Realizing the Potential of the Classroom

I attended the Tech Forum Conference in Austin yesterday and  participated in several worthy sessions. The Keynote Speaker, Diana Laufenberg , presented on ‘Realizing the Potential of the Classroom and the Teaching and Learning Tools that Make it Happen.’ While I’ve been following Diana on Twitter for a couple of months, I had the opportunity to meet her in person and hear her story.  She is a 15-year teaching veteran, who most recently completed a four-year stint at the Science Leadership Academy in Philadephia, and is currently enjoying a sabbatical. During her travels she continues to work with teachers and students throughout the country, sharing her vision for today’s learners.

I want to share a few of the points made during the presentation:

  •  Our schools hold immense potential for authentic and experience-based learning.
  • Technology offers the means by which to elevate the quality, relevance and creativity of student work.
  • Educators and administrators have tremendous opportunities to think creatively about their practice and play an integral role in visioning that new approach.

Several things she spoke on support our efforts here at White Oak ISD.

  • We are a caring institution–we teach kids, not subjects.
  • Create a student-centered classroom.
  • Be Flexible – if you truly value student voice, they must know that their ideas can direct the path of learning.
  • Foster inquiry by scaffolding curiosity.
  • Be the architect of participation; Social Media is accessible–encourage your students and colleagues to use it.
  • Be less helpful–you want your students to research, investigate, interview, write, and create. So Let Them! In other words, get out of their way.
  • Reflect – you reflect on the lesson/unit; two or three days after an assignment or project is turned in, have the students reflect. Reflection is good for the soul, and it helps us see what we could have been different.
  • Embrace failure – Never send them on that they haven’t encountered some type of failure; learn from it and go again.
  • And finally–foster joy in your students through the learning that goes on in your classroom.


Engaging students through Project-Based Learning

We have some incredible learning experiences going on in this district. Teachers across the grade levels are using Project-Based Learning to engage students, challenge them, encourage creativity and problem-solving skills, while collaborating with classmates. What’s even more encouraging is the number of students working with PBL and excited about the lessons, the intrigue of the driving question and the field-based inquiry needed to navigate through the components.

Some of our classes are in the beginning stages, while others have been working with PBL for over a year. When planning significant lessons there should be equal emphasis on significant content and 21st century skills. We must promote critical thinking, collaboration, communication and creativity. The Buck Institute has provided a resource titled, ‘Exploring the 8 Essential Elements of PBL.’ While the article is full of details and noteworthy examples on how to create meaningful PBL units, our own White Oak Middle School students are showcased in this piece with a project they participated in, titled, ‘Code: Maroon.’ I was part of the panel when these students gave their presentations, and the students were ready to take the stage at City Hall to promote the work they had put together for the entire community of White Oak. While there was some nervousness and anxiousness, they didn’t let fear get in the way of showing off the collaborative work and resources they had prepared.

Many of you have been crafting lessons that are changing the classroom and curriculum focus from teacher driven to student driven. It takes guts, time, resources, more time, and the ability to look beyond what you’ve been doing in the classroom and look forward to what you and your students need to be doing in the classroom. You have the support of your administrators at the campus and district levels to make the changes that impact your students and their learning. Take the challenge and have no fear–step out there with a desire to embrace the future, even when we don’t always know what the future holds.

Just something to think about………………….