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Learning Strategies – edu|FOCUS
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Learning Strategies Tag

What Service-Learning and Global Goals Taught Us About Promoting the Greater Good

Service-learning PD, Image Credit: Weaver Elementary SchoolLast April, the entire faculty at Bettie Weaver Elementary School spent an afternoon making rice heating pads for local elderly residents, capes for foster children to help endure long hospital stays and jump ropes braided out of plastic bags that were later given to schools in Haiti by three of our teachers. We spent three hours working together toward a common goal: serving others. On this county-wide professional development day, while teachers at many schools around Chesterfield watched the clock, thinking about papers that needed to be graded and plans that needed to be written, the staff at Weaver Elementary spent the day immersed in service and learning together. Concerns about how to manage to-do lists faded and compliance was no longer the reason for showing up. Teachers were engaged with one another and felt empowered to make a difference. One Word PD Reflections,Image Credit: Weaver Elementary SchoolWhen three hours had passed, we had a hard time getting the staff to leave. As an exit ticket, teachers filled out a one-word reflection on the day. “Uplifting,” “rewarding,” “inspiring” and “joyful” are not typically words you hear after a 3-hour PD session. That’s when we realized what we had learned at the service-learning conference we’d attended just a month earlier could make change in our community. As we glanced around the room at stations filled with piles of heating pads, capes and jump ropes, we knew something special had happened. We wondered if the power of serving others could bring our school from good to great and from compliant to engaged. A New Priority Weaver Elementary, located outside Richmond, VA, in Chesterfield County, is named after long-time Chesterfield educator and historian, Mrs. Bettie Weaver. She was committed to authentic learning and connecting to the community and the environment. With a devotion to embracing the ideals of its namesake, our school has had a history of academic excellence through community relationships and involvement. In fall of 2016, when Chesterfield County Public Schools began reworking its strategic plans, the district challenged principals to “imagine tomorrow,” rethink what a school experience should be and determine what each school stood for. Our transition to project-based learning environments in 2013 allowed us to elevate student voice and choice and when students reflected on which projects resonated most, we learned that they cared most deeply about projects involving service toward others. Recognizing the profound effect of that work, we determined that a commitment to service-learning would be a key component to continuing our success. Getting Schooled At the beginning of our quest to reimagine our school, we thought of service-learning as a curricular approach in which students use academic knowledge and skills to address community needs. But as we later learned, curriculum was only one piece of the puzzle; if we wanted to prioritize service-learning, we’d need to connect with our community, get buy-in and take action. After attending the National Service-Learning Conference in March 2017, which was sponsored by the National Youth Leadership Council (NYLC), we realized there was much...

Free Platform Lets Teachers Find and Share Their Favorite Resources

It was a bittersweet moment for Ashley Lamb-Sinclair as she walked away from her middle-school classroom for the final time last year, flicked the light switch off and locked the door behind her. On one hand, she was sad to leave the classroom, where she’d spent years 12 years working as an English teacher. But on the other, she was excited at the prospects of taking that experience and using it in her new venture, Curio Learning. The reason PD sucks so much is because teachers are already working really, really hard to become better. Then we have to hit 'pause,' go back to school, jump through some hoop or sit through some workshop to prove it. And with that, Lamb-Sinclair donned her entrepreneurial hat and started an online space where educators can go to discover, curate and collaborate. “I’m still in school as an instructional coach, but I do miss working with the kids,” says Lamb-Sinclair, CEO and founder, who landed on her business idea after receiving an email concerning a Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation opportunity. Coined a “Redesign Challenge,” it invited teachers to submit proposals for solutions to educational problems. In this case, the challenge centered on professional development. “I had zero interest and deleted the email,” says Lamb-Sinclair, who had a “spark” that night as she pondered the low points of current PD approaches in K-12. “The reason PD sucks so much is because teachers are already working really, really hard to become better,” she says, “and many times that additional work takes place at 11 p.m. when we’re sitting on our living room couches. Then we have to hit ‘pause,’ go back to school, jump through some hoop, or sit though some workshop to prove it.” That got Lamb-Sinclair thinking about an online space where the best PD resources were compiled on one platform where multiple teachers could come to collaborate, share and learn. In her mind, that platform would not only be a place for instructors to discover new ideas, but also keep those ideas there. “As a teacher, when I found something cool online I’d put it in a Dropbox file or on Google Drive, but that happened in isolation,” says Lamb-Sinclair. “It was all very piecemeal, and kind of like DIY hacking your way through professional development.” Ready for Prime Time By 2016, Lamb-Sinclair’s idea of a central repository for online PD for teachers—and compiled by teachers—was ready for prime time. After submitting her idea to the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, she participated in an “Innovator’s Weekend,” in D.C., where she and about a dozen other educators walked through the design-thinking process with a group of technology, nonprofit and design professionals from various industries. It was a pivotal moment in Lamb-Sinclair’s career. “That was the first time in a decade of teaching where I felt like I was the expert in the room. It just changed everything for me,” says Lamb-Sinclair, who during the same year was named Kentucky Teacher of the Year and received an Education First...

