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Northeast Middle School

3 Lessons for Empowered Teaching

3 Lessons for Empowered Teaching

The following blog post was written by Patrice Banks, Spark-Y Sustainability Educator, on her experiences as an educator at Northeast Middle School and Columbia Heights High School.

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I visualize traditional teaching methods as opening up students heads, pouring in info, and changing what they may have grown to know. As an educator, I’ve learned to draw away from this method of teaching for middle-school and high-school aged adolescents. Lecturing is not always effective for youth if it’s not catered to them as an audience. I have found that traditional teaching methods simply do not work in most K-12 classrooms.

With all honesty, when I agreed to this educator role, I did not expect the impact the students would have on me. In this post, we will be exploring three ways I have changed my approach to education as a result of these experiences.

There is patience to be a scholar, and patience to be a teacher.

PROGRAMMING BACKGROUND

Spark-Y is committed to deepening its involvement in regular weekly programming at two of our partner schools: Northeast Middle School and Columbia Heights High School. Our mission in these programs is simple: empower youth with hands-on education rooted in sustainability and entrepreneurship. We rely on sustainability educators such as myself to drive changes in the classroom and teach content relevant to STEM-education, professional and personal development, amongst other things.

I’ve realized teaching requires more than my presence in the schools to empower youth. To enhance these students’ learning experiences and empower them, it’s important to make strides towards trust and relationship-building. As an educator, I’ve had to adjust my way of teaching so that students may better interact with each other and supporting teachers; intuitively teaching them to be change makers.

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3 Lessons for Empowered Teaching

Collaborative Learning

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At Northeast Middle School, 7th graders engineered and constructed raised garden beds for use in their school’s courtyard. This build was the first of its kind at the middle school, and a first-time experience for most students. Using their strengths in creativity and inquiry, the students cooperatively designed the garden beds for use throughout the school year. Despite the long duration of winter this year and blizzard filled days, 7th graders genuinely enjoy being able to use the outdoor space for learning.

The road to where students felt comfortable merging their social strengths with learning about sustainability did not come easy - I had to have more patient with teaching newer concepts to students. I was not used to ‘group work’ for middle schoolers, and this is where I was the one learning something new. Middle school youth are more passionate about working as a team to solve problems. To testify to this, even disruptive students involved and outside classes have verbalized that they want to help with varying projects even when they are not asked to. I also rarely see students engage in Spark-Y activities by themselves at the school. By creating an atmosphere of collaborative learning, youth in the classroom are more engaged and empowered.

I believe there’s a source light that every student has waiting to be shared with others!

Linking Youth Empowerment to School and Community Needs

“We just don’t do what some of these neighboring middle schools do with their waste,” said one participating Columbia Heights high school student when asked to reflect on the schools waste management. This led to more questions about the why behind the school’s lack of encouraged participation in waste reduction.

After learning what these students felt about their school’s initiatives, it became apparent to me the importance of linking youth empowerment to meeting the needs of the school and school community. While students can still gain empowerment by helping others, they get even more emboldened as they identify the differences they’re making in their school community.

This year at Columbia Heights High School (CHHS), Spark-Y drew students closer to establishing organic waste diversion through the utilization of a vermicomposting system. Along with other opportunities, youth have been engaging and learning through the maintenance of a now-thriving school aquaponics system, as well as project builds at the Blooming Heights garden. This project uniquely linked empowerment and sustainability to the needs of this school population.

Another need in schools, is the consideration of other factors, such as economic disadvantages or race/ethnicity. In fact, big differences between test score ratings for different race/ethnic groups may suggest that some student groups are not getting the support they need. These are the schools and classrooms where Spark-Y’s meaningful and on-purpose hands-on teaching presence is needed.

Hands-on Learning to Support Creativity

In most public school systems, students are provided with schedules to help with the organization of their day. Similar to previous decades; students follow standard schedules beginning, ending, and changing classes at the same time. The benefit of this is that there is order and structure. The disadvantage of this is just that - there is order and structure.

My suggestion to educators seeking to have an engaging environment: stimulating students’ learning with a hands-on approach rather than having students simply sit, listen, and memorize.

Consider this: seek to learn from our students as we strive to make an on-purpose effort to engage and empower them!

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I hear I forget.


I see and I remember.
I do and I understand.

- Chinese Proverb

First 17 in 2017: The Highlights

First 17 in 2017: The Highlights

The Spark-Y team has really hit the ground running in 2017!

We’re only three months into this new year and we’ve already accomplished a lot. Here are 17 highlights for the start of 2017:

1) We added a new member to our team. Michelle Chmura joined our Spark-Y family, accepting the position as Action Educator for Crossroads Elementary.

