I strongly believe that connecting the students with the world around them is vital, during and beyond the school year. Providing students with engaging, cross-curricular, hands-on, experiential learning units is key to the success of any child’s education.
My approach to teaching really reflects the way I view the world: Everything is connected and interrelated. It is my task as an educator to facilitate these experiences to allow students to see the world that surrounds them through a critical lens. It is critical they make connections that already exist between our various content areas. Not only have my own personal experiences taught me that this approach is extremely successful, but studies have demonstrated improved academic outcomes for students taught using a hands-on, thematic approach, as opposed to a traditional textbook approach.
Over the years I have developed a partnership with The National Park Service (NPS), “America’s Best Idea.” In conjunction with the approaching 100-year anniversary of the NPS, my students have been working with The President’s Park in Washington D.C. on a project called “The White House Centennial Project.” Over this past year my students have not just been learners of the history of the United States and its Presidents at the White House, but now have transitioned into teachers of this vital history themselves. They have created investigations for future students to conduct both in the White House Visitor Center and outside on the grounds of the park itself. Investigations range from questions like “How does the White House change during the time of war?” to exploring the effects of climate change on the treasured memorials in the park. They ask students to assess damage of both physical and chemical weathering on the memorials and statues and problem solve solutions to fixing the damage. Perhaps the most exciting investigation is interviewing protestors north of the White House. What are they protesting? What are their goals? How would you come up with a compromise to please both parties? To learn more about this project check out their work on our blog: http://www.mrrkaiser.com/blog/category/white-house.
Our plan is to use what we did at the White House as a template in future projects. We want the students not just to transition into teachers, but to be stewards of our country and its complex and inspiring history as well.
Ryan Kaiser is a Social Studies teacher at the Mount Washington School and the 2015 Maryland Teacher of the Year