Engineers, scientists, manufacturers, professors, doctors, and lawyers look on as she confidently begins her presentation, “Reverse engineering: the process of transforming an existing part into a new design and testing various conditions prior to manufacture.“ She holds a cumbersome catapult as large as she is. A screen displays isometric drawings. The room is silent and the crowd engrossed as this 8-year-old, barely visible over the table, explains how she designed, tested, and recreated the contraption cradled in her arms. As she finishes, murmurs travel around the room, “how old is she, she must be gifted, how is such advanced thinking possible…?”
Sofia is a third grader and English is her second language. She resides in the most impoverished neighborhood in the school district, is often the primary care taker for her younger siblings and is sometimes without electricity -- burdens larger than her catapult. Sofia is not a traditionally ‘gifted’ student, but she possesses curiosity and creativity. Sofia is one of twenty-five students in her class and did not begin the school year reading at grade level. Today, in front of a crowd of industry partners, she is an engineer, scientist, mathematician, and entrepreneur, explaining her design and the trials and tribulations of her successes and failures. Her future has no ceiling.
Sofia’s story is not unusual. Children come to school with the cognitive capacity to engage with the enterprise of learning in serious ways. However, this talent and passion for discovery often diminishes by the time students enter third grade and leads to a sobering insight: the education system underestimates what children are capable of as students —the bar is set too low. MindSpark knows firsthand there is no “magic” solution, but there are highly effective, well-researched models of teaching and learning that inspire scholastic success through cognitive engagement. Within these techniques, students are not merely targets of change nor are educators bystanders to the pendulum swing of what's trendy. Rather, both are active partners with leading voices, critical consumers of information, and producers of creative work.
MindSpark has given one particularly effective learning method a 21st century upgrade. Problem-based learning (PBL) is one of the oldest and most effective learning models. It positions students in real world, professional contexts involving problems of policy, process, and ethics. Learning strategies help students discover the nature of a problem; by understanding a problem’s constraints and the different resolution options, defining the input variables, and considering different viewpoints, students learn to negotiate the complex sociological nature of a problem and how competing resolutions inform decisions. PBL transcends the traditional educational community to embrace entrepreneurs, researchers, and artificial intelligence, providing a context for all children to achieve their creative and intellectual potential. By modifying their learning habits, students, educators, and partners become powerful role models of curiosity, risk-taking, imagination, critical appraisal, collaboration and strategic thinking.
MindSpark qualifies educators and school systems so that instead of a special project or unit that happens inconsistently throughout a student’s journey, PBL happens every day. MindSpark’s problem-based learning institutes immerse all educators and leaders, using 6 key connected tenets:
- Unleashed learning and teaching
Students and educators as partners in change
Achievement through investment
Strong public engagement
Inspiring and inclusive vision
The results speak for themselves; educators engaged in our robust PBL method report more job satisfaction and seek more professional learning. Currently, MindSpark educators have an 88% retention rate compared to those who have not worked with the organization. Educators report increased student engagement and higher academic achievement especially for typically underperforming students. Additionally, given its relevant and authentic use of materials and problem solving methodologies, even parents report that their children enjoy learning more. Finally, communities report increased support for schools within the model by over 82% compared to traditional practices. Professional learning and support for PBL does not take years but hours, and it’s not reserved for “innovative” schools only.
Imagine a student like Sofia has already developed more start-up companies by the age of fourteen than the traditional MBA candidate. Imagine classrooms where neuroscientists co-teach and engineers present problems for students to solve. Through immersion in MindSpark’s problem-based learning model; students develop self-regulation and advocacy skills while promoting stewardship and entrepreneurialism. This modernized technique has no admissions requirement, it is not reserved for those who can afford it or test into it, rather it is experiential and serves all children as they develop, learn, and embrace new identities.
Make your students as successful as Sofia, here.