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Schools set for changes
Project-based learning coming to city system
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Yong Zhao, the keynote speaker for the Martinsville schools’ convocation on Friday, discussed students’ skills and marketplace needs. (Photo by Kim Buck)

Sunday, August 4, 2013

By PAUL COLLINS - Bulletin Staff Writer

Martinsville schools Superintendent Pam Heath said Friday she never has been as excited to start a school year because of changes planned in how city students will be taught.

There is “an extra sense of excitement and energy; eyes light up; and there are ‘a-ha’ moments,” Heath said during the city schools’ convocation — a back-to-school gathering for employees.

Changes in education in Martinsville and beyond were the event’s focus.

Heath said the school division is on the verge of, if not already in the process of, making “a paradigm shift,” which means a fundamental change in approach or underlying assumptions as to what students should be taught.

She said businesses locally and elsewhere have told school division officials that skills they need for people they hire to have include being able to think critically and creatively, “think on their feet” and adapt, solve problems, work well with others and communicate well, both orally and in writing.

The school division is implementing project-based learning, which uses many of those skills, this year at all grade levels, school officials said.

Heath also said the school division has created a new logo and is working on a new website as part of a rebranding effort.

The $9.3 million Martinsville High School renovation is nearly complete, and a public open house will be scheduled, she said without giving details.

Yong Zhao, the keynote speaker for the convocation, praised the school division for its innovative efforts to go into project-based learning and said the division has the chance to be one of the best school systems.

Zhao is the presidential chair and associate dean for global education in the College of Education, University of Oregon, where he also is the Weinman professor of technology and professor in the department of educational measurement, policy and leadership, according to information provided by the Martinsville schools. He has published more than 100 articles and 20 books.

He spoke during both the convocation Friday morning at Martinsville High School auditorium and a luncheon meeting of the Martinsville Leadership & Learning Network at Chatmoss Country Club. About 50 educational, business, governmental, civic and other community leaders attended the luncheon.

During the morning session, many educators applauded when Zhao said, “Test scores only measure how good you are at taking tests.”

He had just given a talk criticizing educational reform in the United States in recent years that has put more emphasis on accountability and test scores in certain subjects to attempt to reduce some achievement gaps. That has had such negative consequences as narrowing the curricula, less creativity, less building of confidence and less development of individual strengths and differences, among other things, he said.

Zhao said many students who are graduating from college are prepared for jobs that no longer exist in the United States because of automation and jobs going overseas when products can be produced more cheaply there.

The educational system long has been set up to produce employees — people who follow instructions and take orders, he said.

Instead, educational systems should be educating students to become entrepreneurs: business entrepreneurs, social entrepreneurs (such as people working for nonprofits and social or environmental causes), “intrapreneurs” (such as problem-solvers and initiative takers within organizations) and policy entrepreneurs.

Entrepreneurial qualities include confidence, passion, global competency, ability to make friends, creativity, uniqueness, risk-taking, alertness to opportunity and empathy, Zhao said. According to the Harvard Graduate School of Education, global competency focuses on the connections between issues, events and people locally and globally, and promotes informed, positive action.

Countries with the best student math test scores have lower student confidence levels, and confidence is key to entrepreneurship, Zhao said. The United States pales in comparison with other countries on student math scores, he said, but U.S. student confidence is second highest among countries, according to a chart he showed.

That, Zhao said, helps explain the basis of a comment by President Barack Obama in his 2011 State of the Union Address: “…America still has the largest, most prosperous economy in the world. ... No workers — no workers are more productive than ours. No country has more successful companies, or grants more patents to inventors and entrepreneurs. We’re the home to the world’s best colleges and universities, where more students come to study than any place on earth.”

Zhao said he would like to see Martinsville students producing products in a global arena — for instance, a personalized book or a TV show for children in another country, or taking classes from another country.

Also at Friday’s program, school officials, including Angilee Downing, assistant superintendent for instruction, thanked The Harvest Foundation for its financial support, including for professional development.

Twenty-four new personnel were introduced (22 teachers, one media specialist and Career Development Coordinator Crystal Ritchson).

Robert Williams, vice chairman of the Martinsville School Board, told educators the convocation was held “to inform, educate and inspire you.”


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