Monday, April 25, 2016

Recreational Education

At Sorenson’s Ranch School we understand that all learning does not take place in the classroom. We approach education with a more holistic perspective. We strive to expose our students to a wide variety of activities that they may or may not have participated in before. Some examples are: camping, fishing, cooking, hiking/exploring, horseback riding, ranch work and participation in organized sports leagues. Our staff routinely take groups of our students, who qualify by meeting behavior goals, off campus to participate in these activities. We see these activities as being beneficial for our students in a variety of ways. Just taken at face value, exposing our students to new activities, broadens their minds and thought processes in positive ways. When students become better acquainted with the world around them, they see and tend to think of all things differently. Many students find activities that specifically and even intimately appeal to them. Participation in these activities serves as a motivator to improve some of the behavior problems they may have exhibited in the past. These activities are natural and healing. Typical young people of similar ages participate in many of these activities outside of this concentrated setting. Outdoor activities are often lower stress in nature and allow our students to think and feel positively. Replacing old habits and thought processes with new activities has proven to be effective in helping our students “heal” from past experiences that have been less than appropriate or successful. Hands on learning opportunities seem to be the most successful for our students. Learning by doing allows our students to learn through all of the senses, which helps them to assimilate or “digest” the information and then remember the things they learn. Students are able to learn where they can see, hear, feel, smell, and in some cases taste, things in their immediate environment. Learning by doing also allows our students to create some positive memories with peers they can relate to, and to learn that there are positive things you can do with “leisure” time. It should be noted that at Sorenson’s Ranch School classroom education is important to us. We have a fully accredited high school on site, and our campus is conducive to learning. Our educational faculty occasionally add field trips to the classroom experience to better help our students understand what they learn. Our mission, through a variety of means, is to help our students understand where they are with regard to grade level expectations and to experience academic success, in many cases for the first time in their lives. Ross Franks

Commissioners Art Fair

In the month of April, Sevier County, which includes Salina, Richfield, and Monroe, as well as other small towns in the surrounding area, held an art contest for the Commissioners’ Art Fair at Snow College, Richfield Campus. I asked the students at Sorenson’s Ranch if they would like to participate, and there ended up being 35 participants from our school alone. In the whole county, there were over 350 participants. Four students from the ranch were chosen winners out of twenty-four overall winners. YAY!!!! Each student who won was given his/her own printed poster and a prize of $5.00 each. Donny Somers and I took fourteen boys and girls to the college to see the Art Fair. There were many different types of art, and the students got to vote on their favorite piece. The art work was produced by persons ranging in age from age three to age eighty. There were oil paintings, pastels, photography, pencil, watercolor, crayon, sculpture and anything else you can imagine. There are four art classes offered at Sorenson’s Ranch School: Art 1, Art 2, and Art 3 for the High school students; and a middle school art class. The kids in high school get a lot more in-depth and use all kinds of different mediums. The middle school students stick to basic skills to prepare them for high school. It is really important to encourage art in the students. Art fosters imagination, thought, and new skills. Some of the students think they don’t have talent, but when they find the right medium, they do amazing work. Next year we will again enter their art pieces in the Commissioners’ Art Fair to and see if they can win some more ribbons. After the fair, we took the kids to Ideal Dairy in Richfield, and they got to order slush with soft vanilla ice cream on top. They said they had never tried it before...only in Utah. Tina Somers Director of Special Education

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Class Objectives

As faculty members at Sorenson’s Ranch School we are working on revising the written objectives for each course we offer. We start by reviewing the state core standards for each content area and then add what we think is appropriate for our typical students. We know that we work with a unique group of students, and our goal is to provide the best educational experience possible for each one. Our class objectives will be based on state requirements and our experience with students of the past, as well as best practices for students who have or probably should have an IEP for some accommodations in their education. Our class objectives will help us consistently cover important information on each topic, and be flexible enough to meet the needs of our diverse students. We use a variety of instructional strategies and assessments allowing our students to demonstrate proficiency in different ways. One method we use for assessment is portfolios, which allows students to collect samples of proficient work under the direction of their teacher. Class objectives are important because they drive all of the components of the educational process. We teach our students the things we want them to know, we assess what they are learning through both formative and summative strategies, and we evaluate ourselves all based on our objectives. We use the information we gather to plan, modify, and assess future instruction. Deciding what we want our students to remember from all of the information covered helps us to organize our efforts, and it helps our students with retention of the information. Most of our students struggle with retention of information. By organizing and constantly assessing, we are able to help our students with these types of issues. We realize that having objectives is not a guarantee of performance or learning, but as I mentioned before, it serves to organize the process. There are a lot of things covered in every class at Sorenson’s Ranch School, enough to overwhelm the average student. Taking the time to create and organize what we want our students to learn during the time that we get to work with them helps us to better serve their needs.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Technology in Education

