Award-winning educator Leslie Schoof taught biology and physical science at Madison Early College High School for about 9 years. She recently transferred to Madison High School where she will continue teaching biology and physical science, but will also have a role as an Instructional Coach for the science department.
We recently caught up with her and asked her to talk with us about what’s happening for her in the classroom, and how her work is shifting and evolving.
1. What things are important to you in your work? How is your work changing this year as a result of the pandemic?
The most important thing to me has always been having a student-centered classroom. I want to provide my students with opportunities to think on their own, grow their communication and presentation skills, and most importantly, learn how to learn. In today’s world you can google anything you don’t know, but Google can’t help you with learning how to be a creative and independent thinker. Schools need to change the way we teach so that students are ready to tackle these huge challenges that are in front of us. Worksheets and lectures just won’t cut it anymore.
“Schools need to change the way we teach so that students are ready to tackle these huge challenges that are in front of us. Worksheets and lectures just won’t cut it anymore.”
This year the pandemic has really thrown education a curve ball. Getting kids involved in Challenge Based Learning (CBL) is a monumental task in the best of circumstances. The students had just begun work with the local community to revitalize an abandoned park near the school when COVID shut things down. Now we’re learning how to build community among our students virtually and at the same time trying to figure out how to move forward with our park project in a safe and meaningful way. Plus just trying to teach all the usual content as well. I don’t think anybody has the answers yet, but I’m a big believer in productive struggle.
2. How did you get connected with Constructive Learning Design? What impact has that had for you?
Constructive Learning Design (CLD) was hired by Madison County Schools to provide Instructional Coaching services to our teachers. As time went on Jay Korreck offered a Coach Academy so that our teachers could learn how to become Instructional Coaches. Last year, Jay and CLD invited us to be a part of RootEd, a collaborative partnership with Gear Up at Appalachian State University to support teachers in their journey to implement Challenge Based Learning in the classroom.
Jay and CLD have had a tremendous impact on Madison Early College High School and on me personally. I have learned so much from the CLD team from how to give meaningful feedback to how to build a relationship between coach and teacher, to how to create a Challenge Based Learning project from scratch. They are truly a force for positive change in education.
3. What would you like to share with other educators?
I would love for people to understand the story of MECHS’s Project Based and Challenge Based Learning journey. I think we are a great model of how you can take a semi-traditional approach to teaching and completely turn it into something new by using PBL/CBL. I want people to see that we listened to our students’ feedback and tailored the CBL experience to their needs. I also want folks to know just how excited the kids were to be involved with projects that have the potential for a lasting impact on their community.
I think we are a great model of how you can take a semi-traditional approach to teaching and completely turn it into something new by using PBL/CBL.
This is the website MECHS created to showcase our CBL experience from last year; the video below begins with photos from our park project.
4. What’s happening now with the park? And what is changing about the way you and the students (and the local community) are approaching the project?
The short answer is that right now nothing is happening, but we have hopes. We (the teachers at MECHS) are signed up for another year of working with RootEd and Appalachian State and we have a kick-off planned for fall. I’m hoping that we’ll be able to come up with a plan to at least get us started on the project during this crazy time.
Due to our circumstances CBL will have to look different than it did last year. One of the biggest advantages to being part of RootEd was the time that was set aside to allow teachers to plan together. I’m hoping that we’ll be able to come up with some “out-of-the-box” ideas on the 3rd.
I think it could be really powerful for kids to see teachers working through a challenge like this. How do we craft a project that gives kids the opportunity to engage with their community during a pandemic? It’s CBL at a whole new level. I’m hoping that kids will learn from us that doing for each other and trying to make the world a better place are things that you just keep plugging away at, no matter how hard things are.