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Parents Praise Strength-Based Learning during Think Tank Session

A gathering of parents, students, and educators talk about how building a high school greenhouse became a metaphor for educational change

Think Tank member Hiam Ahni and student Jennifer Gao discuss strength-based learning

Temecula Valley High School (TVHS) biology teacher Toby Brannon, who wrote a successful Institute For Teaching (IFT) grant to develop an aquaponics greenhouse on the campus, offered up his science classroom for an extended meeting with parents, students, and IFT Thing Tank teachers, who discussed the value of a strength-based approach to learning that made the greenhouse project a highlight of their students’ educational experience.

Parents discussed several key areas of the strength-based approach; students were able to pursue their interests, self-select and learn through trial and error. More importantly, they learned to embrace failure by developing a mindset that making mistakes is part of a natural process in affecting an eventual solution.

Students level of commitment came from their pride of collective ownership in the space they have created. Tasks were given, but the knowledge to complete them was not. By necessity, students became experts in content areas they previously had no experience. This core group of students worked together continuously for two years, including before, during, and after the construction phase of the project. Their commitment has set the example that other students must now meet to ensure the project’s continued success.

The entire group spent the final hour of their visit in the greenhouse, learning how the system works by interviewing the students who constructed it. The designs for the tanks, aqua-beds, pump systems, and infrastructure for the project, were all designed and built by students who now maintain the system.

California Teachers Association’s Institute For Teaching (IFT) is the foundation arm that supports educational change through teacher innovation, meets regularly in education think tanks throughout the state.

CTA members representing five local IFT think tanks who participated in the session collected a substantial amount of student and parent responses over the course of the visit. The information will help IFT to study and perhaps replicate this model of teacher, student, school and community buy-in and to help draw from the experiences of local stakeholders. Community and district support for the Biosustainability program is consistent and ongoing. Temecula Valley Unified School District board approved a science elective for students to learn about sustainability in the 2018-2019 school year-half of each period is spent in the greenhouse learning about the system, checking water and algae levels, filtration, crop rotation and harvest. As  the project expands, students have determined they would prefer to produce clean energy to power the system. They are actively pursuing future grant and resource opportunities. Partnerships with local companies that provide in-kind labor contributions and resources helped in the building of the project, and continue to help underwrite needs for this community greenhouse.

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