Every educator hopes that their students will be able to apply what they’re learning to a real-world context, but not every teacher is a skilled carpenter or engineer or has experience in forestry or the fishing industry.
But what if there were plenty of people within the learning community willing to share their knowledge and opportunities to extend student learning?
In RSU2 in Central Maine, they’re developing a platform for business leaders and owners, community members and parents to share their expertise, service projects, internships and learning opportunities with students. According to Shannon Heath, a fourth and fifth grade teacher who is a part of a community partnership team that includes teachers and community members, the platform surfaced as a new idea to a persistent challenge within education: families and community members wanting to be supportive and get involved, but not being sure how.
“Community members don’t know what teachers want, and teachers don’t know what community members have to offer,” says Heath. “So we asked ourselves, how can we put this altogether in one place to access that?”
RSU2 is driven to provide real-world application for learning, and this platform would serve a dual purpose in supporting learners and teachers.
“The real-world piece is a hard piece for us to do,” Heath says. “We try to make it real-world, but when everything happens in the classroom, it’s not necessarily real-world.”
In addition to providing a central hub for learning opportunities throughout the community, the platform will also make learning even more transparent: student learning targets can be aligned to the various community-based challenges that they can pursue, and teachers will have a better understanding of the kinds of skills community members hope to see in future graduates through the kinds of offerings shared. Heath cited the economics she’s teaching to her fourth and fifth graders, and the local banks who didn’t realize they had resources to help support the learning, experts who could do more than just come in and speak to her class.
“Community members are gaining a different perspective on elementary, on what we do and what these kids are really capable of,” says Heath. “For us to put out our content and learning targets out there and for the community to know exactly what we’re teaching, they can see what they can offer and how they can make those connections.”
Heath and her team plan to offer the actual design of the platform as a student design challenge at the start of this school year, and Heath is excited to see the tool take off not only in service to student learning, but as a critical bridge to building relationships between schools and the community.
For Heath, she wants community members to know, “they don’t have to have a teaching degree to be a teacher.”