Computer Technology is an important part of classroom instruction. It is something that is more and more a part of the workplace that we are preparing our students to enter. However, there is a false assumption in education that more advanced technology in the classroom will somehow equate to better learning outcomes. There is no substitute for a good teacher in the educational process. There are many computer-related skills that can be taught to students to prepare them for the workplace. Among these are basic computer concepts, typing, word processing, spreadsheets, and presentations. At Sorenson’s Ranch School, students are taught typing in middle school classes, and the remainder in a high-school computer technology class. This requirement for graduation is not all that students need to know with regard to computer technology, but it gives them most of the basics on what employers will be looking for in a career-track position. (Donaldson) For purposes of the program at Sorenson’s Ranch School, the students are not allowed to access the internet, except to complete online college courses from BYU Independent Study. Each internet address the students are allowed to access must first be approved by the administrator of the computer network. Social networking sites are strictly prohibited from access. In addition, the students are not allowed to use email. Parents of Sorenson’s Ranch School students can email the school which can then be passed on to the students, but students must write letters to their parents if they want to send mail. The computer technology course I teach here at Sorenson’s Ranch School includes a chapter on information technology essentials, in which students learn the basics of computer hardware and software. There is also a section of the course that allows students that have no personal computer experience the opportunity to learn how the Windows 7 operating system works. The remainder of the course teaches students the Microsoft Office Suite of software. This gives the students the experience and skill development in word processing, spreadsheets, and presentations that employers are looking for in their human resources. (Donaldson) The students use each of these programs individually, which is important. Then they are allowed the opportunity to integrate the programs to be able to put objects from Word, or Excel into a Power Point presentation, for example. This integration is a level above what the basic education in the Microsoft Office Suite includes. This should make success in the workplace or at the university level an easy transition for students. Some legislators have proposed introduction of tablets, or other technology into the hands of every student. This is a course that has a high cost, but results are mixed. At Sorenson’s Ranch School, the technology is kept in the classroom, and learning about technology is structured. When students return home, they are able to have parents guide them through emails, internet usage, and social media. The basics are taught at Sorenson’s Ranch School to give students the skills needed to succeed in the workplace when they are finished with their academic studies. Works Cited Donaldson, C. (n.d.). The Top Ten Tech Skills Your Child Needs Now. Retrieved 2 20, 2015, from

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

TABE Adaptive Testing at Sorenson's Ranch School

One of the principal aims of the accreditation process is identifying with some clarity the strengths and weaknesses of the school being evaluated for accreditation. Areas of strength are identified as “powerful practices” and commended in the final report. Areas needing improvement are also identified so that efforts toward school improvement can be focused and effective. Corrective measures aimed at improvement in those areas must be addressed in a report to the accreditation commission via AdvancED twenty four months after the date of the school evaluation. The primary area of focus for Sorenson’s Ranch School during this accreditation cycle is the establishment of a comprehensive assessment system which will allow us to quantify, to a much greater degree than we ever have, the progress that students make academically while they are with us. As one component of this goal, we have instituted semi-annual testing of the entire student body using TABE Adaptive. TABE stands for Test of Adult Basic Education. For years TABE has been a very reliable and widely used instrument for assessing academic achievement in adult education programs across the nation. Due to increased demand for a reliable test that could be used for students aged twelve to eighteen, the developers of TABE, McGraw-Hill, normed a version of the test for use with this younger population. In addition, the test was formatted for administration on-line, and TABE Adaptive was born. The word “adaptive” in the title indicates that the on-line test adjusts future questions based on the responses given by the student. For example, if a student misses two questions in a row, the testing software will make next question easier. If a student continues to get correct answers, the software will increase the difficulty of the ensuing questions until the student answers incorrectly. Through this process of making the questions harder or easier based on student performance, the grade level equivalent of the test subject can be more accurately determined than was ever possible with a paper-and-pencil test. TABE Adaptive results are given as a scaled score and as a grade equivalent (GE) score. Scaled scores are useful for comparison to previous and subsequent test administrations, but do not mean much in isolation. GE scores are also useful for comparison, but because they indicate a grade level, they are also instructive when used alone. For example, a student may earn a GE score of 9.2 which indicates that the student’s performance is equal to what would be expected from an average student in the second month of the ninth grade. Students are tested on reading, language usage, mathematics computation, and applied mathematics. A score is computed for each subtest, and a composite score is computed for total math and the entire battery. The bottom line for SRS is that we now have a highly accurate way to determine the academic performance of our students when they arrive and at sixth month intervals while they attend our school. New arrivals are given TABE Adaptive within about a month of their arrival and are then tested with the rest of the students every March and September until they discharge from our facility. We will use the data generated from testing to adjust our curriculum and teaching practices to better serve our students’ needs.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Developing Critical Thinking Skills

