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Saturday, June 04, 2016

The Value of New Learning and Teaching

This year our team tried a number of new ideas. While new ideas are exciting, they're also messy as you're charting the path for the first time. To some in organizations, the new learning is overwhelming, confusing, and disconcerting--they want to travel same paths, and not make change. Others embrace new learning.

I believe that we have to continually re-look at our teaching/learning programs and continue to remake those programs for the better. I also recognize that there is a balance of new and old learning that supports our programs well. Though overwhelming, at times, I do believe that it's our responsibility to try out new ideas each year to keep up with changing resources, knowledge, and focus.

As I assess the new learning and teaching this year, I'm thinking about what value those changes had, and will we continue down those roads.

Naturalist, Science, and STEAM Study
A lot of new learning related to our naturalist, science, and STEAM study this year. At times this new learning created disruption as CORI form rules changed and visitors had to wait for an escort, additional preparation/teaching was required without additional time in the schedule, or new materials were required without adequate space for storage or organization. In all, these disruptions were minor, but frustrating at times.

The new learning in this area included the following:
  • New expert visitors including Wayland Green Team Members, Transition Framingham Speakers, Grassroots Wildlife Conservation speaker, and the impromptu visit from the NASA Scientist.
  • A new field study to the Christa McAuliffe Challenger Center.
  • New STEAM projects including biodomes, water filters, and oil spill clean-up.
  • New content including deeper study related to water, ecosystems, and composting. 
  • New hands-on activities including raising spadefoot tadpoles (who just entered their new habitat this week).
  • New collaboration with family members and high school students by way of a nature hike and naturalist guide training.
  • New use of STEAM Teams to better prepare students for the collaboration needed for good problem solving and effort in these areas. 
  • The use of new resources supported by a local foundation. 
As we continue down this path, I realize that our new efforts were well worth it. The efforts match new science standards and also prepare students for the problem solving/science skills they'll need as well as the introduction to the kinds of problems and work that will affect their world as they mature.

Cultural Proficiency
Our team also employed a number of efforts related to cultural proficient teaching, efforts that also created a good level of disruption, and perhaps were viewed as overwhelming by some. Our individual and combined efforts included the following:
  • Advocacy for new programming related to culturally proficient teaching in multiple areas.
  • Time to plan for an equity event in Massachusetts to support greater, targeted efforts in this regard.
  • Strategic planning sessions at PLC to best meet the needs of individual students.
  • A field study, supported by a local foundation, to the African American Heritage Museum in Boston.
  • Early year new interdisciplinary projects and learning experiences to build a greater sense of team and relationship.
  • Outreach to families to support these efforts.
  • Greater inclusion of culturally proficient text/video and learning experiences.
These efforts overall were very good too. In general, more time and support would have helped this area of our work since some efforts didn't go as deep as they could to truly effect what's possible. As we think ahead to next year's schedule we'll want to think about how we might deepen and forward efforts in this area. One idea we'll forward is a signage grant to update our school signage in order to boost positive attitudes towards diversity and individual strength and direction. Other areas we'll continue to develop include the trip to the African American Heritage Museum and its connection to other curriculum areas such as the biography project and study of history, and the depth with which we employ the strategic student study/support model.

Classroom Design
New teaching and learning continues to include the area of classroom design and STEAM Centers. The STEAM Center continues to struggle as it remains a make-shift area of multiple containers, shelves, tables, and more. I keep trying to organize this "lab" but truly it would profit from substantial support with regard to good materials and design--the kind of materials and design I noticed at our high school STEAM Center. I'll give this more thought in the days ahead and perhaps reach out for greater support. Through grants we continue to update the types of furniture we have in the classroom such as stand-up desks and hoki stools. 

Math Teaching and Learning
Efforts in math served to create more model making, maker math lessons, and blended learning. This resulted in some very good and meaningful lessons with substantial engagement and investment. I want to continue this movement in the year ahead as well.

In general, I support systems of new learning and change, systems that support innovation and development. Though individual teachers and teams can do some of this, truly impactful change also requires systematic support. It's hard to forward new ideas if those ideas are defined as "overwhelming" and the general support is for the status quo, little change, and allegiance to past paths.

Again there's a healthy balance of old and new, but as I shared current information about water and the many ways we can protect that resource in our world with students, I realized that it's integral that we update our teaching and learning to reflect the world we live in and the problems our students will face and need to solve. To not move forward in dynamic ways is to not give our students the strong foundation for their own lives and world.