More than just a car

Missouri students and volunteer mentors are building a lightweight all-electric vehicle, but it’s more than just a car, Wired reports.

The car is the creation of Minddrive, an after-school program in Kansas City, Missouri that mentors students performing below their grade levels in traditional school environments. The kids meet every other Wednesday and on Saturday mornings and learn about automotive design and contemporary communications with mentors who work in the students’ fields of study. The auto-design students learn computer-aided design, welding and electrical engineering, while the communications students learn to promote the car as if the design studio was a client.

The team plans to drive the car  2,400 miles from Jacksonville, Florida to San Diego during spring break.

“We’re trying to take kids who haven’t been engaged in school and hook them to an expanded vision of what their future might be,” said Steve Rees, the program director.

Last year, students worked on a wrecked Lola Champ Car, even testing it out at Bridgestone’s Texas proving grounds. Those students are now learning advanced 3D modeling and Solidworks, while a new crop of kids — equal numbers of boys and girls — are working on the Reynard. So far, four kids have graduated from the program and each one is employed or in school.

“Our kids do this because they’re inspired to be there every week, to work with adults and do hands on things,” said Rees.

 

 

Kansas City updates grade levels

Some school districts are returning to an old idea, AP reports. They’re grouping students by performance rather than age. The boldest experiment will start in Kansas City, Missouri schools this fall when 17,000 students will switch to the new system.

Students — often of varying ages — work at their own pace, meeting with teachers to decide what part of the curriculum to tackle. Teachers still instruct students as a group if it’s needed, but often students are working individually or in small groups on projects that are tailored to their skill level.

For instance, in a classroom learning about currency, one group could draw pictures of pennies and nickels. A student who has mastered that skill might use pretend money to practice making change.

Students who progress quickly can finish high school material early and move forward with college coursework. Alternatively, in some districts, high-schoolers who need extra time can stick around for another year.

Advocates say the approach cuts down on discipline problems because advanced students aren’t bored and struggling students aren’t frustrated.

Kansas City’s traditional public schools have seen enrollment fall by half as students move to suburbs or enroll in charter or private schools; 40 percent of schools are closing.  The district spent $2 billion in state desegregation case funds without raising test scores. Kansas City is desperate. Superintendent John Covington will start the new system in elementary schools.

“This system precludes us from labeling children failures,” Covington said. “It’s not that you’ve failed, it’s just that at this point you haven’t mastered the competencies yet and when you do, you will move to the next level.”

In a Marzano Research Laboratory study of 15 school districts in Alaska, Colorado and Florida, “researchers found that students who learned through the different approach were 2.5 times more likely to score at a level that shows they have a good grasp of the material on exams for reading, writing, and mathematics.”

Greg Johnson, director of curriculum and instruction for the Bering Strait School District in Alaska, recalled that before the switch there were students who had been on honor roll throughout high school then failed a test the state requires for graduation.

Now, he said if students are on pace to pass a class like Algebra I, the likelihood of them passing the state exam covering that material is more than 90 percent.

Teachers love the new approach, Johnson says.

Kansas City school closure round-up

Nearly half  the public schools in Kansas City, MO will be shut down to forestall bankruptcy, according to the board of education there.   I’ve rounded up some news stories and blog posts about this measure.  Discuss amongst yourselves.

CS Monitor    Kansas City to close 26 schools. Unprecedented move in US?

NY Times       Board’s Decision to Close 28 Kansas City Schools Follows Years of Inaction

Rod Dreher   Why did Kansas City’s public schools fail?

Tony’s Kansas City  YouTube on Kansas City School Closings

KMBC                Teachers React to School Closings

KCTV                  School Board Candidates Answer Tough Questions

Glenn Sandifer  Kansas City Locals Defend, Mourn School Closings