It is never too early to learn how to collaborate and solve problems. Just ask the students in Jodi Piontkowski’s first-grade class at Chestnut Ridge Elementary School in the Churchville-Chili Central School District.
These students are practicing teamwork and other life skills while learning how to count, read, think logically and have fun. Piontkowski, like teachers throughout the district’s schools, is using student-driven, problem-based learning projects to increase engagement and raise achievement.
The active learning strategy her students were focused on just before the holidays was based on the model of the escape room, a timed scavenger hunt featuring puzzles or riddles. Students worked in teams to solve a series of problems that required logic, pattern or shape recognition, and counting skills. The goal was to use the answers to unlock a safe holding a special message from Santa Claus.
As each group moved from one holiday-themed challenge to the next, they became a cohesive team. They knew their goals and took responsibility for achieving them. At the end, teams needed to work together to find consensus on their answers in order to open the locked box.
“Experiences like this in first grade help to set the foundation for more advanced learning and social interactions down the road,” Piontkowski said. “Students learn how to respect each other’s strengths and differences, and how to use that advantage. The teacher guides them, but they really drive their own learning process. The strategy builds creative, curious, confident learners. The life skills practiced here will serve these young people throughout their lives and careers.”