The ways local schools are innovators in education

Whether they are using innovative smartphone apps or teaching kids face-to-face mediation techniques, schools around the Chicagoland area are finding innovative ways to help students.

At The Gardner School, which serves six weeks old through prekindergarten in multiple locations, parents and teachers communicate through the Precioustatus App, which allows teachers to document a child’s day.

“It’s not just for parents to learn the things they need to know, but it’s also a way to know what delighted and inspired their child,” says Joy Haynes, marketing manager for The Gardner School. For younger kids, this might be recording feedings or naps. But for older children, it might be a way to show off the puzzle the student mastered or a visitor that inspired them.

At Bennett Day School, students and teachers work together to create a digital portfolio that goes beyond a traditional report to create a holistic look at the student’s academic progress.

“It’s a visual depiction of what they’ve accomplished and learned and to track their growth and development over their time in our school,” says Martin Moran, the lead designer and director of the upper school at Bennett Day School. When they’re younger, teachers amass videos and photos to identify major developmental milestones. As the students age, they work with teachers to decide what to include.

Karen Carney, head of school for Chicago Friends School, says the school focuses on a whole school, multi-age community that learns and works together.

“Collaboration across grade level is important for students in many ways,” Carney says. “It allows our younger students to have helpers and role models about how to be a member of the community. It allows our older students to take on different roles: teacher, coach, co-learner and role model.”

Multi-age learning environments have been shown to reduce competition and build empathy, she says. The school achieves this through annual instructional theme, where each student pursues a specific theme at their own level. This year’s theme is circles: in science, in social studies and in literature.

Peg Keiner, director of innovation at GEMS World Academy – Chicago, says immersive field studies invite students to learn in an innovative way. Several times a year, the students venture into the city and use Chicago as a “landscape for learning,” she says. Students use iPads and other means of collecting data to observe, record, question and share.

“I really feel like we are able to use museums more as libraries. We can spend a long time ‘slow looking’ at only a few specific, intentional paintings at The Art Institute and be back at school before noon,” she says.

At Resurrection College Prep High School in Chicago, students work with the Mobile Makers program, which allows students to work collaboratively in a 21st century work environment while developing skills that will help them in high school and beyond.

The Mobile Makers program, coupled with the Innovation Lab and new STEAM course offerings, allows students have experiences inside and outside the classroom that allow for career exploration and lifelong enrichment, Principal Rick Piwowarski says.

At Francis W. Parker School, Mary Catherine Coleman, lower and intermediate school library and information services specialist, says the school also focuses on the “maker movement.”

For example, when first-graders studied fairy tales, they created innovative solutions to Red Riding Hood’s transportation problem, the Wolf’s hunger problem and created a community center for Goldilocks so she wouldn’t have to break into the bears’ house.

“We believe that when students are empowered to make and create something new and this is rooted in their learning in other areas of the curriculum, that they will develop an innovator’s mindset and hopefully take that mindset and empowerment as they grow,” she says.

At Sauganash Montessori School in Chicago, students learn in a community-based, home-like setting. In keeping with the Montessori philosophy, it has created a peace corner featuring books and hand mazes, a Zen garden and a “peace poppy” students can offer to another student to peacefully discuss or work out any issue or conflict.

“Children are learning peaceful conflict resolution, learning to listen and to respect others, and learning ways to find inner peace and independently initiate all of these. These are all necessary skills for a future filled with peace,” says Pam Cameron, school administrator.

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