Guest post by Jennifer Weber
Statistics from the World Health Organization are depicting half the United States as vaccinated. While life in many areas is returning to normal, with schools going back to in-person learning and sporting events reaching capacity, I find myself wondering what we’ve learned throughout this pandemic and where there’s room for improvement. By using the technological advancements at our disposal, can we make learning more visual, fun, and collaborative? Can this be done and still cultivate our children as self-sufficient and independent members of our community, prepared for what the future brings?
I’m excited for our children. I sound like my mother when I say this, but we didn’t have Google when I was a kid. If we were lucky enough, we had access to the World Book Encyclopedias. We didn’t have iPads; we carried heavy schoolbooks. We didn’t have PDF documents to email; we had the messy Mimeograph. We had chalkboards, which made it impossible to read handwriting from the back of the classroom and always resulted in someone going outside to clean the dusty erasers. Chalkboards have disappeared; in their place, teachers have laser whiteboard displays. Our children will never know what it’s like to take notes from a blurry projector screen, have a television cart roll over their toes, or what disappointment comes from a film that snapped apart in the projector. On the other hand, some things haven’t changed. We had to write book reports, but we didn’t have a delete button; if we made a mistake, we had to use Liquid Paper white-out or retype the whole paper. Both sides. The struggle was real.
The Grande Innovation Academy’s culture is designed to teach its scholars how to keep positive growth mindsets, take accountability for their own education, and focus on health and nutrition while impacting the local community. Their platforms go beyond the typical multiple language acquisitions, music and arts, science, math, and basic technology.
The Grande Innovation Academy created a FabLab at their campus. If you’ve never heard of a FabLab, they’re interactive, hands-on fabrication laboratories located in more than 100 countries – although few K-8th grade schools have them. They contain 3D printers, circuit boards, and fabrication tools, giving creators space to learn and invent. For example, suppose your child wanted to create digitally fabricated prosthetics to donate, or develop a manual corn sheller. In that case, FabLabs offer mentoring and the space to explore the endless opportunities. The sky’s the limit.
The Grande Innovation Academy was also the first school in Arizona to incorporate SMALLab learning. SMALLab learning, short for Student Multimedia Accelerated Learning Lab, was an Arizona State University research project. It’s an embodied learning environment, and the theory is that learning is more effective when learning is combined with physical activities. It’s a room-sized, hands-on, peer interactive learning environment where the Grande Innovation Academy scholars move around, explore forces in nature, physics, gravity, and try to beat the clock with fun games and challenges. With the SMALLabs use of motion-capture technology with immersive floor projection, scholars and educators have unlimited learning activities at their disposal.
The entire classroom gets a deeper understanding of the subject matter they’re learning. The scholars love SMALLab learning because they’re not just sitting at a desk; they’re moving around and learning visually. My kids thought it was the coolest thing they’ve ever experienced in a school setting. It is simply amazing and fun in ways we never imagined learning could be.
Movement and learning opportunities are everywhere on this campus. You’ll find mathematical equations on the staircase risers, historical figures spotlighted outside of each classroom, and a rock wall in the gym to instill confidence and encourage kids to be active.
Parents of “gifted” children know firsthand that each district seems to have a different model for providing services for gifted students. While charter schools are not mandated to provide gifted testing or services, the Grande Innovation Academy offers the Path to Potential gifted program. Their teachers are trained in differentiation and gifted education.
The Grande Innovation Academy takes education beyond the basic textbook learning model. They have an on-campus garden, where scholars plant, cultivate and harvest the crops. The school has a kitchen program where scholars learn about nutrition, cooking, and preparing the harvested crops. The Grande Innovation Academy is constantly adding new features. In the past they’ve learned how to bake bread, then donated loaves to the local food bank. In “see a need, fill a need” fashion, this year they’re introducing a book sharing program for all their kindergarten – 2nd-grade scholars.
Patty Messer, the Grande Innovation Academy’s Executive Director, realized some families needed online learning. So, pre-pandemic, they created the accredited Path to Potential online school to accommodate families with 4th – 8th-grade children who wanted schedule flexibility. The Path to Potential online school offers families the ability for proactive scholars to be in charge of their self-paced learning while still having the option to participate in on-campus sports, clubs, field trips, and school events at the Grande Innovation Academy campus. In addition, the curriculum, designed to be taught digitally, is interactive – not just PDF worksheets emailed to the children.
For our family dealing with gifted kids, switching to online learning was the perfect move because they can learn quicker than they did when they were in a classroom. If they feel they need more time on a subject, they can take whatever time is necessary to understand and complete the lessons before moving on to the next subject. With their learning coach’s guidance to make sure they’re on track, the personalized educational path fits their lifestyle better than the classroom setting. For us, it was a more comprehensive move, tailored to our children’s levels. The move to online schooling allowed our middle school aged children early access to high school-level courses while still having the option to take fun, elective classes, like coding, Spanish, and guitar.
The educational paradigm is changing. As parents and educators, we owe it to our children to offer platforms and activities, either online or in-person, that fully engage our children, encourage them to explore their interests, and provide every opportunity to interact with their peers. In our quest to return to normalcy, we’ve figured out not everything pre-pandemic is perfect, and we should incorporate the innovations which proved to be valuable over the past year. The fear of change is normal and expected. Administrations using technology to educate our children, to quench their insatiable appetite for learning, so they’re prepared to tackle the long-term climate change problems, engineer solutions for zero-carbon alternatives, or creating new sources of renewable power to future sustainability efforts are where I place my support. We need more than students who memorize answers; we need creative problem-solvers. No one knows who the next inspiration will be – outliers like Leonardo da Vinci, Ismail Al-Jazari, Marie Curie, Mahatma Gandi, Steve Jobs, or Elon Musk. I want my children attending a school that believes the purpose of education is to value actions that make the world a better place, rather than just to get the best grades.
If you’re interested in learning more about some of the classroom technologies and options out there, you can read more at:
Jennifer Weber is a resident of Glendale and advocate of gifted education. She is the owner of the Branding Habitat and mother to three boys. Follow their journey on Instagram @5webersinaz. Jennifer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org