Shelter Island may be a small dot on the world map, but its educators are reaching out far beyond this tiny Island to others who can share lessons learned about project-based learning — or students engaging in long-range projects with other students.
Initially, it will be with students from Montauk and Bridgehampton, but eventually, it will include sharing information with students throughout the country and the world. It opens the door for collaboration with teams of students encouraging one another to achieve greater goals, according to proponents of the method.
“They wind up pushing each other even further” than they would from traditional classroom lectures and discussions, said Superintendent Leonard Skuggevik, who has been the driving force behind the effort.
Mr. Skuggevik took over the district three years ago with a five-year plan in mind that was linked to goals of former Superintendent Michael Hynes. Wanting to reach beyond district boundaries, Mr. Skuggevik initially met with superintendents from Bridgehampton and Montauk to collaborate on goals for all three districts. That led to Mr. Skuggevik seeking a speaker for a recent meeting of teachers and administrators from the three districts.
He quickly identified Singapore as the country ranked number one, based on student performances on standardized tests. Singapore is also 10th overall, according to QS World University rankings. Why not go with the best, Mr. Skuggevik decided, and invited Dr. Zachary Walker from Singapore’s National Institute of Education — a frequent speaker and author.
Dr. Walker told the educators gathered on the Island in late December that from what he’s learned about the educational experiences carried out in their districts, they are doing a “phenomenal” job.
His focus presented to the educators was on the way the human brain works. The motivations that excite the brain are often in conflict with the way students are told to behave in schools, he said. The brain responds to five basic motivations — movement, music, social activity, novelty and laughter, Dr. Walker said. But the first thing students are often told is to sit down and be quiet, Mr. Skuggevik paraphrased Dr. Walker’s lecture. The best way to engage students is to have them teach one another since they listen more closely to their peers than to others, Mr. Skuggevik said.
“We have to teach them how to learn” because the jobs they will eventually take often don’t exist yet, Mr. Skuggevik added.
Putting them in situations now where they control their learning prepares them best for the future, he said.
If this all sounds very ambitious, it is, the superintendent acknowledged.
The idea will be put into practice this year with a small pilot project involving students from the three East End school districts before it will expand beyond this area to the wider world.
The steps administrators and teachers from the Island, Montauk and Bridgehampton are plotting now will set the stage for the future, working out kinks at this level so that projects will work smoothly on a world stage as the program rolls out.