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New Beginnings/New Approaches

As school starts again, here in the US, the controversy over high stakes testing continues. Even the discussion takes time away from developing meaningful, connected curriculum and assessments. Most of my email can be divided into two camps – those worried about how to teach STEM to meet NGSS satndards and those thrilled to be be starrting something new. The goal of ProjectEngin is to move every teacher and classroom into the latter camp. Learning should always be an adventure, never a burden. High stakes testing makes everyone view the material covered in school as a chore to be tallied on a checklist of multiple choice questions. No wonder teachers are stressed and students are disengaged!!

The testing debate and other related issues in US education are not new, but we seem to be at an impasse. We compare ourselves to other countries in terms of TIMMS and PISA math and science scores and come up short. But test scores are not the whole picture and success can be achieved through multiple paths and, sometimes, at a high price. (See this article comparing US, Finland and South Korea The US economy is rooted in innovation and creative problem solving. No level of testing reflects any assessment of those skills, so no current standardized tests accurately predict our ability to remain a competitive global economy in the future. What’s worse is that testing concerns take away from time for divergent, creative, messy learning. In classrooms throughout this countries, young minds that have the oppportunity to be free from structure all summer long are being forced back into the box of convergent, “find the one correct answer” thinking. “Out of the box” summer days quickly give way to “in the box” of the classroom walls. We know it is not working, but the complexity and level of decentralization in our education system makes the implementation of change a Herculean effort.


So, as teachers, maybe it makes sense to start from the grassroots. Start from your classroom. Offer a little bit of creative, hands-on, freewheeling time once each week. But build in some content, whether it is subject material or 21st century skills reinforcement. Start with asking small groups to remedy a problem they encountered over the summer by engineering a solution, whether it is a product or a process. Highlight collaboration and creativity. It will go a long way toward establishing a classroom culture of engaged, innovative problem-solvers. And that is a lot more fun and productive than teaching to a test. The ProjectEngin newsletter will be featuring some detailed lesson plans for ” Experience Engineering” activities in the next few weeks. To subscribe go to the Contact Us page of the ProjectEngin website ( and include a note concerning the newsletter with your contact ionformation.

As teachers, we all have a choice each day – Are you part of the problem or part of the solution? Build a classroom where students feel they belong, their ideas matter and where they want to be and the solution will become evident.


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