A major change for learning at Byron Middle School
As Byron Middle School (BMS) enters a new decade, the students will encounter a new way of learning thanks to a $100,000 grant that the school recently received from the Bush Foundation.
BMS Principal Richard Swanson said his school already had a relationship with the foundation after their seventh-grade team received a $25,000 grant a couple years ago. That first grant led to projects like National History Day, Google Science Fair, and a mock trial.
“The Bush Foundation gives you an opportunity to apply for another phase of funding so we took that opportunity to try and say, ‘How do we take some of the awesome things we saw in our prototype and put them school-wide and see if the Bush Foundation would still partner with us and help fund that idea,” he said. “Thankfully, they have recently partnered with us with a $100,000 grant to continue our work to try and change the learning experience our kids are having in school. I would deem that major change is going from low-level learning, like recall and short-term memorization, to being an active creator of content. We want to see kids learning at a deep, meaningful level.”
He said that all spring and into summer Byron teachers will be generating ideas and applying for the funding to try new teaching methods.
The teachers will start using the funds this summer all way the through the next two school years.
“What we really want is the staff to get excited about almost having permission to try something different,” Swanson said.
In addition to staff, he also hopes this new way of learning makes students more interested in their classwork.
“We really want to engage our kids into this idea that you can come to school and really engage in high-level thinking by creating something that you’ve learned,” he said.
However, that doesn’t mean that the old way of learning, short-term memorization, will fall by the wayside.
“You need to understand the content before you can get up to synthesizing content, so it’s not saying what’s good or bad. It’s really just saying, ‘How do we engage our kids in deep levels of learning that’s meaningful to them,’” he said.
With a new way of learning comes a new way of teaching for Byron staff.
“A lot of it is a mindset shift, even knowing how do I make sure kids get to inquiry-based learning where they’re experiencing inquiry and really digging into solving problems that are meaningful to them,” he said.
Swanson said teachers will have the creative freedom to implement their own ideas while still meeting state standards.
“I think you can have curriculum tied to standards and we can assess whether kids really know it, but we can also create instructional practice that is really engaging for students. I think you can get both and that’s what we’re trying to do here,” he said. “I think it’ll be a lot of fun to have the freedom to try and meet those expectations yet give our kids a really fun way of doing school.”
Another reason to move towards fun learning is to get students to enjoy learning.
“Research has been pretty clear for a number of years that kids dislike school more every year they’re in it, from kindergarten to seniors. My passion as a principal is to say, ‘That can change, we can make sure kids come to school and love learning because they’re engaged in learning that means something to them,” he said. “Ultimately, those are the goals of what we’re trying to do and it’ll be a lot of fun to see if we can make the system work.”