Convention sparks school board interest

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By Audrey Posten, North Iowa Times Editor

Last month, four members of the MFL MarMac school board, along with superintendent Dale Crozier, attended the annual convention of the Iowa Association of School Boards (IASB). The attendees, which included Jonathon Moser, Tonya Meyer, Collin Stubbs and Sharon Greener, went to special sessions focusing on topics like school finance, administrator evaluations and collecting school data. While helpful, several sessions regarding a project-based learning approach and a model of a “classroom of the future” sparked the most interest as attendees discussed their experiences at the Dec. 14 school board meeting.

Project-based learning, said Moser, focuses on going in-depth with content rather than rote memorization. At some schools that have gone to the approach, he said students spend around 20 percent of their time on “passion projects,” which are based on a student’s interest, whether it be music, agriculture, science or public speaking. For example, said Moser, if a student focused on music, he or she would write a song, play all the instruments needed to play the song, then record it and figure out how to market and sell the music by going out into the community.

“That gives them a big edge on communication skills,” he said.

Projects could also be interdisciplinary, he added, incorporating math, science, literacy and more into one project.

Meyer said the approach hasn’t hurt schools in standardized testing; they’ve done just as well.

The key is that is helps prepare students for the future, Moser said, as kids are taught how to find the answer rather than memorize the answer.

“You’re creating better individuals for society,” he said.

Crozier noted that, particularly in the high school, project-based learning is already used in some MFL MarMac classrooms.

Another convention session that intrigued board members was the “classroom of the future,” an open-concept room that incorporates furniture like smaller desks and balance or stability ball chairs. 

“I think we could easily incorporate these features into classrooms,” Moser said.

“We can pick and choose and find ways to do it cheaper,” Greener added.

In fact, some features can already be found at school. With seats that look like medicine balls, the special chairs are available for students to sit on in the McGregor Center library. 

Elementary principal Kathy Koether said the elementary is also in the process of trying out and purchasing some new furniture, including chairs that offer more movement and desks that allow students to stand or pedal their legs, helping them learn more comfortably.

Other topics discussed at the meeting included:

•The board approved the long-term suspension, for the remainder of the school year, for a high school student based on violation of technology use.

•Crozier said he had a private meeting with Gov. Terry Branstad Dec. 15 to discuss topics like transportation inequity, the budget guarantee and small schools.

•Koether said she’s been pleased with community support of the elementary school this year through the snack pack program and Angels Helping Angels, which helps children in need in the district receive winter clothing.

Through that and other donations from local groups and businesses, Koether said she’s gotten 18 pairs of snowpants, 21 pairs of boots and multiple coats, hats and mittens.

“It’s a wonderful experience to have a community that supports the youth to this degree,” she said.

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