A noisy classroom of students passing notes and leaving their seats may seem like a classroom out of control, but at Woodland Park Middle School, expectations are a little bit different.

Several classes at Woodland Park Middle School began implementing the Summit Learning Platform three years ago. Summit Learning is an integrated method of teaching that encourages students to set goals, use multiple skills simultaneously and take charge of their educations.

Seventh-grade social studies teacher Ryan Schultz was recently leading his students in a world history project about the Silk Road. The history project required students to learn about the history of the region, to learn how to read basic financial statements, to interact with their peers to reach a goal, and to express their experiences through writing.

“Their project right now is learning about international trade and exchange,” Shultz said. “One of the things that they are going to eventually produce out (is) a narrative about what it’s like to trade.”

Classroom instruction on the Summit Learning Platform varies from day to day. Some days, teachers and students work together, other days, students work independently or in small groups. Shultz said his students receive instructions and a rubric for the projects that help them gauge what is expected of them; then they are responsible for carrying out projects themselves and as a team.

“Some of this is self-directed (but they’ve) been set up with a lot of parameters,” Shultz said.

While the core subjects and learning objectives are the same, the difference with the Summit Learning Platform is in the focus on student mentorship and individual learning needs.

“It really depends on what kids need that time,” Shultz said. “If everyone in the class needs the same thing, then we’ll work on a group project. If I have a group of kids that (are) really struggling with narrative, then I’ll work with them to really give them targeted instruction and we’ll work in small groups. We actually get to know the kids better than we ever have before.”

Woodland Park Middle School is in its third year of using the Summit Learning Platform. According to Woodland Park Middle School Principal Yvonne Goings, the faculty wanted to find a program that would help them meet their goals and vision for the students. Key players in the school attended a conference in San Francisco to learn about the Summit Learning Platform.

“We were really looking for something that met our vision and our goal as far as helping kids learn,” Goings said. “We wanted them to be self-directed learners, we loved using projects to … teach kids.

But we really also wanted them to know (the content),” she continued. “Our vision at the middle school is to inspire learning and empower growth.”

The program was initially implemented in the sixth and seventh grades in four classrooms. Subsequent grade levels and classrooms were introduced to the new learning platform gradually.

Summit Learning is a nonprofit that pays for the teachers to attend summer training and conventions where they can meet, share their stories, learn new skills, and track the success of students and the program, Goings said.

Goings and her faculty were able to assess the performance of students on the Summit Learning Platform compared to the performance of the school as a whole, and the results were of the Summit Learning Platform were positive.

“Summit kids are diverging from the line in everything, across the board,” Goings said. “Their achievement higher, their growth is higher, and their discipline is (better). All the trend is showing that they are diverging from the school as a whole.”

Because of early exposure to technology, students need a new approach to learning that will focus on instilling the skills that they will need to succeed in a modern world, Goings said.

“How they are going to input information and how they are going to output information is very different,” Goings said. “They can get on social media; they know what’s going on overseas right now. So we need to make sure we are getting into that with them and helping them to learn how to process all of that. That’s more than just teaching them facts.”

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