A New Culture of Teaching & Learning

From Apathy to Agency: 
A new culture of teaching & learning

On June 9, high school students in upstate NY transformed their gym into Titan Memorial Hospital. That day, instead of backpacks, they donned doctors' scrubs to perform surgery on their selected pathology, from knee replacement to coronary heart disease, on paper mâché bodies they built themselves. Students had networked with professionals to learn, watched surgery videos, and spoke with patients to deeply understand the disease they were addressing.

But beyond an incredible hands-on learning experience for the students, there was something deeper happening...

Students discovered they had a strong voice in their learning and began to exercise it. Teachers were willing to be vulnerable and learn alongside their students. A fundamentally new culture of Teaching & Learning was taking shape across Greece Central School District. 

Design Thinking Experience, February 2015

How did this all begin? Teacher Leaders & Principals from across the district came together to tackle what students had self-identified as "apathy" toward their studies. These educators rolled up their sleeves to discover, build, and test ways to spark students to take leadership over their own learning process.

1 / Build Empathy

Educators listen deeply to both struggling and high-achieving students. 

2 / Frame Opportunities for Design

Educators define starting questions to help spark ideas. 

How Might We...

…help students apply and connect academic topics to things they care about in “real life?”

…provide the teacher with real-time feedback on where students are “getting it” or where to go deeper?

…help students adapt the physical environment to fit the task at hand?

…elevate students to positions of power in the classroom and beyond?

3 / Make Ideas Tangible

Educators used rough materials to bring their ideas to life in a form that students could experience first-hand.

4 / Try Ideas with Users

Turning the tables, the educators pitch to a panel of students for their critique and expert feedback:

The Result?

Four months later, the Teacher Leaders and students from this workshop built upon the Magic School Bus idea to design and launched Surgery Day!

The Living Environment teacher observed not a rise in test scores and stronger performance, but also students embracing the subject matter more.

But, more importantly, student began taking agency to shape their own learning. A new level of trust and relationship had been built between students and teachers. And a fundamentally new culture of Teaching & Learning was emerging.