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Saturday, June 22, 2013

Permission To Pursue A Dream

"The only thing that got in the way of my learning, was my education" - Albert Einstein

In the middle of the 2011-2012 school year, three other teachers and I sat before a group of administrators and school board members.  We were passionate about the fact that changes were needed in education, and now we had to explain our vision.

We explained our frustrations with the compartmentalized classes, in which students seemed to think literacy was done in "literacy class" but nowhere else.  Science was done in "science class", but nowhere else, and so on.  This was getting frustrating because it was a very false interpretation of the world.

We explained our frustrations with the lack of engagement that students had at school.  The majority of students seemed to dislike school.

We explained the need for relevant learning experiences and authentic audiences to review student work and give feedback.

We discussed the need to teach more than just the content, but to also teach 21st century skills such as collaboration, creativity, critical thinking, and communication.  The need to teach soft skills such as the handshake, eye-contact, and effective listening skills.

Thankfully, the administration and the school board were behind us.  They granted us the opportunity to begin a pilot program with 75 students in which they would be with us for a 3-hour block.  The students receive science, literacy, social studies, and leadership credits while with us.  We developed themes such as War, Sustainability, Elections, and the Human Body that students would engage in true interdisciplinary learning.  We gave the students autonomy within the projects.  We helped students to learn in a project-based model in which the projects were done within the community, with community partners, with the intention of improving the community.

The final results were astounding, in my opinion.  This was the future.  I really, really, really believe that.  I saw students learn concepts that I believe they will remember for a lifetime, instead of facts that they will remember until they take a standardized test or possibly a couple weeks beyond that.  Not only did these students learn the content, however, they also learned a plethora of 21st century skills.  Each student was required to give a TED-like talk at the end of the year and it was obvious that most of these students had made tremendous strides.  The students improved their leadership skills, their communication skills, their soft skills, they became better critical thinkers, they became for creative, they got better at collaborating with other people besides their friends.  Most importantly, these students became empowered.  They realized the ability that they had (as 9th and 10th grade students) to have a positive impact on their community.  Some of the projects they pulled off were amazing.  My goal is to discuss some of these projects in my future blog posts.  I highly recommend you try this method out.  When you see the engagement, the passion, the deep learning, and the altruism, I have a feeling you will never go back to traditional teaching again.

Oliver Schinkten
Communities at Oshkosh North High School -
Twitter:  @schink10

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