William Sprankles @wsprankles

Improving Schools By Design

As we start thinking about moving into the new building (our middle school moves in 13 months, our high school in 25 months) the title of this Blog takes on a new meaning.  It’s a new world we will be entering and I would say it is a great opportunity to Redefine the Terms of Engagement.  I suggest the following four questions should be asked, by teachers, parents, or administrators of any class at Princeton.  The answers will give us insight into how our students see their school.


Question #1Where’s the technology? 

Like keys to the kingdom, control over the technology in a school tells us a lot.  If the teacher is at the Smart Board most of the time, if students are denied use of their own devices, if technology is not visible regularly,  What world are we preparing our students for?  Every student needs to develop the digital skills of modern civilization.  Encourage their use, absolutely.  Control their use, sure.  Deny their use, NEVER!


Question # 2How often is there interaction?

There is clear research indicating that regular feedback is the primary cause of learning.  We can’t wait until June for the state test results to find out a student can’t find the area of a triangle.  Feedback happens not just with a quiz or test but with regular interaction.  Interaction means both parties must communicate.  We must get better at asking questions and correcting answers.  Learning involves a lot of communication, which means a classroom might be noisy – and we can learn from each other, not just from the teacher.


Question #3What happens if I have a question after class?

I’m not saying every teacher needs to have a twitter page, or web page, or even email.  But we have to stop thinking class is 42 minutes long and it’s over at 9:12 a.m.  At the very least, we need to make students aware of online resources for getting answers.  Teach search strategies for Google, make students aware of online/hybrid opportunities (Khan,  ITunesU, TEDex).  Some are even experimenting with a “flipped” classroom where students watch a lesson online before class then do their homework/problem solving in class with the teacher assisting.


Question #4How many times does a student have a choice?

There are many ways to demonstrate competency.  Why can’t there be a variety of assessment choices, or even choices of what to learn?  Ancient Egypt is fascinating and there is a lifetime of learning you could devote to it.  Does a high school student who studies the literature (Book of the Dead) learn more than one who studies architecture (Pyramids) or one who studies the civilization from a medical angle (embalming?).  Ultimately, the three topics will come together into a driving question (something about death).  So each student could study the civilization from a different perspective – and demonstrate their understanding in a unique way.  By giving students a choice in what they learn and how they are assessed we are creating problem solvers.


Consider changing your terms of engagement!


By Tim Dugan

Princeton City Schools

Director of Technology & School Improvement


2 comments on “Improving Schools By Design

  1. Randy Wilhelm
    June 12, 2012

    It seems that often the discussion is reduced to an either/or scenario. Either we stay how we are or we transform. Either we use technology, or we don’t. Either we retrain teachers or we don’t. Either we allow cell phone use, or we don’t. Yet when the focus of Knowing is on the learner (student or adult) and not the complex, overbearing system, solutions to even complex problems become more clear. Do what’s right for the learner to help them Know. Let’s again ignite the hope of knowing every day to every learner.

  2. Jon Corippo
    June 15, 2012

    We have data for you on all of these, we’ve been doing all this shift for three+ years. Let’s connect, you are asking ALL the right questions.

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