Clifton Park pair develops 'memory boxes'

With the help of a $4,000 grant, JoLynn Williams and Liz Bailey of Okte Elementary in Clifton Park are creating a new way of learning.

Williams, a first-grade teacher at Okte for the past seven years, and Bailey, a library media specialist, were awarded the summer stipend to develop discovery boxes, which help kids learn different concepts using objects and clues.

The grant was provided by the Capital Region Teacher Center, a group funded by the state Department of Education, and will cover the creation of 10 such boxes, which are designed for first- through third-grade students.

The four boxes already created by the pair cover diverse topics such as butterflies and Thanksgiving.

"I love the idea of the active learning process where children have to actually go through these documents and determine importance," Williams said. "You give them the materials, and they go off. They start their learning, and it's immediate."

The boxes include various objects that the students have to connect to a common theme based on clues. For example, one object in the butterfly box is a drinking straw, which represents one of the body parts on a butterfly. In the Thanksgiving box is a croquet ball, which represents an early form of the game taught to pilgrims by Native Americans.

The project is part of a districtwide "professional learning community" goal.

"We're not just responsible for teaching the material and hoping that most of the kids will pick it up," Bailey said. "We're responsible to make sure that the students are learning the material."

Bailey worked at Schenectady Christian School as a media specialist and English teacher for 15 years before coming to Okte last year. She contrasted traditional learning, which she called "Teflon learning," with the discovery boxes.

"When they sit and they touch and they do things with their own hands, with their own eyes, using all of their senses, they create their own meaning and that is what I like to call 'Velcro learning,'" Bailey said. "That's going to stick with them and be part of their body of knowledge from then on."

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