by Cheryl Turner, Assistant Director of Elementary Education
West Clermont Schools
Driving a New Student Experience Through Innovative Learning
Innovative learning puts students in the driver’s seat. It is at the very heart of being student-centered, which is a key component to West Clermont’s strategic plan. To be clear, innovative learning does not mean getting rid of the basics — what we commonly refer to as the 3 Rs (reading, writing, arithmetic). Innovative learning begins with these basic skills, then goes beyond. The 3 Rs are critical starting points for launching student inquiry, dialogue, critical thinking, and problem-solving.
There are many buzz words associated with innovative learning models, such as Design Thinking, STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, Mathematics), Project-Based Learning, Genius Hour, Passion Project, Discovery, etc. What they all have in common is a student-centered approach that allows students to take the wheel alongside their teacher for meaningful and engaging experiences. These learning experiences, grounded in academic content, extend to real life problem-solving opportunities or personalized learning experiences where student engagement is high and learning is authentic. Teachers guide and support students through the exploratory, evidence-gathering, and sense-making phases of the learning journey. By providing targeted instruction, feedback, and coaching throughout the process, teachers ensure students continue to make progress.
Innovative learning experiences meet the needs of the modern learner. Student voice is honored, as student curiosity becomes the starting point for a personal learning journey. Students connect and collaborate with peers while researching real-world problems, taking learning risks, and sharing their new learning with others. Students are empowered to ask questions, make mistakes, and constantly refine their thinking based on the acquisition of new knowledge. According to a West Clermont fifth grader, “I learn best with others … taking their learning and adding on to it.”
An innovative learning environment creates space for all learners. It requires a mindshift that begins with a learning environment where students feel free to take risks and make mistakes — mistakes that lead to new learning.
“I am not afraid when things are hard. I like to think,” said a West Clermont first grader.
Technology adds a new dimension to this journey. Rather than a “digital worksheet,” technology becomes a tool to jumpstart inquiry and research, empowering students to become constructors of new knowledge. The use of technology means that learning is not confined by physical space. Learners connect with others beyond the walls of the classroom, including home, community members, or like-minded learners miles away. Fluid and flexible classrooms become part of the learning landscape. These spaces allow learners to work independently, collaborate with peers, or support group discussions.
To be sure, innovative learning opportunities are beginning to emerge across West Clermont. All elementary students participate in one 45-minute discovery learning rotation each week. In addition, Holly Hill is investigating the use of virtual reality to provide students with immersive and engaging learning experiences, while Merwin is planning a family-community STREAM (science, technology, reading, engineering, arts, mathematics) event. Willowville Elementary is launching its second year of project-based learning, featuring a collaborative project with Clermont County veterans.
This is only the beginning of the journey. West Clermont’s Roadmap for Success requires a student-centered learning experience for ALL students; a journey that elevates and meets the needs of the modern learner. As we continue this journey as a community — a community that learns, leads, succeeds — let’s make sure innovative learning is on the map!