January 15, 2014 - For Stacy and Adam Swick of Clarkston, elementary school isn't what they remembered.
From left, Emma Neumann, Harris Barnes, and Jake Michaels discuss their project. (click for larger version)
"It's changed so much since we were in school," said Stacy, during a tour of Pine Knob Elementary, Dec. 11.
The parents were part of a tour to check out how the school is implementing Cultures of Thinking routines throughout the day.
"It's interesting – definitely different from the way I was taught," Adam said. "I'm trying to figure out how it would work with our son. Some areas, they seem to be doing really well. Others, I'm not so sure."
"I like the approach – learning in different ways," Stacy said. "My concern is, are they learning the basics, spelling and math. How does this apply to increasing test scores?"
Principal Jodi Yeloushan said Cultures of Thinking supports the curriculum.
"Teachers still work with the basics and state-required benchmarks," Yeloushan said. "Routines are another teaching tool, they're not the curriculum in itself."
They still have multiple choice, essay, and other conventional tests. Students will come across them in district and state assessment tests and need to be able to take them, she said.
"They still have to learn it all," she said.
Heidi Wright, fifth grade teacher, demonstrated how the thinking-routines program works, leading her class in a writing exercise on the Age of Exploration, integrating informative writing and social studies.
The small-group exercise required students to take the explorer's perspective when answering questions, with more collaboration and less reading.
"We could just have them read textbook and take a test. Now, it's very interactive," Wright said.
Karen Kumon said she has seen her fifth grade students become deeper thinkers with routines. As a student, she remembers her teacher showing them how to do math, from the blackboard.
"I didn't know why," Kumon said.
Now, they explore math concepts with blocks to allow students to figure it out themselves.
"It's a way for them to take ownership of their own learning," Kumon said. "Instead of me talking to them, they figure out their own patterns."
Teachers work with students who have trouble with concepts in groups and individually while excelling students work on advanced work.
The ultimate goal is to teach students how to be thinkers, Wright said.
"The language we use, everything we do here promotes a culture of thinking," she said. "It's more than routines here and there."
This is the third year of Culture of Thinking, stemming from work with Project Zero, an international educational conference hosted by Clarkston Community Schools in 2012.
Phil is editor for The Clarkston News. He is a veteran of the first Iraq war, having served in the U.S. Army.