Innovation at Work! An Interdisciplinary, Collaborative Approach to Learning (for students & teachers!)

The collaborative spirit embraced at The Willows can be observed amongst faculty and staff as well as within a classroom’s structure. I am fortunate in my role as Dean of Educational Technology to collaborate with teachers across grade levels on a regular basis. Intersession is a week-long, innovative experience when the Middle School breaks from our regular curriculum and all teachers have the opportunity to collaborate in new teams and students collaborate across grade levels as well. This year, we brought in a Visiting Maker Expert and founder of Catalyst, Jean Kaneko, to teach a Middle School Intersession course titled Biomimicry and Battle Bots: A Story of Survival.

Working alongside Jean was a valuable learning experience that provided students with a unique and challenging skill building experience, and also offered me valuable professional development.

On a surface level, Jean taught us how to use equipment – Arduino boards with shields, Bluetooth electronics, wire cutters and strippers, air dusters to flash cool hot glue, and most exciting, our new 3D laser cutter – Glowforge Pro. This immediately sparked ideas for ways to engage with the 8th grade science teachers and have classes use the Glowforge with our upcoming mousetrap car project. Intersession culminates in a Family Education Night, an interactive evening for students and their families that highlights the projects and accomplishments of the students. Upon viewing the course artifacts at Family Education Night, two third grade students, with the assistance of their Maker teacher used the laser cutter to create a present for their teacher’s upcoming birthday. And last week I led a Willows Academy workshop where teaching faculty created laser cut projects and brainstormed potential classroom applications. The momentum is strong!

Less tangible but deeply powerful, was the shift in thinking that we really gained from collaborating with Jean. I have read a lot about prototyping in connection with making and design thinking, but I didn’t see the value for the time invested until now. My participation in this Intersession course showcased firsthand the amount of planning, critique, editing, revision, and teamwork that was necessary for each iteration of a bot – from ideation to battle ready. Now I am enthusiastically ready to incorporate this process in my teaching!

Another highlight of the class was Jean’s outstanding presentation of and emphasis on failure as a central part of the process. Watching the kids listen, and then later observing them undergo struggle and limited success made us all celebrate the victories and feel truly proud of what was accomplished. While debriefing with Jean about the course and future collaborations, she emphasized the unique value of The Willows Intersession as being “a year’s worth of work or focus in one week.”

RULER Institute & RULER Implementation Conference

This week, The Willows continues our fruitful collaboration with the Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence with two special RULER trainings for educators. RULER is the evidenced-based approach to social and emotional learning (SEL) developed at Yale and designed to teach emotional intelligence to people of all ages.

On February 6 and 7, we will host the first event, entitled RULER Institute: Creating Emotionally Intelligent Schools with Marc Brackett, Ph.D., Director; Dena Simmons, Ed.D., Assistant Director of the Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence; Yale trainers; and Willows teachers and administrators. Participants will learn about the RULER approach and anchor tools and become equipped to with the foundational skills to bring RULER to their schools or districts.  A highlight of the training is the opportunity to tour our classrooms to see RULER in action throughout The Willows.

This is the second RULER training we have offered; our last training in May 2018 brought teachers and administrators from public, parochial, independent, and charter schools from West Coast schools in California, Oregon, and Washington State to The Willows with the goal of enhancing the emotional intelligence of students, teachers, staff, and families by integrating RULER principles and tools into the curriculum and cultural life of their schools.

Then, at week’s end, we are thrilled to be offering our very first RULER Implementation Conference for schools previously trained in RULER, also featuring Dr. Brackett and Dr. Simmons presenting alongside educators from The Willows. The conference will feature:

  • Keynote presentation from Dr. Brackett and Dr. Simmons
  • Breakout sessions led by members of our RULER team and art teachers on specific implementations of RULER
  • A panel led by Willows students and parents discussing their experiences with RULER

Some of the exciting topics that will covered within breakout sessions include:

  • Navigating Difficult Conversations
  • Integrating RULER into Secondary School Humanities
  • Project-based Learning and RULER
  • Supporting LGBTQ Students with RULER

The Willows is proud to be hosting both of these events in hopes of sharing with fellow educators what we’ve learned through implementing RULER at our school so far!