As I complete my first year at Catalyst Charter Middle School, I look back over the year to determine several things. I ask myself if the vision I had for the school actually happened. "Think, Create, Collaborate" That is the vision of the school. I see these words every day as I walk down the hall into the school.
"Think"...yes, we created projects and challenges to get the students to think. How can you design a pasta car that demonstrates Newton's Laws of Physics? Students needed to understand the laws in order to apply them. They needed to think when their design failed. Failure often led to the best designs.
"Create"...every project involved creating a product. It is an essential part of Catalyst. Students needed to create a simple machine that would lift an obelisk. Creating is a love/hate affair. Students often created something that they thought would work, only to find that it didn't work. This started the creating cycle over...often, several times.
"Collaborate"...This was the toughest one this year. Collaboration is easier when you can work with your friends but it is much more difficult when you are assigned a group. This year, students were often placed in a variety of teams. Each time, members needed to communicate, share, problem solve and develop a plan. This was not an easy task. Team conferences with staff members was a part of the process because students did not always have the skills to work through the problems in collaboration. One of the goals I have for myself next year, is finding ways to model and guide better collaboration.
The first year in Catalyst was amazing. Yes, it was a lot of work and sacrifice but it also caused me to grow. Isn't that what it is all about? Growing? I had to change the way I viewed learning this year as well as change the way I approached teaching. I no longer was alone in my room but was in a situation where team communication was essential or the projects would fail. This was a tremendous challenge to me but a necessary one to keep me moving forward in my profession. I also looked at my approach to teaching. Was I ready to let go of some of the control in the classroom and hand it over to the students?
There were so many proud moments, especially Showcase Nights when the students needed to take charge and demonstrate to their family and community, what they learned. I have commented many times to the students that the transformation they have made from the first project to the last one demonstrates growth. Initially, students felt very helpless and wanted exact answers. As the year progressed, they learned to think and problem solve. They took more ownership for their learning. No, we haven't reached Eutopia yet but the growth is there.
Already I have ideas swirling around in my head for next year. Summer will give me an opportunity to start the planning process again.