Page 15 - THE Journal, January/February 2018
P. 15

ONE DAY in late October the mayor of Johnsonville was setting up a 125-gallon aquarium, which would eventually host a pair of bala sharks, a catfish, three oscars and live coral for real-life science lessons on saltwater habitats. Anthony Johnson’s fourth and fifth graders at Isenberg Elementary School refer to the tank as “Lake Johnsonville.”
Bringing the real world into the classroom is something a lot of teachers are trying to do. It’s something Johnson specializes in. His students are issued funds when they become residents, then they’re expected to pay bills, find work and learn by doing projects. And the mayor is a stickler for keeping schedules, so his students learn how to work with Google calendars to maintain their obligations and appointments. Earlier in the day, a student was waiting at home with his district-issued iPad, ready to connect Johnson to his mom for an
online parent-teacher conference. “That kid set a reminder. He knew at 11:10 we needed to be on that [video] call,” said Johnson. “When I turned it on, he was there waiting for me.”
Project-, problem-, big-picture, or compe- tency-based learning all describe movements afoot to immerse students in authentic expe- riences, which proponents of PBL have long heralded as the route to deeper learning. The challenge for teachers, of course, is coming up with those engaging lessons.
At Isenberg, located in Salisbury, NC, Johnson relies on a school subscription to
DefinedSTEM, a repository of resources that lays out the basics through videos, then provides experiments and projects — “performance tasks” in DefinedSTEM lingo — for students to follow as they learn new concepts. “Everything is there for the kids,” Johnson said. “It’s great because I’m not the teacher doing that problem-based learning. I become the facilitator.”
Tapping into young people’s interests in how the world works is just one ed tech practice we see on the rise. But it’s not the only one. This article explores
Johnsonville students building solar ovens (left) and testing chemicals and physical properties in hands-on learning exercises

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