SCHOOLS | September 1, 2020
“I don’t even want to be an engineer, but I like this class because I get to do cool things in it,” Mr. Nick Anaya recalls one of his students saying while taking prospective students on a tour of Robert Lindblom Math and Science Academy. As an engineering, computer science, and robotics teacher, he says there is an inherent joy to hands-on work.
So what happens when the parts of your class that students often look forward to the most are no longer an option? Mr. Anaya believes the upcoming school year is a chance for teachers to think about how education is framed and help students rediscover the less obvious reasons why their education is valuable.
“One question I’m going to be thinking a lot about this year is ‘how do we help our students answer the question of why am I doing this?’” said Mr. Anaya. “When they’re in a well-defined learning environment, the answer might be ‘I have nothing better to do,’ but learning remotely will help them build up their intrinsic motivation and discover their own goals for themselves.”
Mr. Anaya notes that one of his own goals is to show students how a wide range of careers utilize a solutions-driven mindset, which is why he has incorporated work-based learning projects into his curriculum to show students how engineers are collaborating even as they work from home.
At Nicholas Senn High School, many STEM classes are organized into units that each have a unique client and problem to solve. Students take an iterative approach to developing solutions based on research, planning, and revising their ideas as needed.
Ms. Nicole Flores and her colleagues who teach the school’s design courses quickly realized in the spring that students were almost always more engaged when they were designing or building projects rather than researching. To increase engagement moving forward, they plan to center their instruction on relatable questions such as “how can I keep my glasses from fogging up when wearing a mask?” and collaborating across their department to showcase student projects and give students a sense of pride in their work.
While they want to give students opportunities for hands-on learning, they know that not every student has access to the same materials. That’s why flexibility has been key. Instead of being required to create a prototype of their solution, design students have the option to create the product’s label or even a video advertisement for it. These choices reflect a shift in perspective from trying to make remote learning function identically like in-person learning to giving students the space to let their creativity shine.
“In the spring, I was so worried about content and making sure that students had the least amount of unfinished learning when the year ended,” said Ms. Flores. “When I looked back in June, I realized the importance of continuing to build relationships with my students and knowing that they are going to be okay if that becomes my focus.”
When he reflected on the past school year, Mr. Alex Rhodan acknowledged that getting students at Curie Metropolitan High School to speak up in his computer science classes was a challenge. To help students feel more comfortable sharing their ideas, the first two weeks of the upcoming school year will focus on social-emotional learning and helping them develop a growth mindset.
“What I love about computer science is that it’s not about getting things right, but rather going through the steps because you can always try and try again,” said Mr. Rhodan. “Computer science is not one size fits all, so I want each of my students to know how I can help them grow and how their growth can be measured.”
Over the past 17 years, Ms. Danyiel Selvie’s success as a cosmetology teacher at Simeon Career Academy can be measured by the fact that her former students own salons in Chicago, Cincinnati, and Atlanta—and 100 percent of them have passed the state licensure exam each of the past eight years.
But remote learning was a new challenge, and she responded by teaching almost every day in the spring because so many of her students were extremely committed to continuing to learn from her. While she plans to continue her focus on step-by-step instruction and breakout sessions for students to learn 21st century skills, she wants them to take more ownership of their learning in the fall. Thus, she plans to provide additional instructions ahead of time so they can gather supplies in advance and stay focused for her entire lesson.
One thing that won’t change, however, is her optimism.
“If my students work through these challenges in positive strides, that would be totally awesome because when a class is positive and you’re positive, nothing can stop what you’re trying to create.” said Ms. Selvie.