Something pretty amazing happened recently at school. It’s something that many in education circles don’t think is possible. It flies in the face of the narrative that some are trying to tell.  

Educators from traditional district schools, public charter schools, private schools and higher education gathered to share ideas, best practices and the common goal of putting student learning first.  

Projects, Pedagogy and Play

Northwest Passage High School in Coon Rapids, MN hosted the third annual Projects, Pedagogy and Play Conference on Friday March 29th.  

Projects, Pedagogy and Play came together during a lunch I had with Dr. Seann Dikkers from Bethel University.  The idea was to bring together educators AND students from across the academic spectrum, including district schools, public charter schools, private schools and higher education, in a non-formal setting.  

Dr. Seann Dikkers

We decided we would keep the registration fee low, with no charge to students. We also opted to for no keynote speaker and to do a simple, but delicious lunch of pizza and salad.

Educators and students were asked to share projects they were working on, pedagogical models that support student centered learning, and ground it all in the understanding that playful learning often produces the best results.

Amazing presenters put student learning first

This years conference featured presenters with a wide variety of experiences and expertise.  

  • Dr. Dikkers shared a curricular version that he created of the popular Escape Rooms called Breakout Rooms that involve role playing and problem solving.  
  • Staff from Jane Goodall Environmental Sciences Academy in Maple Lake presented a model for helping students develop Life Skills.  
  • James Fester presented a session with the unique title “Unicorns in Lighthouses” where he had participants share how they build buy-in from students, faculty and administers when they have “out there” ideas.

Other presentations included Role Play Games, a design process for making a vehicle, creative idea generation, a digital platform for managing student projects, and innovative teaching strategies.  

Dr. Wayne Jennings, author of the book School Transformation, was one of the lead presenters, sharing his thoughts on personal learning plans.  Wayne has always been one of those educators that I have looked up to and considered a mentor and role model.  Wayne has been in education for nearly 60 years and still has a genuine love for learning new things. As educators and learners we should all strive to be lifelong learners like Wayne.

The highlight of the conference for me however had the be the number of student presenters and participants.  A group of middle school students from White Bear Lake Student Innovation Team shared how their school promotes student agency through the use of design thinking.  Students from Northwest Passage High School shared project work on Aquaponics for a Sustainable World, Mushroom Growing Project, Code Writing for a Digital Key Card Readers, and student travel opportunities.  In addition to the student presenters, there were nearly 25 teacher education students from Bethel University who gained first hand knowledge of progressive education models.