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By Iris Othrow
Retired Madison-area teacher
As a teacher with thirty years of experience, I firmly believe that one of the most valuable things you can do for your students is provide them with hands-on learning opportunities that will engage them and give them the best chance to internalize and retain the curriculum being taught.
During the 80s and 90s I was privileged to work on a forward-thinking project sponsored and funded by the American Association for the Advancement of Science developing curriculum strategies that would encourage all students to become literate in science, math and technology. Some of these best practices in education involve integrated, interactive approaches to learning. Multi-disciplinary, hands-on activities leverage the relationship between different subjects, and equip students to approach learning creatively, using their own interests and learning styles as strengths.
Examples of this approach include emphasizing the role of math in science, reading to gain information, writing to communicate about STEM projects, and social studies to see how other people use what they learn in the real world. Efficient and effective learning plans are webs or weavings that intersect various areas of curriculum with personal experience and meaningful outcomes.
Spring and fall are great times to take your class outside, to experience real-life applications of the subjects you’re studying. Growing plants, caring for animals, observing the use and maintenance of natural resources, and guided exploration of the local environment provide wonderful opportunities to make curriculum come alive.
Leverage parent volunteers, community involvement, and local resources as you engage with the world outside the classroom, and search for ways to augment your curriculum. Field trips and other out-of-classroom activities can enhance curriculum in exciting and meaningful ways, and involving parents and other community volunteers in this process not only stretches scarce resources inside and outside the classroom, it introduces an element of serendipity.
Giving your students small group experiences with an adult volunteer will enrich each child’s experience and will involve parents in a meaningful way with you and your classroom. Clearly and positively express your expectations and goals to adult and student helpers – your goal is to work as a team, to create an optimal learning environment and ensure the best possible outcomes for your students.
I hope this short article has reignited your desire to think about learning (and teaching!) in new and creative ways! I would like to end by extending my thanks to you, from one teacher to another; teachers and students are at the heart of our communities, and your contributions are valuable and valued.
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