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A game-changer for back to school

First slide

When teachers and students returned to Bishop O’Connell High School in Arlington this week, they were treated to an orientation experience that included flying paper airplanes, building towers with spaghetti, and working with LEGO bricks and Mr. Potato Head. This was more than just ice-breakers; it was the work of the school’s igKnight professional development team working with teachers to help students feel engaged, empowered and excited about learning.

“Drawing from educational reform research dating all the way back to 19th-century pioneers like Benjamin Bloom, John Dewey and Maria Montessori, we know that students learn best from the classes where they feel most actively engaged,” said English teacher and instructional coach John Meehan. “Our goal as teachers is to help get students really excited about the activities that they do in our classrooms in order to inspire deep learning through creativity and choice.”

For the faculty orientation, teachers were divided into teams, working with their colleagues to enhance their teacher “superpowers” with new instructional strategies — talking to one another, learning from one another and asking a lot of questions. Under the umbrella of an “escape room” theme, the teams were on a quest to break into the locked teachers’ lounge to get coffee before the first students arrived at school. Going through this exercise together was an opportunity for faculty to model the collaboration and problem solving they will inspire in students when the year begins.

For incoming freshmen, this year’s orientation was an “Epic Orientation Adventure”designed around the theme of their required summer reading, "The Hobbit." Over the course of three days, the newest O’Connell Knights got acquainted with their schedules, teachers and school routines, while being introduced to their class theme — the dignity of the human person. They cycled through a writer’s workshop, the “annotation station” and a Socratic seminar, all while earning Hobbit-themed badges for acquiring new skills, completing tasks and participating in collaborative exercises.

Over the summer, four O’Connell faculty members attended the 8th Annual Serious Play Conference at George Mason University in Fairfax where professionals from around the globe shared their experiences creating or using games in higher education, corporate training, health care, government and the military.

“I have been intrigued by the possibilities of using games in my Latin classes,” said Adriene Cunningham, world language chair. “After attending the conference and subsequent research and reading, I am convinced this is a very potent pedagogy to engage and to empower students not only to learn material but to go beyond the ‘requirements’ and take charge of their own learning.”

Members of the O’Connell staff have been invited to present more on the game play approach to learning at the National Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development (ASCD) conference in Chicago next spring.


© Arlington Catholic Herald 2018