Academics News

National education advocate has high praise for Mid-Pacific

"I promise you, if my kids were 10 years younger, and I knew about this school (Mid-Pacific), we would move here."

Posted on March 8, 2017 by Julie Funasaki Yuen

National education advocate Dr. Ted Dintersmith visited Mid-Pacific on February 21 and met with students, faculty, staff, administrators, and parents to discuss Mid-Pacific's deeper learning initiatives. Dintersmith is the co-author of Most Likely to Succeed: Preparing Our Kids for the Innovation Era and the creator of the award-winning documentary film "Most Likely Succeed" that premiered at the 2015 Sundance Film Festival, and argues for the transformation of the current education system in order to better equip students with 21st century skills. He created the film after a successful 25-year career in venture capital and following his work as the executive producer of the critically-acclaimed documentary "The Hunting Ground." Dintersmith's Most Likely to Succeed co-author Dr. Tony Wagner, recently visited Mid-Pacific in January and gave the school high marks for its student-centered, student-driven learning practices.

Dr. Dintersmith first visited Mid-Pacific in May 2016 as part of a 50-state tour of the nation's schools. He returned this month to learn more about Mid-Pacific and to witness the school's continued progress and further development of inquiry-based, project-based learning that is embedded in the curriculum from start to finish. His 2016 visit to Mid-Pacific and other schools in Hawaiʻi was captured in the documentary "Ka Helena Aʻo: The Learning Walk" where he praised Hawaiʻi in its pursuit of transforming the state's education system to prepare students with the skills needed in the innovation era.

Preschool and Elementary School Principal Edna Hussey discussed Mid-Pacific's educational practices with Dintersmith and how the school is aligned in its emphasis on inquiry-based learning. "The philosophy at our Reggio Emilia-inspired preschool and the inquiry practices there certainly underpins everything that continues from preschool all the way through 12th grade," she said.

"As we think about the work we're doing, it's not just about the teacher in front but it's the students that are really driving the process," agreed Middle School Principal Dee Priester. "As educators, we're guiding them along. It's about the students' ability to think forward and imagine what's possible. At Mid-Pacific, we've given them that freedom."

"The Mid-Pacific Learner Profile is really the outcome we want to see at all levels of the school," explained High School Principal Tom McManus. "It is skill-based and disposition-based. It's about what we value in students, and the necessary skills that will carry them through life."

Principal Edna Hussey took Dintersmith on a tour of the elementary school where they visited Tiffany Byrne's third and fourth grade classroom. The students were working together in groups on a project to create a wetland in their classroom for the purpose of teaching others about wetlands, wetland birds, plants and their predators. Mid-Pacific student Gary explained to Dintersmith, "We're writing down what we know about wetlands, and what we need to know like what the birds look like, what their eggs look like, how they survive in the wetlands, and if they have extra features and stuff."

Dr. Dintersmith also visited the fifth grade classroom where students were working on the development of their inquiry-inspired capstone projects. When he asked how the topics were chosen, Teacher Sarah McKay explained that the topics are entirely student-directed. "We spend a lot of time with topic development because it's important that it's completely what the students are passionate about and something they can take action on, advocate for, or raise awareness. The children are working on a variety of project topics like Alzheimer's Disease, tornadoes, beach litter, service animals, Pearl Harbor, the importance of sleep, and technology use."

Dintersmith also participated in an interactive design thinking exercise along with invited members from Mid-Pacific and the business community. It was facilitated and presented by Mid-Pacific middle schoolers in Leilani Sills' Design Thinking class and Kevin Tokuda's Digital Media class, and filmed by students in Kalei Stern's Digital Storytelling class. He was truly impressed by the students' development of a Most Likely to Succeed-inspired YouTube channel they created to house video content showcasing micro-innovations in teaching for the purpose of providing teachers with inspirational ideas and methods for transforming education in their classrooms.

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Dr. Ted Dintersmith participating in a design thinking exercise about micro-innovations in teaching facilitated by Mid-Pacific middle schoolers on February 21.

