Our school joined InnovateNJ last year, a consortium created by the NJDOE to join like-minded schools and create a culture of progressive, leading-edge schools in our state. Our challenge in participating is to collaborate with our partner school, pioneer new programs, and report out on our processes and outcomes.
Last spring, we started our InnovateNJ program. The first thing we did was to create a brand (thanks, Voorhees!). After soliciting participants, we held our first meeting at our Westampton Campus. There were twelve teachers involved. We decided to brand ourselves iBCIT (InnovateBCIT). Our advertising, art, and design students created a logo for our group.
Once we had our logo, we set to work on a project the consortium tasked us with, Option II. How could we create innovative scheduling options? As a Career and Tech school, we have no room for electives since the career majors utilize all elective time. Still, we knew that many of our students were moving on to college and had interests in addition to their chosen major.
We decided to run a series of four elective classes, two in the fall, and two in the spring. These classes would utilize a hybrid schedule, meeting once per week after school for two hours, and once per week in the evening for a synchronous online discussion, much like contemporary college classes. Once we worked out the details, we had staff members submit proposals for electives. In total, we received 22 proposals for everything from Women's Issues to Forensic Science to Issues in Black Culture. In turn, we sent the proposals out to the students in a two-question survey.
1) Would you be interested in participating in a hybrid course?
2) If you are interested in a hybrid course, which one is most appealing?
The results of the survey were overwhelmingly positive; over 90% of those surveyed were interested in participating. The most popular proposals were Human Behavior and Forensic Science, which we decided to run in Fall 2015.
In order to ensure equity, we ordered a set of 40 laptops to be issued to students participating in a hybrid class. The Chromebooks would be kept by the students for the semester.
In July, we held our breath and sent home the application information. Yes, the students expressed interest, but would they follow through and take the classes? Immediately, the applications began pouring in. Human Behavior was the most popular. In fact, it was so popular that the class filled and there were students on a waiting list. This prompted a phone call to another qualified teacher of the subject; would he be interested in running a fall course? He agreed, and we opened [and filled] a second section. In the meantime, Forensic Science also filled. All three classes had waiting lists.
In August, we briefed teachers on setting up an online course. Our tools for the program were Google Classroom, Communities, and Hangouts. We discussed expectations, rules and timing. We created attendance policies and project or inquiry based units. We recognized that in order to make these classes a success, we needed to capture students' interest with engaging, student-led classes. Much of the work is collaborative in nature, and the online component is mostly utilized for small group discussions and reporting on research.
As we near the end of the first marking period, I can say that the classes have been quite successful. There was very little attrition, though we lost 2-3 students initially due to schedules. We replaced those students with others on the waiting list. The students are engaged and active, and somehow, we managed to entice students to extend their learning beyond the traditional school day.