Originally appears in the Spring 2016 issue
Falling through the cracks, left behind, not able to learn, won’t focus, can’t pay attention, has behavior problems—these are phrases all educators have heard or spoken. These phrases have deep meanings and history rooted in societal ills and structural inequalities, but they refer specifically to learners who deserve every opportunity to grow as individuals. Many schools have created programs and services for at-risk students, but alternative school programs are usually better able to address the educational needs of those with behavioral and other challenges.
Meeting the needs of disadvantaged students while motivating them to learn and enact change, and develop the metacognitive and technology skills needed in the 21st century is critically important to their development. To increase student engagement I developed a marine debris program for middle and high school students that was taught over one semester and integrated science, math, technology, reading, writing, and the arts. I designed the course to be integrated and project-based so the learning was real for students while at the same time each academic subject was addressed within the context of the course and not as separate subjects that did not seem to relate. These students needed to see the bigger picture of the world and know that what they were learning mattered in their lives so that their education was not just bookwork and requirements dictated by adults.
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