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Primary Innovation Studio already ‘reaping rewards’

Second-grade ‘digital natives’ flourish in ‘classroom of the future’

PARKER – When Mammoth Heights Elementary School’s Mary Lisa Harper redesigned her second-grade classroom, lesson plans and teaching style to meet the needs of ‘digital natives,’ there were some that thought she was crazy. 

While the integrated technology and new, innovative furniture, provided by generous contributions from the Morgridge Family Foundation, the Douglas County School Districts and Twenty1Five, were really cool, some couldn’t fathom an environment where a teacher let go of the old teacher control model, and with careful coaching, trusted seven and eight year olds to lead their own learning.

“One of the misconceptions about this classroom is that kids are just running wild and free and doing what they please at all times, but that couldn't be further from the truth,” explained Harper. “Everything is strategically self-directed, however, within what you've seen today, there is an underlying structure. Many of the activities and projects that you saw today had to be written up in a plan by the student-----kind of a scope and sequence of how and what they plan to achieve, and how it connects to content and standards for second grade. That is always underlying. 

After only six months, the impact of the changes is evident. While each and every student is working on a different project of their own design, they are focused passionate and driven.

“Workshop means that we do all these quality products in our classroom. You get to choose assignments like painting, or doing Lego Robotics,” explained second-grader Elliana Cipcic.

“It's not like whatever you want. It's a little whatever you want,” classmate Trey Jutting added. “It's what you want to connect to your learning, in a ‘quality product.’

“Their charge was to show me their thinking and their learning in creative and novel ways. For instance, today, you saw kids showing story structure as they built with Legos, painting a piece on the easel which was inspired by Georgia O'Keeffe, a famous American artisit. What we have tapped into is higher-level learning,” Harper said. “This is not a classroom of low-level knowledge, memorization, drill and kill. Kids are involved, they are creating, they are articulating their thinking, and continually assessing each other and themselves. Higher-level thinking is evident in here--and that is happening because of my loosening the 'telling them what to do' all of the time. I'm very proud of my kids for rising to the occasion--they blow me away daily!”

“Remember, they're only seven or eight, but we're continually talking about how they can create a product that they are proud of and that shows that they're learning. That has been my mantra ever since day one and right now I'm reaping the rewards of that,” Harper added.

She says the biggest success of allowing more freedom in the classroom is that kids discover who they are and what they are good at--and in that she has discovered more about them as well.

“As I look back over my career, I wonder about kids who I really didn't get to know in this sort of environment, because they were so controlled. In my classroom now, it's like opening a treasure chest,” Harper said. “Some of my most respected students in here are the ones with the learning disabilities, but they are not seen as 'that kid with problems,' they're seen as 'that kid who can do this."

While she has learned many lessons along the way, Harper says that the Primary Innovation Studio experiment has been a monumental success.

“[There have been] amazing changes. The kids are now leading the way,” Harper said.

November 11, 2014 | By rmbarber | Category:

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It may look like a plain, white shipping container was just parked on the backyard grounds of Mountain Vista High School. The contents of the container are anything but plain, though. Walking inside the container, different colors of ambient lighting glow, futuristic-looking equipment and tall towers are suspended from the ceiling, and the humidity level is set to 70 percent. The container has been recycled into a new kind of learning opportunity for students.