Summer Institute

Passion, Problem Solving, and Choice

"Education is not the filling of a bucket, it's the lighting of a fire."

This summer, we (Lindsey and Amy) attended ESSD's Summer Institute. Our big takeaways were the focus on passion, problem solving, and choice. We first listened to a portion of a TED Talk by Ken Robinson where we were encouraged to find what we are passionate about and the importance of creativity.

This was a great way to kick off the day!

Do Schools Kill Creativity? | Sir Ken Robinson | TED Talks

Passion-Based Learning

One of my big take-aways from the day: "Find your passion, indulge in it, and share it with your kids." It's important to share your enthusiasm for learning with students, including about things outside of school - crafting, woodworking, video games, etc. I loved this quote so much that I wrote it down verbatim: "Trust in the hard work your kids will do - their exploration. Nurture their passions, however bizarre you might think they are." That is so powerful to me, because that is how we keep kids engaged. I don't find Pokemon or Minecraft very interesting, but many of our students do. Talking about it with them and seeing their eyes light up, and connecting that passion to math or reading or science is magical. -Amy Gronseth

Problem Solving

I attended a break out session about problem solving. It's important to challenge students to solve problems. One thing that I loved was the idea of creating a community of problem solvers - asking students "How can you fix that problem?" or "Who can help with that?" Don't jump in right away to solve student problems.

Outside of management, you can include problem solving in their learning. Ask students to identify a problem in the school or the community (relevance) and ask them how they would solve it (rigor). I look forward to creating problem-based learning projects for my students. -Lindsey Markus

Student Choice

When students have a choice about what they read, what they research, what they do in your classroom, they are more motivated to learn. We heard from fellow teachers about the importance of student agency - student choice and how it is linked to ambition. The more engaged a student is in their work, the more motivated they are to learn and grow, and the more successful they become.

An idea that was shared by a fellow teacher about ways to include student voice and choice was "genius hour". This is a time for students to pick a topic about which they are passionate, and then research it and present what they have learned. We can tie it to a standard through speaking and listening, scientific inquiry, and reading and writing standards. I love this idea and would like to implement it! - Amy Gronseth

Flexible Learning Spaces

Flexible learning spaces are part of student choice. Fellow teachers pointed out that these flexible learning spaces "facilitate better thinking and better collaboration". If we want students working in groups to solve problems, our learning spaces should reflect that, with open areas and different kinds of seating and writing surfaces.

We were encouraged to keep an open mind when considering creating a flexible learning space - we might need to get rid of some things. Some teachers shared that they have even gotten rid of their desk. That is a big change, but one to think about.

One great idea that was shared - and very simple to do! - is putting furniture on casters so that we can move it around more easily. Another teacher suggested painting our kidney tables with dry erase paint, so that students can write on it. Others shared ideas for inexpensive, simple to make bucket seats or crate seats, which students can easily move from place to place in the room. There were so many ideas that I wanted to try! -Lindsey Markus