starting in the early grades.
"This enables teachers to take the time needed to teach core concepts and procedures well," Hewitt said. "It gives students the opportunity to master the skills. They have been designed to focus on fewer concepts while stressing deeper learning and understanding."
The standards are designed to ensure that students are prepared after graduating from high school for success in college and careers.
"The standards are clear and concise to ensure that parents, teachers and students have a clear understanding of the expectations in reading, writing, speaking, listening, language and mathematics in school. For example, in the area of mathematics, the Common Core State Standards lay a solid foundation in whole numbers, addition, subtraction, multiplication, division, fractions and decimals. Taken together, these elements support a student's ability to learn and apply more demanding math concepts and procedures."
Hewitt said the middle school and high school standards call on students to practice applying mathematical ways of thinking to real-world issues and challenges.
"They prepare students to think and reason mathematically," Hewitt said. "In English language arts, the standards establish a staircase of increasing complexity in what students must be able to read and comprehend. The standards recognize that students must be able to use formal English in their writing and speaking, and that they must be able to make informed, skillful choices among the many ways to express themselves through language."
A big plus is that the standards are consistent across the states.
"They promote equity by ensuring all students, no matter where they live, are well-prepared with the skills and knowledge necessary to collaborate and compete with their peers in the United States and abroad. The Common Core Standards enable collaboration between states on the development of instructional material and a common assessment. The current WESTEST 2 assessment will be replaced with a new and different assessment call the Smarter Balanced Assessment, slated for utilization in spring 2014."
Hewitt said the Next Generation Standards establish what students need to learn, but do not dictate how teachers should teach.
"Teachers will continue to devise lesson plans and tailor instruction to the individual needs of the students in their classrooms," Hewitt said. "Teachers across the country were very involved in the development of the Common Core Standards. Local teachers, principals and administrators have led, and will continue to lead, the implementation of the Common Core.
"For the past two summers, teachers from Randolph County have attended Summer Teacher Leadership Institutes that provided them with extensive training on embedding the Next Generation Common Core Standards in kindergarten, first-grade, fourth-grade, fifth-grade and ninth-grade classes," Hewitt said. "Teachers who attended these institutes then, in turn, trained their fellow teachers so that they could begin the transition process to the new standards with their students. To build upon this, additional training opportunities will be provided to teachers and administrators during spring and summer of 2013. Follow-up training will be embedded throughout the 2013 to 2014 school year.
"An initiative that is as extensive and broad as this requires a tremendous amount of professional development, training and support," Hewitt said. "As a result of this need, Randolph County Schools will join the other counties within RESA 7 to obtain training for teams of teachers and administrators that will share their knowledge and expertise with their colleagues over the next year."
Dr. Joseph Super, superintendent of Barbour County Schools, said many new and innovative programs are being adopted in his county to help students succeed.
"We are in our second year of a dropout prevention program at the high school," Super said. "We are utilizing a new model for the delivery of curriculum that changes the culture of the school."
Super said rather than teachers providing the answers, students are challenged to use technology to find answers facilitated by the instructors. He said when students find the information, they then own the information.
"We want them to be able to have the ability to solve problems and find answers on their own, rather than being spoon-fed," Super said. "Students need to take responsibility in their learning process. Through this they learn trust, respect and responsibility."
Super said the program is built around project-based learning activities where students work collaboratively in small groups of three or four.
"They do the research and come up with a solution for the problem," Super said. "This helps in later life because on the job, few people work alone. This model includes delegation, and is more real-life and closer to what it's like on the job."
Another initiative in the elementary schools is a focus on The leader in me, a schoolwide model that enables educators to unleash each child's full potential; and Sean Covey's book, "The 7 Habits of Highly Effective Teens." These habits are be proactive, begin with the end in mind, put first things first, think win-win, seek first to understand then to be understood, synergize and sharpen the saw.
Super said it is important for kids to understand they are accountable for their learning and the outcomes.
"If we can change the culture to where our kids accept the responsibility for learning and their own behavior, the test scores and attitude about school and the community and their future will fall into place," Super said.
Super said the shift toward project-based learning activities will be a big help.
"They will not receive a sheet of paper but will be working with other students to find the answers," Super said. "We are so tied to test scores that we need to make sure students can find those answers and then be able to apply their learning to those test questions. So they not only will learn to find the answers, but be able to explain and write the processes to learning that skill."
At Davis & Elkins College, Chancellor and President-elect Michael Mihalyo said administrators and instructors place student in the center of everything they do, and they encourage progress by teaching students to become lifelong learners.
"The success of our students is not necessarily through revised curriculum in of itself, but in the rethinking of the skills students will need to possess in the work force," Mihalyo said. "We are thinking not just about their majors, but the ability for students to speak well, write well and be able to think independently and work as a team. We are striving for graduates to be successful work candidates rather than just graduates."
Mihalyo said to accomplish this goal, they had to think outside of the box.
"We had to start at the end to decide how these students should present themselves, and work our way backward," Mihalyo said. "The end served as the starting point."
Mihalyo said surveys were made of employers and changes were made accordingly.
Mihalyo said renovations to the college buildings, improvements to technology and enhanced staff also are part of the college's blueprint to a positive move forward.
"The enhancements in our learning spaces, including more space to interact, is extremely intentional," Mihalyo said. "Also, the community has stepped up nicely to offer more student-learning opportunities in the work place."
Mihalyo said the nursing, business, theater and education departments each hold accreditations.
"Everyone at Davis & Elkins College is involved directly in student learning," Mihalyo said. "Members of our athletic department and coaches are so valuable. They go beyond the court and field to help with teamwork and individual learning in an ethical way. We value what they do."