However, here are a few "truths" I have learned in my nearly 18 years as an elementary school teacher.
1. Our kids learn and focus when they are totally engaged in a topic. I'm sure I'm not the only parent who is sometimes mystified that my son can ramble off every Star Wars character, which movie they were in and whether or not Anakin Skywalker and Darth Vader could be in a battle with one another. Yet that same child cannot remember which side of a plate a fork goes on when asked to set the table. This is because Star Wars has meaning and interest for my child but settting a table does not. These same ideas hold true in the classroom. By offering topics and questions that are of high interest our students remain engaged in their learning.
2. Doing the next grade level work is not really "challenging" our kids. It sure feels good as a parent when our kids can do something ahead of the curve, but just because they can do multiplication in first grade doesn't always mean they are ready for division. What I'm try to say is that "challenging" my child has to be more than just checking the next box. I found this picture of Blooms Taxonomy from Edutopia (www.edutopia.org) and thought it really drove home the point of what we are trying to do at Queen Anne Elementary. Students are not just demonstarting that they know their multiplication facts, but that they really understand multiplication, when to use it, where to use it, whether or not it is the only or best way to solve a problem. This is the learning that actually impacts our children's lives and will remain with them much longer than knowing the capital of Kentucky (Frankfort).
3. We all want our ideas and opinions heard. My husband likes to call it "buy in", but whatever you call it, knowing your ideas and opinions are heard, considered and valued has a big impact on student engagement. Project Based Learning knows this and uses this as one of its guiding principles. Classes use student CREATED essential questions to guide their learning. This means that, with the teacher's help, our students have a say in the focus of their learning. This is pretty powerful as students gain experience and confidence in building these questions. What would you rather learn answers to questions some unknown publisher came up with or questions that may acutally be relevant to your own life?
4. There is more than one way to skin a cat. Okay, that just fun to say, but it goes hand in hand with PBL. After the kids help create the Essential Questions in a PBL project, they also work in teams to lay out a plan of how they will solve these questions. Depending on the grade level, student have more or less support from the classroom teacher to carry out their plan. Sometimes these plans need major revision and rather than give up, groups have to decide what they will do next. When this happens we teachers get so excited because the best learning comes from our failures. This also builds on that essential skill we all need in life called "Perseverance". In addition each of the expert groups often answer the guiding questions differently allowing classrooms to celebrate diverse ideas and creativity.
My final "truth" for today is this, I am fortunate to work with the most amazingly dedicated, talented and caring group of educators. They push themselves and each other to do the best we can for each and every child at our school and then push themselves even more.