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Lasting Impressions

Exposure to an authentic, real-world experience is one of the most powerful and meaningful ways we can create a successful path for our students. These experiences are difficult to include in our already jam-packed curriculums; however, when we step back and consider what our students will actually remember and take with them when they leave our classrooms, the authentic, thought-provoking, challenging, and student-driven activities will leave the biggest impression.

If you are familiar with this blog, I constantly stress the importance of the 4C's in the classroom. They are game changers. Incorporating creativity, communication, collaboration, and critical thinking into class lessons, activities, and assignments automatically provide a new layer of learning for students, as it asks them to practice skills that are essential for surviving and succeeding in the real world. We can't know for sure where our students will end up after high school, so it is our job to make sure they are fully equipped to succeed as individuals in our fast-paced, competitive society. When teachers take the 4C's and combine them with skills like time management, problem-solving, awareness, and grit, they are not only supporting their students as learners but also as human beings. 

Earlier this year, I visited Mr. Tony Tegtmeyer's senior-level Engineering Design and Development class, which is the senior capstone Project Lead the Way class. PLTW classes "provide transformative learning experiences for students and teachers by creating an engaging, hands-on classroom environment and empower students to develop in-demand knowledge and skills they need to thrive." I am so happy I got the chance to see this class at the beginning of the year - when they started their capstone projects - and now this week after they completed their projects and reflected on the process. After these observations, I strongly believe that ALL students should take a PLTW class at some point during their four years of high school. What an awesome learning experience that, in my opinion, provides an opportunity to develop skills that they will definitely take with them after they move on to their next adventure in life. 
Here's the low down on the EDD capstone project. Students must...
  1. Identify and justify a problem
  2. Identify possible solutions that are on the market today
  3. Research patents created to solve the problem/similar problems
  4. Consider alternatives (Brainstorm new ideas to solve the problem and use market research to reduce the number of ideas)
  5. Design a prototype
  6. Build the prototype 
  7. Test the prototype
  8. Present their project to a panel of engineers (Yes, real engineers)
  9. Reflect on the process 
As you read the project's tasks, it becomes quite clear how the skills I listed above (4C's, time management, problem-solving, awareness, and grit) drive the process. Students become immersed in their work as they must become experts on the topic and also think innovatively about a new solution they can create and implement. Critical thinking and creativity are essential to do these things well. From there, students must collaborate with their peers, as they work with a partner during the process, and communicate with real-world professionals to get help and validity during the process. Not only do they have to ask them questions, but they also have to present their projects to a panel of real engineers - a task that is challenging and nerve-wracking but extremely true to real-world, work-related experiences. The sometimes-forgotten 5th C, curiosity, is at the center of this entire process. Student curiosity and willingness to hypothesize and problem solve bring the learning to the next level. If you are like me, I'm sure you see words throughout this post that remind you of the skills we need on a daily basis to survive in our society - regardless of the paths we've chosen. 

When I walked into Mr. Tegtmeyer's class this week, I didn't know I would be seeing the same group I observed back in November. This particular group was not prepared for their presentation in November and could not articulate their plan of action for their project, which is not typical of students in this class. As I watched these same students present their final project and research, their concluding remarks about the process provided my most meaningful takeaway. You see, their prototype failed. They did not have enough time, research, or knowledge about their prototype.  During their final remarks, these students explained that one key reason they didn't find success is due to poor time management. Yes, that's right. They took ownership of their failure and explained what needed to happen to have a different outcome. Now, this is what I call an authentic learning experience. In life, we experience adversities. We fail. There is no getting around it. Many times, it is our choices that lead to failure. Through this adversity, these particular students learned valuable lessons about time management, grit, and work ethic. I would put money on it that this "failure" will lead to many successes in the future. Now that's an authentic learning experience that will help students thrive in the future. #whatsup

Have a similar teaching/learning experience? Please share your story below.