RAFT used the theme of secret agents to highlight the critical role of teachers as powerful “agents of engagement” in their students’ lives.

At this year’s ‘Showcase of Creativity’ Dinner, RAFT staged a fun evening at their San Jose headquarters for attendees to explore how hands-on teaching engages and inspires learning. Guests signed in as secret agents, visited “agent training” stations and completed tasks like spy writing, DNA Extraction and Fingerprint Fun. Participants experienced how hands-on teaching transforms learning and why supporting teachers as “agents of engagement” is important.

Mary Simon, RAFT Founder and Executive Director, believes addressing the engagement gap, not just the learning gap, is crucial in giving students the passion and interest to become lifelong learners. It has been RAFT’s mission since 1994 to support teachers in transforming teaching and inspiring learning. With the adoption by most states of the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) which includes changes in student assessments, hands-on teaching can provide the type of learning experiences students need to be able to explain how they solve problems not just what the answers are to questions.

Lynne Dickerson, a teacher at St. Mary’s Elementary School in Los Gatos, California was honored for her commitment to excellence in hands-on teaching with the Robert Brownlee Award. In her 19th year of teaching, Dickerson teaches Music for grades K-5 and Science for grades 5-7. She considers herself fortunate in her choice of subjects, “I’m lucky because both music and science are hands-on, experiential subjects. They’re active, engaging and fun, both for the students and me!”

People doing work in areas of STEM (Science, Engineering, Science, and Math) frequently cite a teacher in their past that sparked an initial interest in these topics. Kyle Gazay, a Cal Poly grad in Materials Engineering, shared with the audience how his choice of careers was influenced by his hands-on learning experiences. His 4th grade teacher would bring donated items in each week and tell the students to “create something” for 30 minutes. As Gazay put it, “You never see kids excited about taking a pop quiz, but you do see them excited to build and create something.” He currently works as a Senior Engineer with thin-film start-up Nanosolar in San Jose.

The theme of celebrating great hands-on teaching and raising awareness on how effective it can be for learning was continued by keynote speaker, Dale Dougherty, Founder of Maker Faire and Make Magazine. Dougherty, who led the launch of the Maker Education Initiative in 2012, a nonprofit dedicated to bringing “making” into education, shared his conviction with the audience that engaging hands and brain in learning can provide the added boost for students to truly comprehend concepts and encourage 21st Century skills like critical thinking and creativity.


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