HOWARD — The state requirement for expanded credit flexibility options in school goes into effect at the start of the 2010-11 school year, but East Knox High School has already implemented some pilot programs.
Principal Ryan Gallwitz said one reason the district “ramped up” the flex credit options ahead of the state requirement was to be able to do some advance research and development.
“You have to try things,” he said. “Some of my credit flexibility courses didn’t work out as I had planned. But that’s OK. We learned from it. The students were willing to participate and knew it was going to be kind of trial and error on some of the things.”
In spite of those minor glitches, Gallwitz said he is enthusiastic about increased credit options.
“It is all about breaking the mold of a traditional classroom setting. Flex classes can be during the school day or outside of school hours. Credit flexibility can provide opportunities for students that they normally would not have in a small school,” he said. “Students take responsibility for their learning and get to make decisions about topics relevant to their lives. How awesome is that?”
Gallwitz began developing his own skills last summer in order to successfully engage the students.
“I wanted to use credit flexibility to get kids involved in technology in a way that’s very flexible,” he said. “I wanted them thinking outside of the box. I wanted them challenged, that type of thing. ... I think I found a format with the wiki and blog; when they’re linked together, it works well.”
Roughly 15 EKHS students are participating in some sort of flexible credit class. One, senior, David Downey, has used the option to complete physical education requirements. Downey, Gallwitz explained, takes post-secondary courses and wasn’t able to fit physical education into his schedule. So, he has a blog where he keeps track of his exercise.
“He uses his cell phone that has ‘Bones in Motion’ on it,” Gallwitz said. “You can see all of the times he runs, the calories he burns. It’s very high tech.”
Downey earned his physical education flex credit last semester, but has continued with the workouts and the blog.
“He’s doing it now because he likes to do it,” Gallwitz said. “He likes to keep up, and it’s a history of what he is doing. Now he has other kids reading his blog and they’re doing the same thing. That’s awesome.”
Two other East Knox students are using flexible credit to do an independent study course in epilepsy.
“They came to me because they wanted to do an in-depth study of epilepsy; they suffer from that illness,” Gallwitz said. “We have put together a package for them to do that study, and they can earn an elective credit for that. It’s very relevant to them. They have their own blog and they’re working through advocacy as well as research and development. They keep all of that information on their blog. They comment on that and they share that. It’s been a really good experience for them.”
The 21st-century Scholars course is a virtual course Gallwitz teaches himself. No one else in the state of Ohio has a course like this, he said. The goal of the course is to expose students to a variety of challenges that use and develop the skills necessary to be successful in a “flat” world — skills such as global awareness, critical thinking, problem solving and collaboration. Most of the work, probably 99 percent he said, is done online through Internet tools.
The handful of students in the class research everything from environmental issues to global issues.
“They do a lot of writing,” Gallwitz said. “They go out and do a task and then they reflect upon it or they evaluate it. They can look at it from a science perspective or a social studies perspective. Some of them have gotten together to watch the video ‘Food Incorporated,’ a controversial documentary of our farming practices. They got to debate that a little bit. It was challenging, it was interesting. It was relevant because there are a lot of farms around here. Another ‘task’ could be to attend a church different than your own denomination so you have a more global awareness of things that are around you.”
Sophomore Zach Sawicki is one of the students taking the class.
“This is my first semester in a credit flexibility class, and it is already my favorite class to be in,” he said. “I am taking the 21st-century Scholars course, which is an extremely independent credit. Not only do I like the self-exploration, but it is preparing me with skills essential to be successful in the ever-changing world. I encourage every high school student to go beyond their normal schedule and be a part of credit flexibility courses.”
Senior Krystine Schillinger said credit flexibility has been an amazing opportunity for her. She is taking advantage of two options. She is enrolled in the 21st-century Scholars course, and is also learning to speak Hindi.
“The 21st-century Scholars course has helped me learn to manage my time efficiently,” Schillinger said. “The learning Hindi using Rosetta Stone has taught me things that I hope to carry on with me in the future and use in my profession.”
Another student is using Rosetta Stone to learn Gaelic.
Gallwitz predicts that more students will take advantage of credit flexibility options.
“When the students have a vested interest in what they are doing, getting to make their own decisions about what they are studying,” he said, “the sky is absolutely the limit on what you can do.”