- Administrators in Janesville School District in Wisconsin are encouraging teachers to capture some of the magic of summer school enrichment learning by bringing more hands-on opportunities and real-world problems to the regular classroom. But it's an approach that can be uncomfortable for teachers who feel the pressures of preparing students for tests and who have little time for innovation during the school year, according to The Hechinger Report.
- The shift came about primarily because of the district’s new focus on computational thinking through its experimentation with the Ignite My Future curriculum during the summer. Using the computational thinking model, students learn to collect and analyze data, spot patterns, break down problems into smaller issues, find solutions, build models and develop algorithms for others to follow.
- Janesville administrators are trying to give teachers the freedom to cut certain units or omit teaching certain standards if they incorporate real-world situations and projects that engage students more deeply. Teachers would be trusting that test scores will fall into place, an idea that falls outside the comfort zone of some of them.
While the U.S. Department of Education promotes the idea of innovation in schools sometimes implementing such strategies can be difficult. Administrators and teachers worry about the impact on test scores and on community members who may not understand the changes.
However, carefully researched approaches to innovation may be just what is needed to shake up the status quo, engage students, and better prepare them for the challenges ahead. Project-based learning, which shares some elements with the computational thinking learning model, has research behind it to suggest that it can be compatible with standardized tests and can improve critical thinking skills even in generally low-performing students. The model takes time, creativity and resources, and collaboration between teachers is sure to spark creativity.
One of the biggest obstacles to overcome for some teachers is fear, so teachers need to be encouraged to leave their comfort zones and explore new educational horizons. Through professional development and the assurance of administrative support, many teachers can learn not only to be risk-takers, but to also model that quality for their students.