Developing our students’ secret sauce

Everyone loves a good recipe but this “secret sauce’ isn’t something you eat…instead it is what you do that is unique to you. It’s your niche, where you shine, what makes you stand out from the crowd, and something I think a lot about as a mom and as a teacher.  Developing lifelong learners is a goal of brain-based teaching and something that is “caught” and can be “taught”.

Where to start:  Maybe you have heard of Google’s 20% time.  “We encourage our employees, in addition to their regular projects, to spend 20% of their time working on what they think will most benefit Google. This empowers them to be more creative and innovative. Many of our significant advances have happened in this manner.” (Founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin, 2004 IPO letter).  This approach has been adapted for the classroom through strategies like “genius hour”, where students of all levels are empowered and given time to explore their own passions and interests.  (Check out and Edutopia for great resources about this approach).

How I do it:  As a teacher of 7th graders I am committed to giving students class time to be curious about various topics they choose, not just what the standards or curriculum map dictates.  My hope is that by inviting students into 20% time they will develop projects that will continue to engage them in learning and possible become significant Senior Capstone Projects, college programs of study, and careers that intersect calling, knowledge, and skills.  My 7th grade students have practiced coding, studied Japanese, read about apologetics, deciphered physics problems, learned more coding, perfected sketching and duck calling, practiced backhand springs, expressed gratitude to parents and family members, and worked as teams to bring awareness to global issues like polar bear extinction, diabetes, and homelessness.  Sure, there are tests that must be taken, but as Dr. Ted Spiker says in his tips for high school graduates, the greatest compliment they could get in college is not “good job” but “how in the world did you do that?”


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