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Education: Old school, new-school idea

EducationThe Meadows isn’t just another Vegas Valley prep school — it’s one of most prestigious (and, yes, expensive) in Las Vegas, ranked among the finest in the West. The majority of the 89 faculty members have graduate degrees. The teacher-pupil ratio is 1:11. Students wear uniforms, learn Latin, and take place in first-rate arts and sports programs after school.

“We’re so retro it’s radical,” says Head of School Henry Chanin.

This is no small feat, given that in 1984 The Meadows was but a configuration of trailers in the still-hypothetical suburb of Summerlin. But the most recent advancements happening on campus are part evolution, part revolution. Following up on a schoolwide tech upgrade 18 months ago — think beefed-up wi-fi, interactive whiteboards in every classroom — next year The Meadows is downloading a major update. It’s piloting a package of online tutorial programs developed by the Khan Academy (khanacademy.org), the web-based learning powerhouse founded by Wall Street wizard-turned-educator Salman Khan.

The pilot program with Khan will see 120 Meadows students in lower and middle school take Khan courses, while upper school students will be offered the opportunity to take economics and select science electives through the program. Meadows teachers will keep journals on student progress, while Khan will keep more data-driven tabs.

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“We call it the ‘flipped’ or hybrid classroom model, where students are given more freedom and also more responsibility to direct their own basic learning via the information access the computer makes possible,” says Chanin, “while teachers are freer to focus classroom time on higher levels of discussion, analysis and extended applications.” The school will also be partnering with the private online Laurel Springs School, offering courses in world lit, history, statistics and Mandarin. In the words of one Meadows faculty member, it transforms the role of the teacher from being “the sage on the stage to being the guide on the side.”

Perhaps it’s so radical it’s, well, retro. “This is an exciting evolution of teaching for the 21st century, but it isn’t really a stark new thing,” says Jeremy Gregersen, assistant head of the school. “Correspondence courses and distance learning have been around for a long time. Almost all classes in areas such as English and history, where there’s a lot of reading involved, and students go home to absorb that material and then come back to class for discussion and group analysis, demonstrate the flipped classroom format.”

But this is certainly a new thing: Next year, students at grade 6 and above will be required to tote their own computers or tablets to school as part of Meadows’ BYOD (“bring your own device”) initiative. “Personal devices have the potential to replace the book as the most powerful learning tool,” Chanin says. However, all this talk of software doesn’t mean he’s lost sight of Meadows’ core mission: better-educated students. “This isn’t touchy-feely stuff. We’re still high-level academics here,” says Chanin. “We teach calculus.”

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