Updating the Diploma

by Beth Knittle on April 15, 2015

Updating the curriculum is grounded in preparing students for today’s job market and the elusive future economy.  It is also about providing students an opportunity to explore their passions, develop a love of learning not to mention the skills a learner needs to keep on learning.   When developing curriculum we often ask two questions (1) what do we want the student to be able to do (2) how do we know they know it?   The ultimate proof of completing a course of study, that says to the world the students know what we what them to know, is the diploma.  If the current job market is calling for change in school curriculum maybe the diploma needs a makeover as well.

In the past a diploma seemed to mean something, it carried a weight all it is own.  Now as students migrate from high school to college or college to career the diploma in only one of the items they need to move forward.  Many colleges and employers want to see beyond the diploma.  They want a portfolio of work that demonstrates their skills and proficiency in certain applications.  How much experience do you have with Maya? Are you Photoshop certified?  So you have a diploma but what can you do?

I have seen this in my own children. My son who is interested in game design learned that he needed to submit a portfolio of related work with his college applications.  As his high school has no course to support this endeavor he took a community college course and several online tutorials to learn the skills needed and prepared his portfolio for the application process.  (Good thing we started looking several years out.)  A high school diploma, good SAT and IB scores were not sufficient for the path he has chosen.

My daughter, with another year of college to go, has an internship for job experience and is reading lots of job ads to discover what employers are looking for, what skills she’ll need, and how can she prove she has them. It is not just a diploma she needs and it certainly will be more than a portfolio.  She will need certificates.  Through Lynda and Adobe Certification she is working to obtain those most sought in her desired career path.

As a parent and educator it is clear to me that schools today do not adequately prepare students to enter certain college and career tracks particularly those in the technology field.  Things need to change; how we educate, what we learn and maybe how we demonstrate to others our skills and knowledge.


Recommended Reading:

Disrupting the Diploma by Reid Hoffman


Updating the Curriculum

by Beth Knittle on March 22, 2015

Many school curricula have remained pretty much unchanged for decades some could argue centuries. The basic common elements of English, Math, Science and History are constants, it is the other curricular options that seem to come and go over time.

When I was in middle school/ high school we had a choice of home economics options; sewing, cooking, money matters, early childhood education. There was also a “shop” track; woodworking, automotive repair, metal working, business accounting, keyboarding, and short hand.   These are not seen in many schools, some are made irrelevant due to advances in technology, some are seen as limiting to stereotypes and not politically correct. Others have fallen by the way side as state and federal standards have taken up more and more of the valuable minutes of a school day. Even foreign language options have shifted over time. French and Spanish were the only options during my school days. Now my old HS and neighboring schools still offer French and Spanish along with German, Chinese and Arabic.

Many school districts are trying to modernize the curricular options they offer. They wish to add courses that prepare students for new job opportunities and college studies. Some courses might include coding, mobile app design, broadcasting, interactive media, game design, etc.

I have been doing some research contacting schools around the region and some of my former colleagues working in independent international schools across the globe.

There seem to be common issues in updating the curricula; here are a few in no particular order.

  • What certification/license is needed? Is there even a viable certificate?
  • What department do they belong to?
  • What courses to offer? The sequence?
  • Do we create stand-alone courses, incorporate in existing classes or both?
  • Who develops the curriculum? Can we purchase one?
  • How to shift the pedagogue from traditional teaching to project based team orientated learning environments.

I have discovered that the independent schools have greater flexibility and are able to hire teachers who have industry certificates that show skills in various software applications and programming languages, most also require a more general teaching certificate. Public schools do not have that luxury and are hindered by state licensing boards that have not modernized the options. Vocational schools do have some more flexibility with vocational licensing but for comprehensive high schools these are few options unless they do some restructuring.

I live and work in Massachusetts with a fast growing industry in computing jobs, yet it is not part of most MA school curriculum and many college degree options in computer science are highly competitive and require prior experience. We are clearly playing catch up. Code.org has some information on the state of computer education in MA.

In schools were they have begun to develop programs they are creating new academic/ interdisciplinary departments. Those that seem the most successful (high student involvement and a variety of options) have a designated department head. Departments’ names vary:

  • Practical Technology
  • Applied technology
  • Information and Computer Science Technology (ICST)
  • Interactive Media and Computer Science (IMCS)

Most faculty members teach in two departments for example Studio Arts & IMCS or Mathematics and ICST.   Personally I am partial to Interactive Media and Computer Science.

Some schools are adopting packaged courses to help facilitate a speedier change such as Code.org’s materials,  Zulama’s complete curriculum series and others use courses from iTunes U and Khan academy. There is course material out there the main obstacles seem to be teacher preparation, certification and finding time in school day.

The change is coming and is necessary though many schools have made minor adjustments to meet the immediate need most are developing long term plans to address the change. Though fewer are advocating for change at the state level to make the curricular additions easier this to me seems an essential step.

How are your schools addressing the need for change?


Missing in Action

by Beth Knittle on March 22, 2015

I had pledge to myself when I started this blog so many years ago that I would post at least twice a month.  I was not able to keep that commitment and did not make a single post in February.  The crazy New England winter and family matters played a role. It is now March and time to recommit to at least a twice a month post.


Making the Most of the New Year

January 6, 2015

A new year means a time for reflection and a new start, as educators we get two every year.  We start fresh each school year and get a boost mid-way through with the start of a new calendar year.  I take the winter break to reflect on how the year is going and what type […]

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Happy New Year!

December 29, 2014

I just wanted to take a moment to thank you for reading my thoughts over the course of the year and sharing yours as we continue to learn. I wish you all a Joyous New Year may it be filled grace, peace and love.

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A Teacher’s Thoughts on Testing

December 24, 2014

A colleague of mine shared with me An Open Letter to American From a Public School Teacher, by Michael Mau.  It is a really is a good read and gets you thinking. I know many educators who are questioning why they are still in education. The classroom educational experience has undergone many changes in the […]

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Degrees of Urgency: Some Thoughts

November 10, 2014

The state recently released “a report to the people of Massachusetts from the Massachusetts department of higher education Oct  2014” It is a pretty lengthy read on why we need more graduates particularly in the STEM fields of nursing and computer science.  The background context is colleges are underfunded.  There was much discussion on how […]

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