Travis Heights Elementary school students learn by doing

Kim-Marie O’Driscoll,

“Learn, Serve and Lead” is Travis Heights Elementary School’s (THES) school motto—and the school has incorporated a new initiative to help make their motto come alive.

The educational approach of Service Learning is much more than community service. Based on the theory that students learn most effectively, and are more likely to take ownership of their own learning when learning is grounded in relevant and authentic tasks, Service Learning differs from community service (volunteering) by requiring structured and guided classroom learning. Students then apply their knowledge directly to a problem or need in the community.

Learning works when it comes alive for students. At its core, Service Learning is designed to create a personal connection to the topic of study. It removes the “why am I studying this” question many students have and replaces it with an opportunity for students to think critically and participate actively—thereby creating personal linkages to the study topic. This personal connection can deepen the learning process for a student. In turn, this deeper engagement can lead to an openness to learn a wide range of skills, as well as promote better study habits through actively interested students.

Last year THES piloted Service Learning at two grade levels; after review and refinement, we have adopted the approach across all grade levels this year. Each THES grade has developed a Service Learning concept for the year that will help unify and engage the students across their disciplines.

The projects employ the MISO research method, which uses Media, Interview, Survey and Observation to give students multiple perspectives on their topic and requires active engagement by the students to acquire the information. Learning culminates not in an end-of-year test, but by the actions of the students in their project.

THES teachers and administration have received training and mentoring from national Service Learning expert CB Kaye ( Her manual and blog are resources THES continues to use as we implement this program and connect our school with other Service Learning programs. The AISD curriculum office supported a portion of this training cost.

Service Learning incorporates connections to the world outside the school and engages students in projects which benefit their community We are very excited about this project as it helps our students academically and provides a way to honor the support our community has offered and continues to offer our school. •

THE Service Learning Projects

• 1st Grade is working on understanding what is involved in being responsible pet owners. Austin Pets Alive is helping connect these students with their research and providing opportunities for out-of-school learning. The project will culminate in an education campaign that the 1st graders create and take school-wide to help their fellow students enter pet ownership responsibly.

• 2nd Grade is working on water conservation, an issue that will only become more relevant. Our school’s location on Blunn Creek offers a laboratory in our backyard.

• 3rd Grade is focusing on financial literacy, with students learning about micro loans, interest and how to make good financial decisions. This activity involves math, strategy and development of compassion. This project is using market days to help students understand supply, demand and the value of philanthropy as they decide whether and how to donate some of their earnings.

• 4th Grade is working to think about the world from the vantage point of a person with special needs. They are reading a remarkable book, Wonder, and are working on how to create a reciprocal relationship with another school that serves special needs students.

• 5th Grade is studying bullying and developing strategies based on research to reduce bullying.

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