As students prepare to leave Sorenson's Ranch School, they will enter a world of complexity and change. Some students will go on to enroll in higher education and some students will be on their own, lacking outside support. These students will most likely work in several different career areas and hold many different jobs. Some of our many goals at Sorenson's Ranch are to help the student to develop a base of knowledge and to acquire the skills they need to solve complex problems and make difficult decisions. We try to help instill in them critical thinking skills. Critical thinking means that the student is progressing beyond memorizing or temporarily recalling information. It requires them to apply what they know about the subject matter for a particular problem. It also requires them to use common sense and experience during the process. Creative thinking is required during problem solving to discover all the reasonable choices, consequences and supporting arguments. During this process, out of the ordinary ideas and views outside the obvious are sough out. As we teach critical thinking in the classroom, it can be accomplished with basic activities. Some of these activities such as debating group discussions have been very useful and a great way to engage students in thinking critically when making decisions that will affect their futures. It is our goal at Sorenson's Ranch School to develop as many skills as possible to enable our students in making positive decisions and helping them to experience success.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

What Messages Are You Sending?

An interesting question was once posed to a group of mathematics and science teachers at a conference that I was attending. “What do your students think is important to you?” This became the topic of much discussion and reflective thinking as teachers pondered what they truly communicated to their students by their words and actions in the classroom. Some teachers thought about the time they spent making sure that students work is organized, written legibly, and turned in to the correct location. Others admitted that neatness was not as important as correct answers and that they were not as concerned about student work being well organized. Many different thoughts were shared within the group, but the central theme of the discussion was that students’ attitudes reflect the attitudes modeled by teachers and parents. Parents and teachers are the most significant figures in a child’s education. We pass on many of our attitudes, intentionally or not, to children in our care. These may be good or bad attitudes and we may not even realize how these attitudes are being transmitted. Consider what your response is when your child seeks help with a math problem. Do you take a quick glance and tell your child that you have been out of school too long and don’t remember how to solve the problem? Do you tell him/her that you don’t know because you didn’t have to do that math in school? Do you sit down with your student(s) to search the textbook or other resources and persist until you both understand the concept? What is your attitude toward homework? What is your attitude about your student’s grades? Do they understand that you feel it important that they do well? Do you feel that it is important to be on time? When confronted with situations such as those name above, our actions transmit, and in turn transfer, our attitudes toward various subjects. If you aren’t willing to try to solve a problem that your child is being asked to solve, you may be communicating that you do not feel it is important to persist until you understand the concept. The look on your face may show that you feel that the task is painful or unimportant. In an interesting study, researchers found that college students preparing to become elementary school teachers had the highest levels of mathematics anxiety in comparison to all other college majors. Most of these students will soon become teachers who spend the minimum amount of time required on mathematics content and do so without enthusiasm. This attitude is communicated to their students and, coupled with less-than-enthusiastic attitudes displayed by parents, may become detrimental to mathematics skills development. Another attitude that seems to be more and more prevalent in American schools is that all school work should be easy. In a recent study that compared Japanese, German, and American students researchers found that while Japanese and German students expect math and science classes to be difficult and to require a significant amount of time and effort to gain proficiency, American students felt that these courses should be simple and take no more than a short time to complete. If the class wasn’t “fun,” or if the students didn’t “get” the concept immediately, it was perceived to be the fault of the teacher. These attitudes work against many of the principles driving education. Persistence in solving problems, employing a variety of strategies, and other educational goals are undermined by this attitude. One of the biggest challenges that we face at Sorenson’s Ranch School is overcoming this tendency for students to want everything to be “fun” and “easy.” Our competency-based advancement requires initiative and persistence on the part of our students. Many struggle with these aspects as they begin their stay with us. Over time, particularly as they get closer to graduation, initiative and persistence become more a part of our students’ daily endeavors. Without exception, those students who become better at self-motivation and persistance, do better as they re-integrate into their families, schools, and jobs post-SRS.