Monday, July 26, 2010

Inspired Minds at LRGS (Part I)

I’m a firm believer that early education is among the most important determinants of life success. As a high school dropout (actually, I was expelled), I’m well aware that I’ve beaten the odds by achieving success despite my lack of formal education.

And yet, all too often, young people don’t get the instruction and support necessary to help them develop their abilities to the fullest. Far too many young people, particularly those who are gifted, become jaded and bored with school early on, and suffer from a lifelong apathy about education as a result.

In fact, according to a recent study, one in ten Britons aged 15 to 19 aren’t in school. Only four other countries in the developed world have a higher dropout rate.

It’s for this reason that I’m a proud supporter of the InspirUS program at my alma mater, Lancaster Royal Grammar School. InspirUS is an innovative 10-week program aimed at motivating gifted young students to pursue excellence and challenge the limits of their abilities. It’s open to bright students in the Lancaster area in primary school grades 3 and 4, particularly those who are disadvantaged. (Jenny Cornell, the Development Director at LRGS, has written about the program here before.)

The program uses a variety of interdisciplinary lessons to get kids thinking outside-of-the-box. Instead of memorizing trivia or solving arithmetic problems, students engage in exercises that stimulate their imaginations through science, math, art, storytelling, and drama.

In one session based around water, for instance, students are challenged to explain why the percentage of the earth that is covered by water stays the same over time. Looking at a glass of water, students are asked to theorize about where that water might have been before it got to the glass. They’re also instructed to create works of art based on water, and also to strategize about ways to use less water. Not exactly the kind of classroom activities I grew up with!

One of the most rewarding aspects of the program is its focus on failure. It’s common for young people to fear failure so much that they avoid even attempting challenging tasks. InspirUS encourages students to embrace failure as an opportunity to learn and improve. In other words, it instills in students a philosophy of fail fast, fix fast, learn fast.

In January, 209 students from all over Lancaster entered the program. The results have been truly extraordinary. Just look at these parent testimonials:

InspirUS is Catherine’s highlight of the week at school. She is always buzzing when she gets home – we have difficulty getting her to switch off to go to bed! She would like everyday to be like her InspirUS days.

Marianne has enjoyed both the sessions and the homework activities. The challenges & topics used/chosen have really captured her imagination. Thank you very much to all those involved for making it so rewarding. She is hoping you will run more! A summer school week would be good!

Just imagine, kids are actually asking for summer school!

To give you a better idea of the kind of work InspirUS students are doing, I’ve included a two recent homework questions below, set by our inspirational teacher Kathryn Page. Take a crack at them, and I’m sure you’ll see how InspirUS is challenging students to solve problems through creative thinking. I’ll be sure to post the answers at the end of this week.

1.) What Comes Next?

A E A P A U U U E _ _ _
U O U E _ _ _
P U U _


2.) The Next Line Would Be?

1
11
21
1211
111221

1 comment:

Matt said...

As a fellow Old Lancastrian and NYC math teacher your article was a great read.

Engaging students and ultimately having them think creatively at higher order levels (hypothesize, analyze, evaluate...) is the good stuff we need to strive for.

PS. I solved #1, still working on #2 of the homework!
(Spoiler: #1 - COE, HRA, I)