Wednesday, April 10, 2013

An Interview with California Superintendent of Public Instruction, Tom Torlakson

By Sam Piha

Sam Piha
In early 2013, the Learning in Afterschool & Summer project conducted a video interview with California's Superintendent of Public Instruction, Tom Torlakson, to gather his views on the LIAS learning principles and his vision of afterschool and summer programs. Below are excerpts from that interview. 

Q: We are focusing our efforts on the idea of improving our approaches to how children learn. While these are related to what we know about youth development, we have chosen to stay close to the research on learning since many of our stakeholders and partners are educators. Do you see this as an important shift in talking about afterschool and summer programs? 

Tom Torlakson
A: There’s a shift occurring in afterschool and summer programs towards incorporating more hands-on learning, discovery, and looking at the new STEM opportunities. We can incorporate some of these principles of engagement, and add excitement by having students learning in teams, collaborating, and doing experiments together. Because it’s hands-on, it’s something they’re going to remember longer and have fun doing.

Q: Could you say a little bit about your vision of afterschool and its value in promoting academic and broader youth development?

A: Afterschool and summer programs are expanded learning opportunities. They are fantastic for our students in California. It helps them get deeper into the subject matter, it helps them explore areas that they don’t normally have a chance during the regular school day to explore.  Afterschool programs have always been a safe place for kids to go after school and a place where they can finish their homework.  But now we envision afterschool and summer programs as a way to really expand learning time.

Q: How are these LIAS principles related to what we are doing in school reform efforts?

A: One of the greatest things about these new principles around our afterschool and summer programs, is that they fit right in with the transformation of education during the school day.  We have new national standards in mathematics, science, and in language arts, calling for deeper and more critical thinking. Some call them “21st century learning skills”. Also, the call for more hands-on learning is in keeping with the transformation of the classrooms during the day. We’ll be seeing more emphasis on the hands-on experimenting, exploring, and discovering on their own, as part of problem solving, hands-on activities.

Q: Can you speak to one or more of these principles that most resonate for you when you think about creating learning environments and activities for kids?  

A: More meaningful learning can occur in our afterschool and in our summer programs when the learning is relevant and connects that student to real world experiences. This expands their horizons, their opportunities, as well as their time in learning. It connects to them personally in a greater way and connects them to other students, resulting in a deeper and richer learning experience that will last.

Q: Afterschool settings often offer opportunities for informal learning that is not structured in a way that we see in traditional classrooms. Can you say something about the importance of inquiry and discovery that is led by the child? 

A: As a science teacher, the expanded learning opportunities through quality afterschool and summer program learning is fascinating in terms of how it can connect to an individual student. It can give them the chance to explore things, to discover through hands-on, problem solving activities in a way that they normally don’t during the regular school day.

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