Strong Learning

by Adam Dubé, Head of School

In sixth grade, I built an elevator for the middle school science fair. Not a real elevator, of course. It was small and made out of balsa wood, wire, and some motors from my Capsela set. In the process, I learned about how elevators work, tuning a motor to provide the correct gear ratio for lifting items of various mass, and the safety mechanisms protecting the passengers. (Original elevators had no safety brake. It wasn’t until Elisha Otis famously demonstrated his braking mechanism by being hoisted in an elevator and cutting the cables with a sword, engaging the brakes, that people saw elevators as safe.)

I often ask people to share their stories about their science fair projects. Although many people have a hard time recalling the books they read in middle school, or the content of history and science lessons, most of us can recall our science fair projects (if you were asked to do one).

The reason, I believe, relates to the three components of motivation that Daniel Pink identifies in his book Drive. They are autonomy, mastery, and purpose. Students have some autonomy to choose the subject of their project. Their deep dive in that subject yields a degree of mastery of the content. And the purpose is often connected to an individual student’s passions and interests. As the authors of Make it Stick write, “Learning is stronger when it matters, when the abstract is made concrete and personal.” (emphasis added)

At CIS, we strive for students to engage in strong learning. It is a foundational principle for all of the activities that take place in The Cube, taking what is abstract and making it concrete and personal.

As a school, we continuously ask ourselves what matters most for success beyond K-12 education, and how do we make sure to keep students engaged. In the coming posts, I look forward to sharing some of our goals and objectives from our recent strategic plan, as we apply these principles of strong learning to all of our curriculum.