To Connect Classes to Careers, Consider Erasing Grade Levels

Back in the early 1900s, John Dewey promoted the “learning by doing” approach to education, which would later become the foundation of project-based learning (PBL). This framework allows for students to use knowledge from all areas of study to complete a project or task, a process that prepares them for the challenges that they may have to overcome in a future career. Having a job may seem a lifetime away for a child. But by exposing them to different career paths, we can get them thinking about their life after high school before it’s too late. As teachers, administrators, or parents, we know how important the future is for our students, and we want to give them an idea of what to expect when the next chapter of their lives begin. But how can we better prepare them for their lives after graduation? Opening up a World of Possibilities At Kankakee Public Schools in Illinois, we’ve introduced 16 different career paths to about 70 percent of our K–5 students using Defined STEM’s career wheel. Some of these topics include agriculture, communication and information studies, human services, and health science. Each grade has a designated topic, paving the way for every student to explore and become familiar with a wide variety of career possibilities. Three years ago, this began the transformation of Kankakee’s general education track into the College and Career Academy, which is 100 percent focused on using with PBL to prepare students for future jobs. With our new focus, we are one of 10 high school districts in Illinois that have started to move to competency-based learning. We’re also working to report on students’ mastery of skills with progress levels, rather than a traditional report card at the end of each semester. For us, it starts by marrying the traditional, content-driven coursework with performance-based assessment. Rather than having teachers manage a whole group of 30+ students at once, PBL frees them to break classes into small groups and connect and talk in depth with each group. To accommodate this teaching style, our classrooms are being redesigned from larger, lecture-style spaces into smaller, collaborative rooms conducive to group work. Increasing Scores and Building Excitement Very rarely does a student understand something on the first try. Since we implemented our PBL model, data shows that in one year (2016 to 2017), reading comprehension scores increased 8 percent, math application increased 9 percent. We have also seen an increase in student engagement in all of our K–6 classes, and have built partnerships with local businesses and industries that support students’ exploration and curiosity about future career options. One of the most important aspects to us is the sense of wonder and hope that students are showing when they get excited about opportunities in the classroom. Rather than going home after school and saying they did nothing during the day, they have shown us how invested they are in their learning and how enthusiastic they are about sharing that excitement with others. For example, one student did an organic gardening activity for a restaurant....

How Middle School Obsessions Can Shape Career Paths

Think back to your days in middle school, specifically to what you did after you slung your backpack off at home and began to unwind. My memories involve shopping for JNCO jeans, using AOL Instant Messenger to chat with friends and obsessively listening to music from popular boy bands including Backstreet Boys, NSYNC and especially Hanson. What would your answer have been if a teacher asked, “What am I doing outside of school that I want to tell other students about?” I know what mine would have been...

How a Science Research Program Taught Students to Pursue Futures Fueled by Passion

When Antonio was 16, he had bugs in his basement. While this sounds like a reason to call the exterminator, it was actually planned. Antonio’s mother had been in touch with his science teacher and was brave enough to allow her son to hatch praying mantis eggs in their basement as part of his research. Antonio was just one of the memorable students in my first science research class at Christ the King Regional High School, a parochial school in Queens, New York. Projects like this were not uncommon in the early years of developing our authentic-learning science program in the mid-nineties. At the time, our school had a reputation for high standards, but its instructional model was very cookie cutter. Science classes were lecture-based with occasional labs, and each course culminated in a statewide Regents Exam. By 1996 I had already been teaching earth science for 20 years. I enjoyed my work, but I was searching for something that would have more a lasting impact on my students’ lives. I knew that I was teaching valuable learning skills and preparing students to become informed citizens, but was I really helping them see science as a possible career path? Then I attended a six-hour workshop that radically changed my approach to teaching. At that workshop, I was introduced to a model that involved developing a 3-year program, a version of which I later adopted at my school. Beginning in 10th grade, students would be taken through a process that would help them choose their own personal topic of interest. There would be a focus on research, writing and oral presentation skills. Students would have opportunities to develop collaboration and sharing skills throughout the program. In 11th grade students would develop their own unique experiment and carry it out with a mentor in their field of interest. In 12th grade students would write a formal research paper and use their findings to enter numerous competitions, including the most prestigious of all at that time, the Intel Talent Search. (This competition is still in existence today as the Regeneron Science Talent Search.) If they put in the requisite number of hours during the three years and summers, they could earn 12 college credits for their work. My 15-year-old students had the confidence to email and call some of the top scientists in the country to ask questions about what they had read and seek advice for their own experiments It was an ambitious and daunting task. How could all of this fit in to a student’s scheduled day? I decided we would use the before-school zero period. At 7 a.m. each morning a group of the most motivated students I have ever worked with would come together to work on their research. While many teenagers were just getting out of bed, these students would listen to presentations given by their peers and provide critical feedback on both the scientific methods used and their oral presentation skills. They would help each other with research techniques and fill out competition applications...

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