Contributed by Mount Vernon Upper School iProject Coordinator Lynn Luster

When looking at 21st-century skills, a teacher might easily get overwhelmed wondering how to cover content and standards. Acknowledging that every student is on a different pathway, have different strengths, and levels of maturity, the work teachers are doing at Mount Vernon is developing these coveted skills. I can speak to this because of my unique role as iProject Coordinator. I sit a bit outside our academic culture constraints, facilitating projects chosen and led by students twice in their Upper School years.

I am excited about the opportunity to share this great news of our future leaders in several posts through stories of student work in iProject. My first example is of a pair of students who displayed critical thinking, problem solving, reasoning, analysis, interpretation, and synthesizing of information. Jackson Kelly and Thomas Kinser are two young men who have displayed a good deal of critical thinking in their two mini-projects this fall.

Working separately on an inquiry based problem, Jackson prototyped several keyed locks before teaching himself the internal intricacies and mechanics of a standard lock, learning how to line up the metal pins to unlock it. He used every aspect of the maker space to observe, test, and discover how each lock worked in the room.

While Jackson was becoming a locksmith, Thomas learned Python coding language. He programmed a “choose your own adventure” game in which the computer asks a question, you respond, then the computer will respond again, depending on what you typed. He had several frustrating moments and at the beginning of the project and felt sure he would not be able to do this challenging work. He persevered and in just two weeks demonstrated his learning to the class.

Partnering up for an Impact project, the two boys decided to open up remote controls and re-engineer them with large, sensitive buttons to be used for play therapy at the Fraser Center, a partner with our school’s Best Buddies Club. Those who will use these have limited motor control and often therapists will use a toy that reacts as motivation for exercise or practice for strengthening motor skills. Initially, I connected with Dr. Rachel Monfredo of the University of Rochester who sent me her sources as well as great tips for these boys. Her students created Toys for All Tots with a project similar to Jackson’s and Thomas’.

To the classroom teachers who feel bogged down in standards, limited by class time, or wondering if their students are able to think critically outside of assignments, I can tell you yes! They absolutely can and do!

To our external experts and support systems such as Fraser Center and Dr. Monfredo, thank you for the opportunities and your willingness to share information.

To our parents, your students are thinking critically, solving problems, and reasoning their way through challenges. 

To our students, you all have limitless potential, pursue your curiosities every day!

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