Why My Mom is the Greatest Teacher

And why project-based learning is so important

A few weeks ago, I received a video via text message from my mom which was about 5 minutes long, but I didn’t mind because it was incredibly adorable. The video featured students from her mixed 2nd & 3rd grade class banging on buckets with sticks during the halftime of a local high school’s football game. They all stood in a line, shaking with excitement and accompanied by little 1st graders, and fellow drummers, from her colleague’s class. My mom — known as Mrs. Schulson by her students and Greatest Teacher Ever by me (and her most of her students, I would bet!) — and her colleague, Mrs. Bitton, led the drumline. Their performance was actually quite impressive, considering the kids were playing buckets and some were only what? Six years old? For the record, everyone in the stands cheered for them at the end and you could tell the kids were having an absolute blast.

“Welcome to Coral Springs” — students involved in The Compass transform their hallway into their local city of Coral Springs, Florida.

This is just one of several projects that my mom and her colleague have done as part of The Compass, a project-based learning program that they created in 2012, which I wrote about previously here for eSchool News. This weekend, my mom and Mrs. Bitton are in New Orleans presenting on what they’ve done in the classroom at this weekend’s National Council for the Social Studies Annual Conference (when they’re not running up and down the hotel stairs due to false fire alarms, so I’ve been told).

My mom, who has been teaching for over 30 years, is the most dedicated teacher I have ever met. While many teachers count down the seconds until the final bell rings before they book it to go home and take a nap, my mom knows that just because the kids have left the classroom doesn’t mean her work day is over. She usually arrives at school an hour early and doesn’t come home until two or three hours after the kids are dismissed. Thankfully we have a dog at home who needs to be walked, otherwise she may never come home! (Just kidding.) Often times she brings work home with her to do after dinner. There isn’t a moment where she isn’t thinking about her class, and I admire that.

Project-based learning, as I wrote previously for eSchool News, “focuses on interdisciplinary activities that solve real world problems.” Instead of teaching kids math by giving them problem after problem from a workbook, my mom incorporates math education into creative projects that solve problems that these youngsters can actually relate to. For example, she has weekly “Lessons with Loree” — Google Hangout sessions with my sister who works for a homebuilding company. In the linked video, Loree explained to my mom’s class how certain wall sheathings “take heat from the sun and save electricity.” My mom can then apply this lesson to learn about money, energy systems or the power of electricity!

My mom is a creative genius and a wonderful artist so she loves having her students create physical objects, ranging from can-jo’s to miniature parade floats that they can pull around the school parking lot and feel like a champion.

When students aren’t banging on buckets, they’re playing the “can-jo” — a makeshift banjo.

When students aren’t creating physical objects, they are creating videos, audio segments, and amazing written stories. My favorite video to date is a “Tour the States” music video that showcases my mom’s artistic ability and her kids’ love to dance. You can check it out below.

Project-based learning is beneficial to any kind of student. My mom often tries to incorporate collaboration with students with special needs into her projects. She’s had a red carpet event that showcased a movie featuring them as well as a Special Olympics where her students developed all of the events, filmed a tutorial video, and partnered with a younger student in the special education class to assist during the event. Parents were invited to attend and there were cookies and prizes and it was glorious.

Learning state capitals can’t get more fun than this

Sometimes reading a textbook or memorizing facts for an upcoming test is simply not enough to learn a concept and retain it. All of The Compass projects challenge the kids, keep them engaged and make them actually enjoy learning — something that is becoming more and more difficult to do when students are burdened by an increasing amount of state mandated tests. (Thanks Obama for finally putting your foot down!) When I have the pleasure to visit my mom’s class, all of her students line up at the end of the day to give her a hug goodbye. They run into class the following morning so excited to start working on their new project and collaborating with their peers.

I wish there were more teachers like my mom. She doesn’t stick with the same lesson plans year after year. She’s constantly re-inventing the wheel, trying to determine how websites and applications such as Pinterest or Periscope can be incorporated into a future lesson. Obviously I never had the privilege to be her student (it’s so much better being her daughter, of course) but luckily some of my friends did! And every time they gush about her, I can’t help but feel a huge sense of pride. I can only imagine what kind of impact this kind of teaching, dedication, passion, creativity and love would have on our next generation of students.