Sometimes You Have to Crack a Few Eggs to Get to Better Learning

This is part two of Colorado teacher Jessica Moore’s reflections on how the state legislature handled the debate around standards and assessments this session, which concluded last week. Read part one, That Was a Close One, Colorado.
Recently, I stood on the roof of my school, in a torrential downpour, with my students looking up at me from the ground in anticipation. With sopping wet hair and glasses too foggy to see, I launched my students’ “eggstronaut” vessels as they squealed in excitement below. Each vessel crashed, plopped, bounced or splattered as kids eagerly snatched up their projects for review. I climbed back down the slippery ladder, re-latched the roof and we dashed down the hall, sharing hugs, high-fives and smiles. Back in our room, we dismantled our projects, took notes, made observations and planned improvements in redesign. Although the egg drop is an age-old science project, it always gets students to think creatively about engineering. After my kids left for the day, my principal commented on how “crazy” I am, given my penchant for these types of adventures. I chuckled and felt some satisfaction knowing that my kids got their hands dirty while learning practical stuff they will remember down the road. Learning isn’t always something that happens on a warm sunny day;  sometimes you have to experiment in the rain. A lesson that I share with my students and peers is that learning is, and should be, kind of messy.

Lessons for Colorado Lawmakers

Throughout our most recent session, Colorado legislators considered and discussed a plethora of new legislation that could dramatically impact our public schools throughout the state. As a local educator, I found myself at times nail-bitingly nervous about the potential decisions being discussed, and at other times relieved or even encouraged by the direction of our state’s education policy. Mostly, my concerns were that our improvement efforts were moving ahead an inch and then falling back 10 feet. There was a bill proposed on repealing our Common Core-aligned standards and pulling out of the state-assessment consortia entirely—the mere prospect of this caused me anxiety. My fear throughout the legislative session was that politics would cloud our judgment about the core issues affecting teachers and students across the state. The bottom line: Each and every Colorado citizen is directly affected by our public school system, and it is our responsibility to ensure that our schools effectively prepare our students for productive and fruitful lives after they graduate from high school. The question, and of course controversy, has been how to turn this from theory into practice. One key benefit of the new readiness standards is that they promote in-depth thinking and practice and encourage more extensive innovation and creativity in instructional design. I can’t emphasize enough my relief when the session ended in a testing compromise, rather than an all-out dismantling of the positive progress that we, as educators, have been fighting for. I know, as a newbie to STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) instruction, that I have significant learning to do myself in order to ensure that projects like the egg drop have a positive impact on student learning. I have given thought to ways that I could better integrate learning across different subjects into my work next year: math calculations and measurement, as well as deeper reading and writing that would increase my students’ knowledge and vocabulary on a range of related topics. As I reflected on the egg drop, I got to thinking about how important it is that teachers take the lead in redefining what learning looks, sounds and feels like. For me, learning looks like pushing students to reach newer heights or, in the case of my class, dropping their eggs from taller buildings. It means not being afraid of tougher standards and testing. Although these appeared to be in jeopardy during the recent legislative session in Colorado, I can breathe a sigh of relief now that the state legislature has adjourned. Many of the measures that will move our kids forward will proceed.
Jessica is a fifth-grade teacher and professional development facilitator in the Weld RE-1 school district, which serves rural students in Platteville, Gilcrest and LaSalle, Colorado. She blogs at Moore Achievement.
Jessica is a fifth-grade teacher and professional development facilitator in the Weld RE-1 school district, which serves rural students in Platteville, Gilcrest and LaSalle, Colorado. Jessica develops comprehensive teacher training programs around Common Core State Standards for the National Math and Science Initiative and consults with local districts and teachers on how to effectively implement ...

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