November 26, 2020

Meaningful, Authentic, and Rigorous Challenges

Statistics Teacher, Mr. Mays, took a step to personalize learning for his students in a meaningful and authentic way.

We’re going to try something out. I want you to design an experiment- collecting and using data to show your understanding for this unit. – Mr. Mays

Students choose a range of ways to gather data. Emma, a senior in Mason City Schools, decided to focus on foster care. She conducted research to gather data and displayed the trend over time. A chart captures her findings in the image above.

This learning transferred into a Teacher Academy project. Ms. Blamer encouraged students to select a trauma informed teaching practice.  Emma took her findings from statistics and focused on trauma informed teaching practices for students in foster care. 

A summary of her writing is included at this link – A few Strategies for Trauma Informed Teaching

I asked Emma to reflect on the ideas of Voice, Co-Creating, Social Construction, and Self Discovery.  Her reflections are included below. 

These authentic, meaningful, and rigorous challenges empower Emma to own her learning.

Voice- In what ways did this experience allow you to express yourself?

It was really cool to have the opportunity to explore things that are important to me in a classroom setting. Lots of my classmates didn’t even know my family was a foster family before this assignment. Now they’ve learned a lot more about me, and in the process they were introduced to an issue that I feel is really important for the future. 

Co-Creating- In what ways did experience allow you to build meaning alongside your teachers?

Our teachers at MHS are beyond incredible, but each teacher on their own can only teach based on their personal perspective. I feel like when teachers let students bring their own experiences and passions to the table, we have the opportunity to introduce new ideas (sometimes even for the teachers) and therefore expand the depth in which we explore the content. For example, my Teacher Academy teacher told us she likes to give us open-ended assignments so that we all interpret it differently and go in different directions with it. That’s sort of how I ended up taking the broad topic of Trauma-Informed Teaching and focusing on my experiences being a foster family. Other kids did the same topic (trauma) but went in completely different directions with it. Some were passionate about gun violence, others about abuse, and some even discussed experiences from their student teaching.

Social Construction- In what ways did you grow through learning alongside others?

Like I mentioned in the question above, all of my peers took the assignments in different ways. This allowed me to learn SO much about their experiences in placement and a variety of topics they were passionate about. But in addition to just exposure to lots of material, I feel like we all grew as presenters. There weren’t specific guidelines on how we had to present our findings, so we were constantly bouncing ideas off of each other and emulating ideas we admired. I also feel like learning from each other increased our respect for each other because it made us aware that everyone has something to share that we can learn from (even if we’re the same age).

Self Discovery- In what ways did you learn more about yourself through this experience?  How might this affect you in future learning experiences?

I found out that when I’m passionate about a topic, it changes how I approach the assignment. Whether I mean to or not, I pour more of myself into it along the way. I should remember this for the future because if I can find something in each topic I learn that I’m interested in, it will be easier for me to go above and beyond with whatever I create and/or take away from it. I also learned that passion trumps fear. During this project I was so excited by the fact that I had the opportunity to share my beliefs with others that I was willing to try public speaking. And I am terrified of public speaking! But that’s just another example of the fact that as students, we’re generally willing to go the extra mile if we find things we really care about.

Joe Muhlberg

Joe Muhlberg is a Learning Experience Designer at Mason High School.

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