As Colorado’s oldest “school of minds,” now entering our 40th year of serving gifted students in the Front Range, Mackintosh Academy is a treasure trove of creative ideas and innovative strategies for working with gifted learners. One challenge we face is how to free those ideas and strategies from within the walls of our own campus and share them with other educators who can use them.
Joe Pausback and Lula Guilbert, both veteran Mack-Littleton teachers, have some thoughts on how to do that, and attended conferences locally to share their innovative teaching techniques with other educators. On Saturday, October 8, Lula and Joe presented for the second year in a row at Share Fair Nation, a conference for educators held yearly in the Denver metro area. Rather than simply talking about their lessons, Joe and Lula led teachers in a hands-on, interactive demonstration of lessons that they’ve used in their own Mack classrooms. Lula says, “When you go to a conference and they talk about how great hands-on active learning is, and then they just give you a PowerPoint about how great hands-on active learning is, they’re missing the point!”
Joe and Lula led their workshop attendees in four activities they’ve found most engaging for their students. One highlight was the activity where their teacher “students” put on rubber swim caps and drew the anatomy of the brain with Sharpies. An educator shared that she had used one of Lula’s activities from the past year – turning the classroom into a giant map of Colorado – and found it really successful. Joe says, “That was really gratifying to hear. We have the opportunity at Mack to be really creative in how we do things and it’s great to have the opportunity to get out and share what we’ve learned and what’s worked for us.”
A few days later, Lula presented at the Colorado Association for Gifted and Talented conference in Loveland. CAGT is Colorado’s largest conference for gifted educators, professionals who work with the gifted and parents, with over 400 attendees. The conference theme was “Create – Innovate – Inspire” – a perfect fit for Lula’s presentation on “Making in the Classroom: Design Thinking and Problem Solving.” Approximately 50 people attended Lula’s session, where after her brief presentation on “the what, how and why” of design thinking, they were asked to work in groups in a sort of “mini-design lab.” Using 20 wooden skewers and rubber bands, participants were challenged to create the tallest, most stable “earthquake-safe” tower possible. After measuring the height, they used a shake table to destabilize their design, measured again and re-designed and tested the tower for stability – just as her own students had in class that week. Lula noticed that her adult learners asked the same kind of inquiry questions that her third and fourth grade students asked: “What would happen if…” and “I wonder if…”
After the hands-on lesson, Lula addressed the participants’ big question: “How do I make this work in MY classroom?” Lula says, “People always say ‘that won’t work for me’ and I wanted to help them see how they could really do this in their classes!” She discussed the time, budget, and other resources needed for this kind of hands-on work, and encouraged her audience to “think interdisciplinary” by integrating math, science, and language skills into the same lesson to meet multiple standards.
As veteran Mack teachers with a wealth of experience and ideas for innovative lessons, Joe and Lula were thrilled to reach out to fellow colleagues and be a resource for creativity and innovation. As Joe says, “At Mack, our classrooms can be an experimental think-tank, and we can be really innovative within the IB standards. And if we do it and keep it to ourselves, that’s great for our kids, but if we can get out and share and reach other teachers, that’s even better.”