JANESVILLE

They easiest way to teach seventh-grade science is to lecture while students take notes.

The eight systems of the body are …

The six steps of the scientific method include …

The most difficult way to teach seventh-grade science—or any other subject—is to make the kids do it themselves.

For more than a year, the Janesville School District has been working with Discovery Education and Ignite My Future to change the way teachers teach and challenge students to think in complicated ways.

It’s a skill they’ll need. In a world where information is at everyone’s fingertips, students will need to do more than regurgitate facts.

Educators refer to it as “computational thinking” or “higher- order thinking.”

“Lower-order thinking is knowledge, understanding, comprehension,” explained Franklin Middle School Principal Charles Urness. “Higher-order thinking is evaluating, analyzing and creating.”

Think of it this way: Lower-order thinking is memorizing the eight systems of the body. Higher-order thinking is designing an athletic shoe for people with a bad back or flat feet—or a wonky hip, bunions, the early stages of Parkinson’s or any of the other ailments that afflict the eight systems of the body.

In the week before Christmas break, students at Franklin Middle School worked on a projects found on the Ignite My Future website.

Urness described the website as a resource with project ideas and curriculum. It was developed with Discovery Education, a company that describes itself as a content provider for students and a source of professional development for teachers and staff.

The Janesville School District has budgeted $443,581 this year for services from Discovery Education, said Patrick Gasper, district public information officer. The money comes from grants, not the local tax levy, Gasper said.

It’s unknown if the district will use all of that money in the 2018-19 school year, Gasper said.

The lessons work across all the main subjects, such as language arts, math, social studies, science, computer science and engineering. They also frequently include music, art and physical education.

Consider Jenna Rosienski’s “Science of Sports” lesson. Kids were charged with designing an athletic shoe for a specific user: Dahlia, a 14-year-old with asthma and seasonal allergies who plays in a variety of sports; Fred, 73, who is recovering from a stroke; or David, 45, a trucker who spends long hours on the road and has recently been diagnosed with Type II diabetes.

Each of those users have a complicated problem that goes beyond an easy answer.

Another class is working on a “Resilient Cities” lesson. The students pick an issue and try to find the best possible outcome.

Earlier this year, a class worked on finding a use for the former GM site.

The latest group was working on the Monterey Dam. What were the benefits of taking it out? What user groups lost out? How should the area near Wilson Elementary School be reclaimed?

And yet another group of students pondered the challenges of delivering a pizza with a drone.

But how will students learn all the science—or math, social studies or reading—they’ll need to know for the next grade with this method?

Rosienski said students not only learn what they need to know, but they remember it, too.

“How many times have you memorized something for a test and then just forgot it?” Rosienski said. “It also teaches them how to be able to solve complex problems. They’re achieving something greater than just looking something up on the internet.”

Such “project-based learning” has been going on for a long time, Urness acknowledged.

“It’s not new, but it’s being used less often than it should be,” Urness said. “It’s a lot of work, so people fall back on what’s easy—having kids take notes for 48 minutes. Then you have disengagement, you have discipline problems and there’s not transference of learning.”

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