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Steve Haberlin's picture
Steve Haberlin is an assistant professor of education at Wesleyan College in Macon, Georgia, and author of Meditation in the College Classroom: A Pedagogical Tool to Help Students De-Stress, Focus,...
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What the Classroom Can Be - Lessons from a Summer Program

This week, while many kids are swimming, sleeping in late, and spending too many hours on Call of Duty and other video games, there is a group of 50 children arriving early, excited about learning and creatively producing.

I have the good fortune of being involved with a summer program for gifted children in the county where I live. The program provides four, intense days of learning to create virtual book hooks using storytelling, persuasion, and computer programs such as Paint and Moviemaker. In addition, these children are learning life skills such as teamwork, project management, and time management.

Spending hours a day working with these children has reminded me what education can be: a place where children have fun, want to be there, and learn valuable skills they can use the rest of their lives. It is a chance to express their talents, their creativity and their individualism. In my eyes, it is a vision of how school can work.

There are no tests or homework. The program culminates with the students showing their products (the book hooks) to parents, who are invited to a presentation on campus. The real assessment of the students knowledge and skill is measured through their work and the effect it has on the intended audience (very much a reflection of how the real world operates).

I thought in this blog I would highlight some of the lessons learned from this summer program.

First, the students are presented with a goal during the first hour of the program: they must create high-quality book hooks and complete and present them by the end of the week. An authentic audience is connected to the work, which provides motivation.

Second, learning occurs in context to the work at hand, rather than to simply prepare for a test. Students must learn to operate Microsoft Paint and Moviemaker, study storyboarding, elaboration and other techniques, and utilize cameras and video equipment to produce their product.

Third, students are provided an outlet for creativity and are presented with choices in regards to what books to feature and how to construct their book hook. They are allowed to take ownership of the project.

Finally, the project is student-driven. After instruction is provided, the students spend most of the week working independently on their projects, with guidance if needed. They work in teams, deciding which teammate will complete certain tasks. The students are also responsible for organizing and hosting the parent presentation and must handle everything from technology to greeting parents to cleaning up.

What some might term summer camp fun is really education based on best practices developed by gifted education researchers.
These concepts simply work in education; while there are certainly other approaches needed for the particular needs of students, these gifted approaches can be infused into general education classrooms to supplement positive practices that are already in place.
Thank you,