Tuesday, February 11, 2014

SEM: Is It Really Worth It?

The Schoolwide Enrichment Model: E-Time, enrichment clusters, strength based learning, student driven, interest based experiences.  If you have been following this blog for very long, you know that SEM is something I am quite passionate about.  And why not?  It's all about kids!  It's all about figuring out who they are, what they love, and what they want to do with the passion that lies within them.   More importantly, it's about helping them figure out those things for themselves...and understanding why it matters.

At Austin Elementary, we are becoming pretty well known for asking our learners some interesting questions:
  • What are you interested in?  
  • What do you love to do?  
  • What are you good at?  
  • What are you passionate about? 
  • How can you use that passion to make a difference?
Pretty cool questions, don't you think?  I mean really...as an educator, I can't think of many things more valuable to the success of my learners than my willingness...and ability...to get to know them.  To see them as unique and valuable.  To see them as individuals who have as much to offer me as I do to offer them. 

So, if that's the case, why don't we ask these questions more often?  Why isn't EVERYONE asking these questions?  Why isn't SEM an integral part of every school in the country?  Why are we one of only six elementary schools in Texas actively participating in the Schoolwide Enrichment Model?  Well, one possible answer is simply this...it's hard...and scary...and well...a little bit different. 

 Oh c'mon!  How hard can it be?

Well, let's see...
  • E-Time requires every educator to design student driven, interest based learning  experiences...in addition to his/her regular lesson planning...every Friday.
  • And not only that...it's expected that the tenets of SEM are embedded not only into E-Time every Friday morning, but also into every aspect of campus life.
  • Preparing for E-Time  requires materials and skills that are very often, not found in a traditional classroom.
  • The learners get so excited...calming them down when E-Time is over can sometimes be...well...a challenge.
  • Implementing the Schoolwide Enrichment Model at Austin has been expensive.  Confratute, E-Time and enrichment cluster supplies, professional learning expenses...all these things cost money...lots of money.
  • The Schoolwide Enrichment Model requires educators...and learners...and yes, parents...to think differently about what education, and more importantly, what learning is all about.

And scary...seriously?  What's so scary about a bunch of kids getting super excited about learning?  

Well let's see...
  • No lesson plans for E-Time?  Nope!
  • I may not be an expert in the E-Time topic I am facilitating?  Nope!
  • The learners drive the learning?  Yep! Imagine that!
  • Learners become educators?  Yep! (...and they're pretty good at it too!)
  • I will have visitors in my classroom...again?  Yep!

And different?  So what?  Different is good!  Right?

Well, let's see...
  • Did you hear me say no lesson plans...whaaaattt???
  • Strength based instruction...seriously?   What about remediation?  We need to find out what these kids can't do...and make them do it!  Over...and over...and over...again!
  • Student driven?  Are you kidding me?  What about the standards?  What about the TEKS?  What about The Test?
  • And really...some might question the value of "losing" an hour of instruction every Friday so that learners can "explore their interests."
So...when you consider all the obstacles...when you look at the challenges and yes, the setbacks...is it all worth it?  The time, the money, the frustrations, the tears...are they worth it?   The endless effort, the late nights, the tough conversations...are they worth it?

Well, let's see...

Last week...





Kindergarten learners began "mini-clusters," a 4 week journey of exploration based on their own unique interests, passions, and strengths. 













A  group of 3rd graders had the opportunity to explore
the world of coding!









A fifth grade learner discovered the finer points of stop motion animation.

Click here to see his final creation...

5th Grader - Stop Motion Creation







Fifth grade learners designed a plan for mentoring some younger learners.














Another group of fifth graders worked with a local police officer to create a plan to raise awareness of bullying.








A young learner discovered the joy of creating her own unique piece of art!












The work of C.O.P. Academy, one of our 3rd, 4th, and 5th grade enrichment clusters was featured on the cable broadcast of Coppell Police Department's "Coppell Blue."










 


Coming This Week:

1st and 2nd grade learners will be starting their enrichment cluster journey.  The facilitators (including two community members!) are ready to go and the kiddos are oh so excited!  They will be exploring an incredible variety of topics over the next nine weeks, and I can't wait to see where this journey leads them!  Click on the link below to get a preview of what's to come.







Our very first "Brown Bag Lunch" event will be happening on Thursday morning for 3rd, 4th, and 5th grade learners!  Thirty learners who are interested in learning more about alternative energy solutions will be gathering in the library to enjoy their lunch and hear from Alicia Berdan from "Be-Wind'" an organization that manufactures wind turbines for urban areas.  The presentation will also be live streamed and recorded for future use.








 
Fifth grade learners will be selected to act as facilitator assistants for their younger peers in the 1st and 2nd grade enrichment clusters. 






So, back to my original question...the impetus behind this  long...maybe too long...blog post.

SEM: Is it really worth it?  

Well, let's see...

Is it hard...yes, sometimes.

Can it be scary...yes, sometimes.  Change is always scary.

Is it different?  Definitely! (But sometimes, that's a good thing...) 

But really, is it worth it?

Kids are working with community members, exploring their interests, learning about careers, discovering their talents...all while having a great time and learning that they have the power to do amazing things!

So, I guess the real question is..."Kids: Are They Really Worth It?"  You bet they are!

Works for me!  How about you???

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