Usually I’m happy when I learn one new thing in a day and most days I am able to point to some new learning or insight. Some days are rich beyond measure with learning and new ideas. Today, listening to the six elementary school finalists for the Intel Schools of Distinction Awards, has been such a day. I will admit that the ideas they shared are not all completely “new” but what is new is how practicing them with conviction and passion is succeeding.
One school talked about how a consultant showed them how to stop “enabling” students by helping them get the right answer. Getting the right answer is really irrelevant if students don’t know how or why they got there. If we help your students get the right answer, the message we are delivering to them is that they are not capable of getting it on their own.
Another school explained that all students do three engineering projects a year. These are not high school students — they do this from Kindergarten through 6th grade in this elementary school. Engineering is needed to solve real-life problems at every stage!
A third school talked about using a program intended for gifted students but using it with all students. There is no program in this school that some students can’t use because the educators there believe (and are proving) that all students are gifted.
A fourth school talked about working with ELL students in small groups to help them become experts on a specific topic (focused on STEM) and then letting them be ambassadors to teach other students about that topic.
A fifth school described their multi-age (almost grade-less) structure, with kindergarteners and 2nd graders and fifth graders all working together. Younger students hear the vocabulary of math (mean, median, mode, for example) so they are primed with the information, and older students get to teach the vocabulary, ensuring that they have mastered the concepts.
The last school boasted of trying to educate “skeptical thinkers” and to nurture “generators” rather than “duplicators.”
All six of the schools are designed around authentic problem-based learning, draw heavily on community experts and resources and, despite the lack of focus on “basics”, they ensure that the basics are not only learned but applied – and their standardized test scores demonstrate that.
So six “new” things (or at least six practical ways of talking about a STEM-focused and highly engaging approach to learning) that add up to a recipe for high levels of achievement and students who know why they need to learning math and science.