NOT YOUR FATHER’S math class: Fifth-grade math teachers Jesse Barber and Jeff Ramirez have students design packages for items that can be safely air-dropped by parachute. They also ask students to use real-world costs, budgets and dimensions to design a city park.

Brad Collins uses kids’ fascination with animals to sneak science, math and English lessons into his second-grade classroom, which contains a veritable zoo (see photo at right). Liz Miller and Nicole Robinson engage their communities as well as students and other educators in their wildly successful passion projects. With tech wizardry, Matt Anderson keeps college kids captivated and looking at him instead of their phones.

What these innovators have in common (“Inspired Dreamers,” page 20) is the ability to both see possibilities and forge the path to make them real. They infuse their students, colleagues and communities with this same “dream it, do it” mindset.

Students, says Amy Conley, whose initiative for high school seniors is aptly named Change the World, “don’t believe in their own power at first. Then they start to dream big. It puts a fire in their bones.”

Getting students fired up and dreaming big is certainly a goal in creating the best learning environments. Where “old school” — literally — is a building with classrooms, an administrative area, and a cafeteria that might do double or triple duty as a gym and auditorium, the architecturally stunning, thoughtfully designed campuses highlighted in “Building Beauty” (page 26) are tailored to 21st century skills such as critical thinking and collaboration.

Their interconnected, flexible spaces accommodate project-based learning, easy access to technology, and personalized learning communities, while their structural beauty sparks imagination and creativity.

It all comes together, in fact, at American Canyon High School (“School of the Future,” page 31), where leading-edge curriculum and learning environment ensure students are well-equipped to take on the world.

Dreaming, too, as Loriene Honda shows us (“The Power of Dreams,” page 46), can take us to worlds where we not only envision what can be, but find strength and empowerment. In her book about a cat living with his Japanese American family in a World War II internment camp, Honda emphasizes that dreams help move us beyond anger and trauma, and toward healing and hope.

It’s a beautiful message that underscores how those who think and dream differently can create a better world. The Educator salutes innovators and dreamers everywhere. Happy New Year!


Katharine Fong


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