Saturday, April 27, 2013

It All Comes Back to a Good Story

Here in Los Altos, we just wrapped up a series of Innovation days with our 1st through 4th grade teachers where we asked them to rethink everything about their practices and beliefs regarding education. This last training day revolved around creating an action plan for implementing some of their new ideas into next year’s classrooms. As I wandered the room, many teachers were discussing ways to break away from the current model of teaching each subject in isolation. In most schools, it’s common for teachers to have designated times for teaching reading, math, writing, and science, and often, the daily schedule is posted for students to follow. Teachers were inspired to want to try new strategies such as project-based learning and design thinking but were finding roadblocks when looking for time to implement these types of learning activities. Suddenly, the words “thematic units” started popping up and teachers began discussing ways to mix the cross-curricular themes into more blended learning opportunities. Experienced classroom teachers commented, “This is the way we used to teach.”

As with everything, the pendulum is swinging back to a better balanced, hands-on approach to learning, updated and reinvented. Teachers blending math, science, reading, writing, and technology into incredible projects that allow students to apply concepts to real-world situations and challenges. Why? It makes a better story.

Everyone loves a great story. Story is a part of our DNA and we know that students learn and retain more when information is relevant and connected to their world through story. It’s difficult to tell a great story when you’re stuck working within one subject area. You can’t achieve the depth and tap into passions without expanding across the curriculum. Teachers are more excited to teach and students are more excited to learn when you can stretch across subject areas. Building a great project takes time, but it’s worth it. You allow students to dig deep and explore topics instead of rock skipping through the textbook. They not only get a chance to hear a great story, they become creators and writers of a great story.

Some of the best quotes from teachers about what they learned through this experience;
  • “Be creative, don’t hold back your imagination.”
  • “Focus on student passions and my passion.”
  • “It’s OK to not be like everyone else.”
  • “It’s OK to question teaching practices, fail, and try again.”
  • “Take risks with my kids.”
  • “It takes time.”
  • “My paradigm has been diced, sliced, chopped, then put back together in a brand new way.”
We are creating a new story. How are you breaking away from the isolated curriculum model? What story are you creating?

By: Kami Thordarson, Innovative Strategies Coach, Los Altos School District
Twitter: @kamithor

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