During Christmas break, I ran into my friend, Shari, at the post office. I found out that she and another colleague had transferred from Konawaena Middle School to West Hawaii Explorations Academy, one of the first public charter schools in the state. (If you want to know more about this project-based school, follow the link). We got to talking and she invited me to come and visit.
I told her I had these electronic modules called Little Bits that I got from a Good Idea grant last year, and coincidentally, she said they were starting an Inventions unit next quarter. I remember this feeling of harmony after seeing her at the post office. I tweeted (and I hardly ever tweet): Maybe unexpectedly running into people is the sign you need to move forward. (I had been feeling like a slug.)
Yesterday was a gorgeous day in Kona, no vog for a change. And WHEA is close to the shoreline. They had just moved to their new campus, which is a couple of miles up from their old campus. I was blown away by their new campus, because it just seemed not too long ago that I saw the plans for it.
In their 8th grade class, I saw 3 of my former students. It is always good to see former students. It's what I love best about having been a teacher. I saw another one, a 6th grader later at lunch.
The experiences I had as a teacher that made me so glad to be a teacher were when the students were totally engaged. It usually happens in science (I taught science and math). Sharing the Little Bits with these students reminded me of those kind of moments. This activity was basically to play, which naturally leads to problem-solving, and could possibly lead to creativity - making something with the modules. I so believe this to be the essence of good teaching and learning.
I could go on and on about the palpable positive learning environment at this school. What I have also noticed whenever I have come to visit here in the past, is that the teachers and staff are also palpably happy. I can't speak for why that is, I can only speak for THAT it is. My guess is that they are student-centered, rather than standards-oriented, although they know that the students also have to take the "tests." Because they are student-centered, they know that students there are there for hands-on learning experiences and project-based learning.
By being so standards-focused, and test-focused, the regular public schools are going opposite of student-centered learning. Obsession with standards is de-humanizing as is obsession with testing. Good teachers in the regular public schools do try to maintain a student-centered approach. I admire them. But I remember always being conflicted with all the demands and challenges that took away from teaching in this way.
If you have children, or if you are in a position to influence the lives of children, I hope you will give this a lot of thought and perhaps action. The world needs problem-solvers and creative thinkers. WHEA makes that the priority, rather than scoring well on the "test." I was asked to consider teaching there at one point years ago, but I remember telling the person that I didn't want to leave the kids in the regular schools behind. I really don't regret this at all. I regret not doing more of this kind of teaching in my classes.
Diane Aoki is a writer who explores other modes of creativity as her intuition leads her.