November 12, 2015

Integrated Curriculum Comes to Life for our Middle School Director

The gym at our new campus
This week, guest blogger and Friends' Middle School Director Shelby Pawlina reflects on the various projects that she's working on to ensure the successful opening of our new Middle School in August 2016.  It turns out that the way she is integrating new skills and thought processes is not dissimilar to what our middle schoolers will be doing....

I’m not sure when I realized it. It might have been after a night of lucid dreaming about what kinds of tools and supplies would go into the inspired maker space. Maybe it was on page 22 of the first round of dense real estate documents when my pink highlighter finally gave out. It could have been when my colleagues and I were gesticulating around a whiteboard about the best way to articulate our vision for the Case for Support document. In any case, it was instantly crystal clear: the various activities I was engaged in, my process of helping to bring this second campus to life, is exactly the kind of Integrated Curriculum experience we want for our middle schoolers.

I was working round the clock (literally, in some cases) and was completely and perfectly happy. Thinking. Reading. Writing. Researching. Discussing. Drawing. Ok. So I agree that we don’t want middle schoolers working around the clock. I do think we would love for them to be so excited about what they are doing that learning doesn’t feel like work. It feels like opportunity. It feels like what they GET to do, rather than what they HAVE to do.

Outside space at the new middle school
I had been struggling to articulate what Integrated Curriculum is and then I realized I was living it, in spades. I was deep in new territory on lots of fronts: development and fundraising, marketing strategy, legal processes with Boulder County, and so many more examples, digging more deeply into things that I knew a little about before, and know a lot more about now. Yet I know there is still more to learn. All of this work is purposeful. It is personally meaningful and might make the world a better place. All of it takes me (and Friends’ School) one step closer to making something truly outstanding available for the children and families of the Boulder area: Friends’ second campus.

I’ve been learning new things in what might be considered several different subjects (civics, engineering, communications, education, history, geometry, language arts, etc.) I have been exercising other “soft” skills (being out of my comfort zone, patience, perspective taking, collaboration, resilience after “failure”, trying new things, receiving feedback, etc.). All of these experiences have been so intertwined and “of a piece” that I didn’t recognize them for what they were- authentic, integrated learning.

Shelby Pawlina
While I have been learning material from different subjects, I hardly recognized how much I had gained, because it wasn’t happening in a typical “school-like” fashion. We often think of learning, especially in schools, as taking place in 45-minute blocks where we focus on one subject at a time. What we are envisioning is a different process altogether.

The central organizing piece is the project (the second campus and middle school program) not the content. All roads lead to the second campus. The process continually evolves and what happens next depends on what happened before. We have timelines and to-do lists and people who rely on us to do our part. We modify our plans and priorities based on input from others, new discoveries, and keeping our eyes on short- and long-term goals. The process has structure, yet it is flexible.

This kind of learning is alive. This kind of learning is deep and rigorous. This kind of learning is exciting and motivating and real. This kind of learning is what grows lifelong learners who are inquisitive and passionate and well-rounded.

While it may also be the kind of learning that might lead one to lucid dreams, in the end I believe it is an approach that allows all students to engage, with purpose, in the world around them and develop a greater sense of what they are capable of and who they are. 

No comments: