September 10, 2004

5. Videoconferencing.

~~The weather has been beautiful the past few days. Someone told me that they saw the Northern Lights a few nights ago. I didn't think we could see them yet. I took a four-wheeler ride to the dump on Monday. I expected a small landfill, but really it was just a junkyard with piles of ash everywhere. Trash that's burnable is burnt at home and everything else is put on wagons, which are sent to the dump for incineration before being left to decay. The dump is as far away from the village as you can get while remaining on the boardwalk. Beyond that is untouched, desolate tundra as far as you can see. A walk 100 yards out took me to the most isolated place I've ever been with a three hundred degree view of solitude. This is where I want to see the Northern Lights sometime.
~~This week, school was open for staff development only. The principal and a few other teachers flew into Bethel for NCLB workshops, while the rest of us stayed at the site for district-wide video conferencing. Each of the twenty-five some village schools (with 3-10 teachers per school) were connected to each other and to the district office staff via satellite. We watched as the facilitators explained Alaska's 'Phase' system of assessment driven instruction. On a different day, the morning was dedicated to getting everyone's lap tops connected to a centralized, grade/attendance district database. Overall, the videoconference was more participant friendly than I would have expected. It was serious business, but there was also lightheartedness in the air at times- towards the end, all the teachers at one school put on silly glasses that made EVERYONE laugh hard. A little comic relief never hurts.
~~The phase system is a relatively new effort to synchronize curriculum and assessment across all district schools. It is similar to Philadelphia's effort to implement a core curriculum, but it's a little further along. In addition to aligning units of study, the phases require students to pass anywhere from ten to twenty indicator tests before attempting the larger phase assessments. Furthermore, each indicator test is cross-referenced with the textbooks that are available in the schools. Generally, each grade level is composed of two phases. That's my sophomoric take on it, anyway. I'm really looking forward to getting the kids back in the classroom. Also looking forward to getting my hands on a decent digital camera soon.


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