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Learning By Doing

posted on October 19, 2017 by Center Staff

Learning By Doing One of the great myths of traditional school systems is the so-called “real world,” a separate realm or reality that students travel to only after graduation; a reality far from that of the school. The New Mexico Center for School Leadership strives to dispel this myth. The Center encourages students to discover how they interact with our living world on a daily basis. We believe the classroom should not merely resemble the “real world” but play an active role within it. This approach is a response to a community call for career readiness, as identified in the Learning Alliance of New Mexico’s 2015 Community Dialogues report, which emphasized the importance of Learning by Doing. By implementing hands-on learning within the classroom and developing student projects with outside industry partners, the Center’s schools engage students who are unengaged by traditional classroom settings, and prepares them to take leadership roles in the working structures of the “real world.”

Lucy Alfonso, a project teacher at ACE Leadership High School, is an authority on Learning by Doing. Alfonso developed a strong Learning by Doing teaching method at an independent school in Kansas when she realized that her Spanish students learned language faster when they went outside to discuss nature, played musical instruments, or sculpted vocabulary words with play-dough. “I started breaking out of the norm,” Alfonso told us. “I asked for tables [rather than desks] and then I started moving chairs around and got the kids up and moving.”

The success of this method in her own classroom led Alfonso to teach several seminars about hands-on language learning in Panama and Costa Rica before coming to ACE, where she now collaborates with other teachers and community partners to implement programs that develop students’ Spanish and professional skills. In a recent project called Harmonious Human Habitats, or “Triple H,” students explored sustainable landscaping alongside Bill Reilly, a construction manager for Habitat for Humanity. “He asked the kids to design several different plots for doing some xeriscaping and drought tolerant plants, and so the kids got actual diagrams, and we went to the houses and measured things out,” Alfonso explained. Students demonstrated their proficiency in Spanish, math, and science at a final exhibition where they discussed topics including edible landscape design, xeriscaping, water harvesting, biomimicry, and conservation with industry professionals and community members. Every project at ACE concludes with an exhibition, and every student presents his or her portfolio to professionals interested in securing the future of their fields.

Creative teachers such as Lucy Alfonso develop curricula that respond to local needs, preparing graduates to fill the gaps in today’s workforce. Some of Alfonso’s students come back to visit her after graduation, and she takes pride in their success. “I know I’m just a small part, a grain of sand along the path to success, because they’ve had so many people that supported them here, including their parents. I just like to see them doing well. It feels like I did something right.” These students are engaged in their community and their future and are ready to get their hands on the world.

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