La Gazette, 24 March 2015 l Ecole Bilingue de Berkeley
Our daughter, Raquel, is in G5 and started the year with a new English teacher, Karolina Koppany. There is, understandably, a certain amount of apprehension when your child gets a brand new teacher and we were no different. However, from the first day, we knew we were going to have a very different academic year than we have had previously in our 10 years here at EB (our son is currently in 8th grade).
Our daughter talked excitedly about morning meetings, learning circles, debates and, most intriguing of all, she was always doing projects on topics of her own choosing! She was so excited to go to school each day and I found I was relishing asking that daily question, “What did you do today?” Instead of the usual mundane responses, I was suddenly barraged by statements like, “We debated about whether TV is good for you or bad for you. I got placed on the ‘it’s bad for you’ team and we won…even though none of us think it’s bad for us.” And, “I have to do a research project on earthquakes. I think I’ll do it on the new Bay Bridge construction. I’ve always wondered about that.”
In preparation for this article on the direct benefits of Innovative Learning, I asked my daughter to give me her perspective of what is going on in her classroom and what makes it so exciting and different. Here was her analysis:
“Ms. K doesn’t teach like other teachers who just make us do lessons and memorize. Ms. K gives us options and choices. So it’s work but it doesn’t feel like work. And when we have to learn something specific she does fun activities and games like Jeopardy for fractions.”
Karolina is definitely a special teacher but we have lots of special teachers here at EB. I was curious to know why she was striking such a different and wonderful cord with not only my daughter but also connecting with many of the other boys and girls in her G5 classroom. So I asked her what her secrets were.
It turns out that Karolina has been trained in several cutting edge 21st century learning experiences such as Stanford’s Innovation by Design, Harvard’s Project Zero and Making Thinking Visible, the Inquiry-Based Model of Learning, and the Responsive Classroom. All of this is overlaid by a strong adherence to the Happiness Classroom and Whole Brain Teaching Philosophy for happy classroom management.
So what do all of these fancy terms mean to a lay person like you or I? We hear all the time about ‘flipped’ classrooms and I think we immediately imagine a Khan Academy approach where the kids get their lectures at home at night and the homework is done in class. But Karolina is REALLY flipping the classroom. The students are in the driver’s seat and the teacher is the facilitator. This means that Karolina integrates the kids’s own interests and passions into the curriculum. She always gives the children a choice and this makes them take ownership and responsibility for their learning. I personally love that the students come up with their own questions about major topics such as survival, heroism, perspective, discrimination and evolution to research and then present their results at the end of each unit.
She doesn’t follow the traditional classroom model but instead has made a student-centered, skill based and technology embedded classroom that the kids ‘own’. She has consciously stepped out of the lecture model and instead leads mini-lessons, followed by discussions and debates. To foster critical thinking and creativity, she is passionate about finding ways to present thinking through reading, writing and speaking.
And why are the kids so darn happy? Ms. K says, “The goal for every teacher is to help children thrive academically, socially, and emotionally. I also want my students to be curious, to have concern for truth and understanding, to have a creative mindset, and not just be skilled but also be alert to thinking and learning opportunities and be eager to take them. BUT we can’t forget that we all have to be happy to learn. This is the core!”
Ms. K, at least with my daughter, you have succeeded!