Six of us spent the morning at Turning Point Learning Center in Emporia with Ginger Lewman and her kids. TPLC is a charter school focused on problem-based learning. Some very cool stuff going on!

Obviously the charter school situation allows for a lot of freedom to experiment but when we sat down to reflect on what we saw happening, we noticed things that ALL schools should be doing:

  • A safe environment with respect for all types of learners
  • Choice of when and how long to work on projects
  • Clear, high expectations
  • Flexibility
  • Soft and hard deadlines
  • Probing & clarifying questions: teacher to student, student to teacher and student to student
  • A variety of grouping formats – independent, partners, small groups
  • Emphasis on problem solving & the Three C’s (create communicate collaborate)
  • Comfortable physical environment
  • Instructors and students are clear about personal learning styles
  • Attempt to seamlessly integrate technology
  • Making “global” connections outside the classroom walls
  • Lots of formative assessment

As we circulated throughout the morning, I noticed a high level of “interactionInside the inflatable cell comfortableness.” The kids were not hesitant talking with adults and sharing their knowledge. One student gave a quick tour of the inside of an inflatable human cell with a detailed explanation of the process of mitosis. I spent about 45 minutes learning from an 8th grader about a new software creation tool called Sauerbraten. Anther middle school student discussed their work on becoming more globally aware, specifically the focus on Dafur and nuclear proliferation.

So our question for the morning was – could this be replicated in a “normal” middle school setting? We asked Ginger to talk about what she would “take” with her if she were to move to a regular classroom.

She said she would start by creating two or three big ideas for the entire year and begin to plug specific indicators into those. She would be sure to find ways to connect with the outside world using things like Twitter, Skype and Wikispaces. She would ask her kids to do lots of collaborative stuff and provide lots of student choice with problem-based learning as the foundation.

She ended by talking about how important student learning style inventories are to planning good instruction. She mentioned that “we often work to discover student learning styles but don’t always act on them.”

It sounds “do-able.” What are ways we can encourage these practices in the regular classroom setting?