Summer Institute Reflections

July 20, 2015 by Joshua
in Education, Leadership

I’ve written about inquiry-driven project-based learning and learning leadership and entrepreneurship. It’s a style of teaching that’s one of the main foundations of how I teach and coach leadership. It’s different than lecturing. Here’s why I avoid lecturing when I lead and teach.

This week I’m attending Science Leadership Academy’s intensive Summer Teaching Institute. Science Leadership Academy is a school founded on inquiry-driven project-based learning, so it’s one of the best places to learn it.

To help reflect and share what I learn, I’m posting daily notes here.

Day 1

We practiced parts of two projects: a “court case” about factory conditions (part of a unit on the industrial revolution and its results today) and creating a child’s toy based on neuroscience.

The two teachers leading the sessions chose projects to represent the technique from ones they used in their classes.

What we did

Most of the attendees are K-12 teachers. I’m the only university professor. The exercises are mainly K-12 material, but the teaching style is independent of content.

Last week all the attendees wrote personal essays. At the beginning we met four others one-on-one and read a paragraph from our personal essays to each other.

In the mock court case, the attendees split into four groups, each representing a different constituency in creating clothes in third-world countries. First we did some interaction and context. For interaction we checked the labels on all our shirts for where they were made—I think Asia for all of them. We listened to Are My Hands Clean for some artists’ view. Then we read background on our four constituencies—multinational clothing companies like Nike and H&M, third-world countries’ ruling elite, third-world countries’ workers, and first-world countries’ consumers—and prepared mock opening statements. Then we read the opening statements to the group.

In the neuroscience case we talked about our own observations of what babies learn in their first couple years. Then we watched a video of a second of each day of a baby’s life to see what we could of that development. Then we formed small groups and the teachers distributed some babies’ toys and asked us to consider how the toys correlate with babies’ development, like developing motor skills, communication skills, object permanence, and so on. Then we read an online resource on some aspects of brain development in babies at different stages. Then our small-group assignment was to use some of the neuroscience as bases to design a new toy for babies at a given development stage.

Independent of the sub-projects, we also separately wrote about ten minutes on a problem we solved, then met in small groups to share what we wrote about and listen to others’ stories, then met as a group to list the common elements of successful projects. The list was refreshing—more so than a list of what listening to lectures gives you.

Finally, at the end of the session we reflected and wrote about our experiences for ten minutes.

All the exercises were engaging and made you think. It’s clear they had to think a lot about them and plan them. You don’t just think about the content. You think of how it applies to your life, how to work with each other, how to demonstrate your work, and things like that.


Both sub-projects began with some exposure to the relevant field—the case against different parties who could be responsible for factory conditions or reading on neuroscience.

Each also had us interact and talk about the issues. We read where each other’s clothes were made. We talked about what babies learn in their first two years, played with children’s toys, and watched a video. We analyzed the meaning of each.

Each had relevant materials. We read news articles about factory conditions, multinationals, etc. Or we read an online neuroscience educational tool. We played with children’s toys from the perspective of neuroscience.

Each clearly stated the deliverables and how to evaluate them, built on the earlier work. On opening statement (as part of a larger court case). A new toy plus marketing plan.

We had time to work. The teachers were available for questions. The deliverables were easy to read on the screen while we worked. We could hear and see others working but their projects were slightly different. We had to distribute tasks ourselves. We knew how much time.

We presented our results to the rest of the class. An opening argument. A toy. Others commented.

Assessment and content delivery are the same. Public accountability motivates.

We reflected at the end by writing this, which internalizes it.

Connections to my classes

I haven’t created such interactive in-class exercises. I don’t give them such specific tasks or outcomes. I more often say “Meet for ten minutes and discuss what happened when you worked at home,” which is effective if they’ve done the home exercises and more effective than lectures, but this way has obvious advantages.

Broader observations

The exercises were engaging. You lose yourself in them. You didn’t think about what grade you’d get.

Applied to life situations.

New questions

How much time did it take to create these exercises?

How do you know how well it will work until you do it?

What if it doesn’t work? How do you recover?

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