Learning doesn’t stop over the summer, and hundreds of Lakeville Area Public Schools students entering first through eighth grades are currently participating in a new academic and social-emotional learning program called Launch into Learning. Each elementary and middle school formed a team of teachers for the summer to work with students from their schools, so the summer learning could be built on existing peer and staff relationships.
The program is by invitation only and has one three-week session per month all summer. The learning focuses on engaging and empowering
students through a variety of themes, and each session focuses on one or two themes. When a student registers, they select their top theme choices. Elementary students choose between nature, visual and performing arts, and sports and games. Middle school students’ options include nature, visual arts, lifetime sports, culinary arts and robotics.
Academic learning is embedded into each of the themes’ activities, lessons and experiences, which prepares the students for their field trips. Launch into Learning also leverages technology, and iPads are given to all elementary students attending two or more sessions to promote anytime, anywhere reading and math practice.
“We really wanted all students in this program to experience a sense of community where they are honored for who they are as a learner and are supported socially, emotionally and academically,” said Julene Oxton, innovation coordinator for the district. “The learning experiences were built to engage and empower the students through choice and relevant application of the learning.”
Field trips broaden the program’s student experience
One of the exciting features of the program is the opportunity to attend multiple field trips for even more hands-on learning. Combining both the elementary and middle school levels, there are a total of 36 field trips that take place throughout the three sessions.
“From the kids’ aspect, it’s been a great thing. The program has provided kids access to experiences they may not have otherwise had the opportunity to experience if it weren’t for the program and all the field trips this summer,” said Shannon Smith, a teacher in the program and Century Middle school Counselor. “And for me, it’s been an opportunity to get to know incoming sixth graders.”
The district created partnerships with local businesses and nonprofit organizations, including Wilderness Inquiry, Best Buy, HyVee and Lakeville Area Arts Center, to bring experiential relevant learning to the students in each of the themes. These partnerships create relevant learning in an untraditional space. For example, students in the nature theme have turned into engineers, explorers, researchers and teachers, as they prepare for the Wilderness Inquiry experience at Casperson Park on Lake Marion.
Going from students to explorers
During a recent camping experience, parents, district staff and community members listened as kindergarten through second grade students shared their research into Minnesota native plants and bugs while students in grades 3-5 showed off the bridge they engineered to pave a path to a campsite developed by third graders.
“There was a lot of drilling, building and math. We needed to figure out how much water had to be covered to get across, and we had to decide what we were going to build and how we were going to build it. My idea was to build a beam,” said Brody Moritz, a fifth grader from Lakeview Elementary.
The nature theme also took middle schoolers, accompanied by Launch into Learning and nonprofit Wilderness Inquiry staff, to Casperson Park in Lakeville for a canoe trip, water quality testing, a nature scavenger hunt, fishing and hiking.
“The best part of what we do is get people to parks or local waterways who don’t normally have the opportunity, such as those with disabilities or those who live in urban areas,” said Megan Brakke, a Wilderness Inquiry staff member. “The activities we do with the kids, like fishing and canoeing, allows us to show them that this is their resource and it’s something they can do with their families. I love seeing kids conquer their fears and/or overcoming their expectations and giving them new experiences.”
Technology ignites creativity
Students in the visual arts and robotics themes have gained a wealth of technological knowledge that has allowed them to experiment with their creative side. One of the most exciting middle school projects the students worked on was creating a stop motion animated movie using Legos, iPads, iMovie, Garage Band and the Stop Motion app.
“They really enjoyed it. They didn’t realize how much goes into making a movie like that until they were involved in the process and after going to The Science Behind Pixar exhibit at the Science Museum of Minnesota,” said Yeonghwa Fowler, a Launch into Learning lead teacher.
The exhibit, which was the field trip that was assigned for the session based on its theme, provided students with a behind-the-scenes look at Pixar’s filmmaking process and allowed them to delve into the science and technology that brings to life the world’s most popular animated films and memorable characters.
“We still really do math and reading during the summer, but the students might not realize they are even doing it; for example, when they were calculating the speed of motion in their movie assignments,” Fowler said.
The students also experienced a 3-day camp at Best Buy Headquarters through the company’s Geek Squad Academy. The students, or “junior agents,” learned about 3D design, managing their digital footprint (including online behavior), creating digital music and programming a BB-8 robot.
The Geek Squad Academy’s program is aimed at showing young people they can have a future in technology — something they may never have considered. Their goal is to inspire students who will “one day be running the technical infrastructure that powers the world,” according to Geek Squad Academy’s website.
Activities bonding students
All the activities and out of the classroom learning is what one special education teacher thinks is helping the students the most.
“I believe the Launch into Learning program allows students interact with their peers in a new way. Things like the out of the classroom field trips help out because it doesn’t appear as academically focused and gets them out in a group. It brings out a different side of the kids, which is special,” said Jeremy Sternhagen, Launch into Learning teacher and McGuire Middle School special education teacher.
Sixth grader Tyler Frey couldn’t agree more.
“My favorite part this summer has been the field trips. I really liked going to Best Buy and learning about robotics and going canoeing,” the McGuire middle schooler said.