Spring is in the air and the Roots Community School is buzzing with activity. Students have been continuing their reading, writing, & arithmetic all while preparing for their second Quality Work Night, the Invent Washington Competition and rehearsing for their upcoming play production!

One of the guiding principles at Roots Community School is Project Based Learning. Project-based learning refers to students designing, planning, and carrying out an extended project that produces a publicly-exhibited output such as a product, community service project, publication, or presentation. We believe that children have increased ownership of and pride in their work when learning is purpose driven with an end product in mind. We have chosen to focus on project-based learning because displaying quality work and effort is a tremendously powerful motivator.

Participation in the Invent Washington competition is an example of project based learning in action. The Eagles and Bears classes completed Invent Washington projects, while the Wolves class did not to ensure developmentally appropriate academics/tasks were provided to each class. This is the second year Roots has participated in the Invent Washington Competition, and again this year many students came home with ribbons for their inventions, 15 out of 29 students placed. Five of our student inventors won Best in Show and have been invited to compete at the national competition. The primary goal of Invent Washington is to give every child in Washington State an opportunity to learn innovation skills through unstructured problem solving activities that connect to core STEM standards.

The Invent Washington process was started during the students Friday Rotation time with Miss Sherry, however project tasks were also integrated into the curriculum for seamless project based learning to occur. Integrating their invention project into their reading, writing and science curriculum allows students to create meaningful connections, apply learning, and allows for much more depth compared to having their varying subjects isolated from one another.

Developing creative, innovative thinking takes a lot of time and effort, but students enjoyed the process (part of the lesson was that frustration can stimulate growth!). Students began with lessons about creative and inventive thinking with Miss Sherry to open their minds to thinking outside the box. Students brainstormed problems ranging from daily nuisances to global issues and possible solutions. The Eagles inventions had to be related to water, and the Bears inventions had to include a simple machine to tie each classes inventions into the classes current curriculum focus. Students narrowed their ideas, began to explore each idea more in depth including sketching and listing pros and cons. During this phase, much of the work transitioned into students regular class time. Teachers instructed in research and note-taking, explanatory/informative writing, and comparison writing at developmentally appropriate levels for students. Reading was not teacher selected, but student selected which we believe improves student motivation and reading comprehension/retention due to their innate interest in the subject. This integration of their project and their core academics truly helped the students grow as researchers and writers because they were highly motivated to learn, and be able to explain and compare their own inventions to other items on the market. The classrooms were buzzing as students voluntarily re-wrote sections (even the kids who typically despise writing) to make sure it had everything they wanted and was easily understood by others.

As in real life, some students had major setbacks, such as finding out their idea was already invented or that it did not fit the requirements and they would have to start over with a new idea. This was very difficult and frustrating for students, but provided an excellent opportunity for growth and developing resiliency. Some students had partners and had to work through differing opinions, sharing workloads, and partner absences for illness or vacation. Skills they will need to be successful employees or business owners someday!

Students built prototypes of their inventions to bring to the competition as well. This provided hands on learning and assessing the product and adjusting as needed. The Eagles classroom had a community member speak about fonts, colors, presentation and marketing to help them consider how to improve their products and posters. Eagles had typed boards, while the Bears class continued to work on penmanship and spelling/grammar with handwritten posters. Within each class, the product outcomes and presentation quality was also variable, reflecting each student’s own journey to do their personal best, not meet an arbitrary minimum standard.

Before the competition, teachers and students reflected on where they had started the school year and how much work they had done to get to the place where they were prepared, confident, and happy to enter the competition in Spokane. Students had products they were proud of, posters that reflected their efforts, and enough knowledge to explain and answer questions to judges and the general public. Taking time to reflect on the journey and respect the amount of work they had done gave students confidence walking into the competition as well as an understanding that the journey mattered more than winning a ribbon. After the competition, teachers took time to discuss the weekend, including the joys of winning and the heartbreak of losing. Roots Core Values include expecting excellence- embracing failure and celebrating success as well as taking time to celebrate. Teachers put these values in action by creating certificates individualized for each student who participated in Invent Washington to celebrate their success, and taking time to help students process the emotions related to a big competition such as Invent Washington.

Thank you Miss Sherry, Roots teachers, volunteers, parents and students for another successful year of Invent Washington, but more importantly for our kids, encouraging personal growth, responsibility, learning, and celebrating together as a community school!