Hands-on learning in schools large and small

Maren Granstrom
Posted 2016-10-20

What kind of school gets kids to build their own racecar? How about asking students to carry their trash around for a week? Or compare themselves to a favorite vegetable? Those are just a few of the student assignments I heard about at this year’s Island Teachers Conference, and they all have a common result: Students are diving deeper into their surroundings, and learning more along the way.

Teachers were in the audience, but also behind the podium at last Fridays’s ITC. The spotlight shone on some of our exemplary island and rural educators who are taking risks to bring their students and schools to new levels.

Laurie Catanese, the 2015 Oxford County Teacher of the Year, spoke about her motivation for developing an educational system that works for all students. She helped orchestrate the transition of Oxford Hills Middle School into an experiential learning model with three themed trimesters focusing on Humanities, STEM, and the Arts. Along with their other studies, students are building that race car, writing graphic novels, and becoming thoroughly involved with the outside community.

Maren Granstrom / Island Institute

Students presented, too: This is a group from Deer Isle-Stonington High School

What does this look like on a smaller scale? Peaks Island Elementary got their whole school together for an integrated unit last year. Kelly Mascolo and Zoe Ryan-Humphrey guided their K-5 school through a place-based project tied to standards and deep learning. Students worked with island residents and Portland city leaders to explore the question, ‘What impact does trash have on our island community?’  Students used math and engineering to design recycling and compost receptacles, and carried around all of their own trash for a week (teachers did this too!) to demonstrate the environmental impact of our day-to-day activities.

Maren Granstrom / Island Institute

A session on mindfulness drew a large group

Of course, the smallest island schools have always been about experiential learning, even if not by that name (the teacher on Monhegan said to me, “I can’t imagine any other way”), and the conference had something for everyone. Through networking and workshop sessions on storytelling, hands-on STEM education, physical movement, mindfulness, and much more, our island and coastal educators ended the day full of ideas, connections, and inspiration to bring back to their students and communities.