"I've asked four people now, 'am I really in middle school here' because this seems more like college. I'm really totally amazed with what you're doing," he complimented after the students completed presentations about the rubric they created to evaluate whether video content met the criteria for being included on the YouTube channel. "You're doing this amazing project to tell people about amazing projects which is a double-win. This is really brilliant and I feel honored to be here," said Dintersmith.

He later spent some time learning about the high school and visiting Billie Napoleon's Mid-Pacific Exploratory 9th grade Humanities class where students were designing puppets for use in the production of their original, allegory-inspired plays, and sat in on Kaile Berlenbach's Museum Studies class where students began the year by watching "Most Likely to Succeed" and then designed the Museum Studies course from the ground up with teacher guidance. They discussed how and why the 3D scanning technology used in the class is necessary for making museums relevant today and in the future.

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Senior Robbie Char 3D scans Dr. Ted Dintersmith during Museum Studies class on February 21.

"Let's say I'm going to a museum and this is the object (pointing to a wooden owl figurine)," said senior Robbie Char. "If I go there I can look at, I can see it but I can't really explore it. With these scans I can just click and go all around. I can zoom in, zoom out and I can see deeper into it. That's why I think this class is valuable and why scanning is important and why it's the future. I see museums in the future having things where they have the artifact, and then something on the wall that you can swipe and interact with and it will really show you the deeper meaning into the object."

Dr. Dintersmith wrapped up his day by joining the 'Most Likely to Succeed at Mid Pacific' parent meeting, sponsored by the Na ʻOhana Pueo Parent Association, where parents and students participated in interactive group discussions about project-based learning after viewing "Most Likely to Succeed" movie clips. Mid-Pacific eXploratory (MPX) students facilitated the group discussions and spoke with parents about their experiences in the interdisciplinary, project-based learning program for ninth and tenth graders. Deeper learning practices centered on authentic and relevant experiences, like those emphasized in the MPX program, are also built into the standard high school curriculum and Mid-Pacific's preschool, elementary school and middle school.

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Mid-Pacific Exploratory students and parents discussing "Most Likely to Succeed" and project-based learning at the Na ʻOhana Pueo Parent Association meeting on February 21.

During the meeting, Dintersmith spoke with parents about the current education system and his ideas about preparing students for today's world. "Are we teaching our kids how to critically analyze?" he posed. "Are we teaching our kids how to collaborate? Are we teaching our kids a sense of purpose for making the world better? Or are we pitting them against each other in a 'Hunger Games' competition for test scores and college admissions?"

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Dr. Ted Dintersmith speaking with Mid-Pacific parents, students, faculty and staff at the "Most Likely to Succeed" at Mid-Pacific meeting sponsored by the Na ʻOhana Pueo Parent Association on February 21.

"It's a given that within 10 years, anything routine, anything structured, anything that just says 'follow instructions' - those jobs will be gone entirely from the economy and the world," said Dintersmith. "Kids in elementary school, by the time they get out of school - they have to be able to create or invent their own jobs. In most schools, we train our students to wait for instructions. I can't even emphasize how different the experience is at Mid-Pacific from all of the places I go."

He praised Mid-Pacific for its innovative teaching practices and shared that if he were to make "Most Likely to Succeed" today, he would have filmed it at Mid-Pacific. "I promise you, if my kids were 10 years younger, and I knew about this school (Mid-Pacific), we would move here," said Dintersmith. "It's that unusual and interesting what you're doing."

Mid-Pacific junior Zoran Cullinan asked Dintersmith, "My future isn't the only thing that's important. What can I do to integrate this new kind of school system to help younger generations grow up to be successful?"

"I would beg all of you to give serious thought to becoming a teacher," he replied. "When I talk to adults, I ask 'how many teachers changed your life?' I bet all of you have someone. These teachers, they change lives."

Dr. Dintersmith also encouraged students to be advocates of their own education. "There are a lot of schools here that would be inspired by what you're (Mid-Pacific) doing, and if adults tell them about it, it's one thing, but the more students can capture that, the more the rest of the state will understand, this is something inspiring."