2) Minneapolis Mayor visited our Shark Tank day at Northeast Middle School and declared January 13th NEMS/Spark-Y Sustainability Day in the city of Minneapolis!  Read about more about this exciting day here.

3) We had a FANTASTIC build day at Northeast Middle School in January - when all 150 7th graders participated in constructing the system they designed. (Yeah, kids with power tools!)

4) We kicked off a professional mentorship program with our amazing sponsor, Lube-Tech.

5) Summer internship applications are open, and we are already interviewing candidates! Learn more about our annual summer internship here.

6) Students at the Integrated Arts Academy made a pitch to funders from their school districts, proposing their designs for a bigger aquaponics system.

7) Our Operations Team started koi breeding at the Urban Ag Lab, an exciting potential for revenue raising to bolster support for school programming.

8) Our Mushroom lab has had an overhaul: we are growing at the Urban Ag Lab and teaching workshops. Watch our facebook page for upcoming events!

9) The DIY Bio Lab is expanding into new topics, supplying our educators with new classroom kits and science learning. You can learn more about DIY Bio on the Urban Ag Lab page, here.

10) Our Board of Directors is launching an Innovation Committee, aimed at pushing Spark-Y into frontiers of cutting-edge projects.

11) Edison High School launched an impressive aquaponics system. The largest school aquaponics system in the state, maybe even the WORLD!

12) Spark-Y Founder, Mary Helen Franze, was a key speaker at the Eide Bailly Resourcefulness Event.

13) Our Lab Director, Destiny Zeibol, and Program Director, Rhiannon Dalrymple, led an arduino workshop for professional teacher development at Crossroads Elementary. Teachers were inspired and educated on the use of arduinos in classrooms.

14) Roosevelt Urban Farm Squad have overhauled the waste system at their school, and are leading a student-driven recycling awareness and collection program! 

15) Our classes at Bright Water Montessori have put together two vermicomposting bins which are aimed at helping the school use their food waste as a resource.

16 ) Spring is just around the corner so our students are busy working on garden plans, raising seedlings, and the Spark-Y spring plant sale! Be sure to friend us on Facebook for plant sale announcements.

17) We are planning an incredible FUNdraiser - the Spark-Y Urban Adventure Race! August 5th will be an action-packed, fun-filled day in Uptown, Minneapolis.  Proceeds will go right back into making 2017 the best year yet.  Learn more here.

Here's to a great kick-off in 2017!

Shark Tank Gains Citywide Attention

Shark Tank Gains Citywide Attention

Spark-Y has always been about empowering youth and letting students take control of their education and their future, and students who participate in Shark Tank events in Spark-Y programs get to do just that. These activities are great learning experiences for all ages and have been used throughout the semester in all kinds of schools, including Northeast Middle School, Prairie View Elementary, and Edison High School in the EASY Pro program!

Shark Tanks are an interdisciplinary activity that showcase the student ideas for the design and utilization of the sustainable systems being installed through their Spark-Y program. Preparing their ideas, designs and pitches is often an intensive group project – a great opportunity to practice those all-important teamwork skills in a supported way. Shark Tanks, where students pitch their projects to a panel of experts or community members, also allow students to showcase their developing professional skills, including greetings and handshakes, oral and visual communication, and problem solving and critical thinking. Students get the opportunity to take real ownership, not only of these projects and their education, but also of the bigger developments on their school campus’.

The Shark Tank event at Northeast Middle School on Friday Jan 13th is one that will go down in Spark-Y history! 7th graders pitched their aquaponics system designs and utilization plans to an all-star panel of professionals from the school district, and city and state leadership. We were so humbled to have the following wonderful people support our students:
Mayor Betsy Hodges, Senior Policy Adviser to the Mayor Phillipe Cunningham, Council Member Kevin Reich, Senator Jim Carlson, Michael Thomas MPS Chief of Academics, Leadership & Learning, Macarre Traynham MPS Executive Director of Teaching and Learning, Naomi Taylor MPS Co-Chair of Pedagogy of Equity, Ed Graff MPS Superintendent, Betsy Stretch MPS STEM Curriculum Integration Specialist , Eric Moore MPS Chief of Accountability, Innovation, & Research, Susanne Griffin MPS Deputy Chief Academic Officer, Jenny Arneson MPS Board of Education Treasurer, Jackie Hanson MPS Associate Superintendent and Vernon Rowe Principal of Northeast Middle School.

PHEW!

To top it all off – the Mayor proclaimed Friday Jan 13th 2017 to be Northeast Middle School / Spark-Y Sustainability day in the City of Minneapolis!

What a powerful way to show these kids that they are seen, they are heard, and they are respected leaders in our community. Shout out to a community that shows up for youth!