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Looking to the future

Bold ideas about education discussed at Sustainable Schools Conference


It was well before the June 25 Sustainable Schools Conference at Trillium Creek Primary School that Susan Duncan vowed to change her approach to teaching.

A science teacher at Meadow Creek Middle School in Beaverton, Duncan had recently experienced firsthand some of the very methods and principles that were emphasized at the conference. She’d seen the spark of energy when students could teach each other, rather than always relying on their adult instructors; she’d felt the joy of learning new information from her students, turning the “teacher-pupil” relationship on its head.

So what Duncan heard within the gleaming walls of Trillium Creek last week was not surprising. In her eyes, it was an affirmation of what she saw as the future of education and an inspiration to push the boundaries of the modern learning environment.

by: TIDINGS FILE PHOTO: VERN UYETAKE - The conference was held at Trillium Creek Primary School, which opened in the fall of 2012 and has received the National School Board Associations grand prize in architectural design awarded. The school boasts an array of environmentally conscious features â€' including a wind turbine and a rooftop garden.}The third annual Sustainable Schools Conference, held at Trillium Creek for the first time after two years in Gladstone, provided an opportunity for dozens of fellow teachers, architects, engineers and administrators to learn about how to “cultivate the whole child,” as Trillium Creek Principal Charlotte Morris put it.

“It’s about listening and observing and understanding the world around us,” Morris said. “So that we can in some way help the children be prepared for 20 years from now, or 30 years from now.”

If the word “sustainable” first calls to mind recycling initiatives and solar panels, this conference reached far beyond that. A total of 17 concurrent sessions held throughout the day covered everything from schoolyard design to pest management and proper learning environments for English language learners.

“It’s not about the places we have, but what we get from the places we have,” Morris said. “And that’s why Trillium Creek is here, it is a building, but it’s also this environment both inside and out.”

The event was put on by both the Sustainable Oregon Schools Initiative and the Confederation of Oregon School Administrators. Designer and “educational futurist” Christian Long was tapped as the keynote speaker and over the course of more than an hour he challenged attendees to “apply ‘design thinking’ to the future of learning” and consider an environment in which students not only learn about big-picture issues but work to solve them.

by: TIDINGS PHOTO: PATRICK MALEE - Keynote speaker Christian Long participated in a question-and-answer session in the library at Trillium Creek Primary School after his remarks.“We focus on building the boat,” Long said, “but we forget that focusing on the big sea matters more.”

It was a callback to a famous quote by the French writer Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, and it neatly encapsulated the idea that a building — even one as dynamic as Trillium Creek — can only go so far without a curriculum that emphasizes student empowerment and eliminates the fear of failure.

Duncan, for her part, has seen glimpses of the idea come to life, which was part of what attracted her to attend in the first place.

“The students come from many different perspectives in my classroom,” Duncan said. “Yes, they all live in the same community, but their families are from all over the world, and they’ve all had different experiences, too, that they bring together.”

Near the end of this last school year, Duncan brought an eighth-grader from math, engineering and design club to teach her students about renewable LED lights. In those moments, Duncan saw her students show a genuine interest and ability to teach one another, and the memory now brings tears to her eyes.

“Kids are really capable,” she said. “When they know what the (root) of a problem is, they can teach each other.”

It was a real-world example of what Long emphasized in his speech and what Morris hopes to see more of at her own school.

“(Students) have to have a foundation of knowledge obviously, but they also have to be able to look around and ask questions,” Morris said. “And have those questions that then will drive what they do with that foundation of knowledge.”



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