Tonight was Parent-Teacher Conference night for the 7th grade at STEM – except it wasn’t. The 7th grade team decided to try a new approach. They decided that this year they would take key projects that they had taught across the curriculum and let the students explain and present upon those projects to their parents. They decided to move a step beyond 6th grade conferences, which last year utilized a student-centric model where students showed their parents their work, explained the process and identified areas for improvement. This time the entirety of the 7th grade worked together to offer parents an immersion in Africa.
The project focused on development in Africa. The student teams learned about the United Nations’ Millennium Development goal to reduce by half the number of people living in Africa on less than a dollar a day by the year 2015. The students had to define the problem; do research; brainstorm solutions; choose the idea they were going to pursue; envision a design; test the viability of their design; communicate amongst each other and collaborate on each step; and, redesign to improve the end product. This project integrated assignments throughout the quarter that helped students hone the skills they needed to work through the process.
The end result was really quite impressive. The kids took ownership of sharing the process and what they learned with parents; and, the teachers shared the rationale and methods involved in what they do. The parents and families of the 7th graders enjoyed an opportunity to learn more about Africa and how their kids learn across the curriculum on projects like this. The evening even featured an African potluck with traditional African dishes – it was really something.
One of the activities focused on team building and the value in fostering creativity, collaboration, communication and critical thinking in problem solving. That resulted in tables of parents and kids trying to build the tallest structure they could in 10 minutes. It was great to see how engaged the parents were with the kids on this activity. It was difficult for the 7th grade teaching team to reel them back in after that activity to talk about what lessons were learned in the process (they were all a-buzz amongst themselves about the experience, evaluating their structure and sharing afterthoughts for future designs). I guess that was the whole point.
Once again – I LOVE STEM. Every child should be allowed the opportunity to experience learning like this. I applaud the 7th grade team for the time, energy and commitment they put into these kids; and, I am grateful to them for building the capacity to craft solutions to the world’s problems in their students.
Asante sana STEM. I remain one of your biggest fans.
Day eight hundred and fifty of the new forty – obla di obla da