From Debra’s Desk
Have you heard of Maker Spaces? Viewed as the classroom of the future, they are the ideal adolescent learning environments. Complimenting a student’s need to be physically engaged in their learning, these dedicated spaces include access to all kinds of materials and tools – from traditional workshop tools and art supplies to cutting edge technologies like 3D printers, iPads, CAD software, and more. Students work collaboratively to explore topics and projects together that build connections to real-world applications.
A Maker Space easily embraces all kinds of STEAM activities – as an innovation space; you will find robotics and circuitry alongside quilting, sewing and screen printing… Bunsen burners, beakers and safety goggles can be found as easily as pottery wheels, painting easels, and photography darkrooms. Try your hand at producing a video or music production; or work together to plan and build a hydroponic garden.
Learning by doing is the key to any Maker Space – and this is at the core of what we embrace at the NH School of Applied Learning. Applying thinking skills in a hands-on, active way integrates deep academic and rigorous content that connects school to life in the real world, fosters sharing and collaboration, and gives students a reason to learn.
A Maker Space like the one we have integrated into our middle school provides the tools, materials and technology that define the classroom of the future – and it’s exciting! Students use their skills in a variety of ways, taking on different roles within groups and exploring new social relationships with their peers. Applied Learning actively satisfies the adolescents’ need to move, while lab activities such as industrial arts, home economics, and business entrepreneurship create a bridge to core academic principals and curriculum.
Applied Learning like the kind that happens in a Maker Space allows students to make connections with – and an impact on – their community. Young people want to make a difference in the world, and the classroom of the future helps them to see how their skills and ideas in the areas of physics, architecture, engineering, culture, history, transportation, ecology, technology, art and business can do just that.
Wait – isn’t homework something that many schools are reducing, or moving away from? It’s true, the no-homework policy of a second-grade teacher in Texas went viral recently, earning praise from parents across the country who lament the heavy workload often assigned to young students (TIME Magazine, August 2016). But what if the assignment is choosing the right school for your family? Is homework the only thing you should consider?
Research Your Options: When considering schools, it makes sense to do your ‘homework’ – but where do you begin? Understanding the “assignment” and treating it just like a research project is a great approach.
Develop your Objectives: What are the key values or attributes that are important to you in choosing a school; whether it’s Pre-school, Kindergarten, or Elementary? Do you understand the different teaching philosophies that are unique to each school? Putting together a list of your values and touring schools with a prepared list of questions is a great place to start.
Don’t be shy, ASK! Be sure to include several schools in your research; just like in the scientific method, your results are only as good as your data – so be thorough with your observations, and consider multiple sources.
- In addition to a personal tour, what do others in the community have to say? Does their environment match what they portray online and in their brochures?
- What is their policy on homework, recess, grading/evaluations, testing, discipline?
- Do they actively incorporate social and/or cultural traditions that are important to you?
- What level of parent involvement is expected/welcomed?
- Is their academic curriculum traditional or more cutting edge/experiential? How do they approach technology?
Compare and Evaluate: Now that you’ve learned firsthand about the choices you have, you will have a pile of literature – and likely a good amount of “gut feelings.” Bring together your information and compare it to your objectives. A good old-fashioned “pros and cons” list is an easy way to quickly identify where each school aligns with your values. Now that you’ve done your homework, the answer is easy!