Teaching Methods of Lower School

By Michael Simpson, Head of Lower School

On Tuesday the following request was sent out by one of our science teachers: “Send me questions with right or wrong answers from your subject area.” Why? Her students are building electronic quiz boards. This involves designing and building circuit systems that allow answers to be transmitted and a response of incorrect or correct to be lit up.

Then yesterday during an admissions visit, a prospective parent asked, “Which books do you teach from?” I explained that we don’t follow textbooks but use a wide variety of resources and materials.

The contrast of teaching from a textbook versus students building a circuit board to apply their learning was palpable. As often as we can, our teachers design projects or tasks that require students to create authentic demonstrations of their learning. A few examples:

• Protest Letters in fourth grade (applying research, writing process and editing skills)
• USA Road Trip in second grade (simulation requiring practice of math, research, and literacy skills)
• Fine Arts Musical Performances (applying music theory and structures learned in class)
• Primer Pie Contest (applying literacy and math skills)
• Microscope work in third grade—checking out real cells (applying observation & recording skills and conceptual understanding of cells)
• Stock Market Unit in fourth grade (applying broad math and research skills)

Benefits? During these kinds of experiences, we observe high levels of engagement and a joy in learning. Students immerse themselves in big picture ideas and practice higher order thinking as they work together to solve complex problems. Individual passions are discovered. Classmates have real and substantive conversations with each other and their teacher. Students manage their leaning to accomplish goals, and practice collaborating and communicating in small teams.

In short, this is where learning becomes real, memorable, complex, and fun! When I walk into a classroom engaged in these kinds of activities, the energy and passion for learning are instantly recognizable.

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