JANESVILLE, Wis. - More than 150 middle school teachers spent Wednesday sitting in the seats of their students.
School District of Janesville students didn’t have class because of parent-teacher conferences. Instead, teachers from the three middle schools spent the day learning how to better engage their students.
“Getting kids out of chairs, getting rid of the rows and empowering our kids to really be engaged in learning day in and day out,” Superintendent Steve Pophal said.
The school district is one of only 10 districts in the country to receive the “Ignite My Future in School” training from Tata Consultancy Services and Discovery Education. Janesville was the second district to participate.
“We’re excited about giving kids an opportunity to do some hands-on things and some problem-based and project-based learning, just to make learning both interesting and fun at the same time,” said Charles Urness, the principal at Franklin Middle School.
Janesville was chosen as one of the 10 pilot districts through connections Pophal has with Discovery Education.
“We’re very excited that Janesville’s at the cutting edge of transforming what teaching and learning looks like,” he said. “To have kids creating content instead of just consuming content and to graduate kids ready to be prepared for their future and not our past.”
The idea behind the training is to incorporate computational thinking into all school subjects, challenging students to understand concepts more in depth instead of just memorizing answers.
“There’s not many jobs where anyone has to sit in a desk, read something and answer questions and pass a test,” said Michol Startup, a sixth-grade math and reading teacher at Franklin Middle School.
She participated in a hands-on training exercise where the teachers were separated into groups and challenged to crack codes and figure out patterns that would open different locks on a case before time ran out.
“It was engaging. It was fun. We were all collaborating together,” Startup said. “So if my students are having fun in the classroom, they’re going to be learning instead of sitting and bored to tears and doodling on their papers.”
Startup said she tries to engage her students on a regular basis and is excited to use some of the new methods she learned at the training session.
“Different activities to use for the students in the classroom so that they enjoy math and then see maybe what they could be doing for their futures and have that application part,” she said.
Presenters from the training were at the parent-teacher conferences at all three middle schools Wednesday night, showing family members what the new teaching method is all about.
“We’ll have showcases of the Ignite My Future in Schools program where families, guardians, cousins, brothers, sisters will get a chance to have some activations and interact with the curriculum and see what their students are doing in school,” said Serene Gallegos, a program manager for Tata Consultancy Services.
The training is part of a five-year partnership among the school district, TCS and Discovery Education. There will be annual hands-on training and online lessons for all teachers to use.