An #HollistonInnovates Update - Part #1

Rather than share the promised district vision in this entry, I wanted to take this opportunity to share with the community some of the innovative instructional practices that teachers have already adopted in their classrooms across our district.  In each case, these new lessons and approaches to learning still focus on providing students with activities and experiences designed to explore essential content.  However, rather than being “told” information, students are participating more actively in the learning activity and making their own meaning of the content.  These engaging and (dare I say it?) fun activities also provide opportunities for students to explore their own creativity, to work collaboratively and communicate with others and to think critically about the challenge being presented to them -- four skills identified by the Partnership for 21st Century Learning that “students need to master to succeed in work and life in the 21st century.” For more information, see  This is the classic win-win that we’re looking to achieve through our #HollistonInnovates initiative.

Before I share the specifics of these exciting exemplars, I wanted to explore the fear I expressed in the previous paragraph about describing these lessons as fun.  I suspect that those who believe school still should follow the model of students sitting neatly and quietly in rows, listening intently as their expert-teacher lectured and drilled them, would be appalled at our efforts to make learning fun for our students.  Twenty-five years ago, when I suggested that fun could have a positive effect on student engagement (and, as a result, in student learning), I was chastised by an about-to-retire high school English teacher (whose lectern stood prominently at the front of her class) who looked down her glasses at me and scoffed, “my job is to teach them, not entertain them.”   Today, I feel more than ever that fun can and should play a role in teaching.  Our students are, after all, children.  If you don’t believe me when I say a high school senior wants to have fun, you should see the sheer joy they exhibit at a high school football game as part of the Red Sea or on Halloween when we allow seniors to wear costumes to school.  It’s during those time that you recognize that, even as they are driving toward adulthood, their inner child is right below the surface, eager to re-emerge!.

So with all that said, let me share some of the exciting things that are going on in our classrooms, in response to our #HollistonInnovates initiative:

Sidewalk Math.jpg
At Placentino, teachers are partnering with Lesley University to bring a new approach to teaching number sense to our earliest learners.  According to their website, “Sidewalk Math is designed to engage young children in learning mathematical patterns by walking, hopping, jumping and skipping through colorful designs… and kinesthetic learning.”  In essence, through play and exploration, students develop their own sense of the relationships between and among numbers -- a key building block for all math concepts that educators refer to as number sense.  By connecting the learning to an early learner’s need for frequent movement, younger students can explore the world of numbers through play.  Who says learning can’t be fun??


At Miller, one 4th grade teacher completely re-designed the way she assessed her students’ understanding of longitude and latitude. Inspired by the show, the Amazing Race, rather than give students a standard test or quiz, she created teams of students and instructed them to create the world’s largest scavenger hunt, hiding valuable items in cities around the globe and creating clues so that contestants could find those items.  Teams then exchanged clues and worked together to unravel the clues and determine the 5 cities in in which the valuable items were located.  Using this assessment method, students not only had to demonstrate their knowledge of longitude and latitude twice (once in creating their own clues and the second time when deciphering another team’s clues) but also had to communicate effectively, think creatively, solve problems and work collaboratively as a team -- those “21st century skills” we identified earlier. One key component to this innovation is that essential content (finding and identifying locations on the map through longitude and latitude) is not sacrificed for the sake of skill development.

These are just a few examples of new and exciting approaches to learning that teachers in Holliston are embracing.  Just a few weeks into this school year, I had many more choices to highlight.  In my next installment, I’ll highlight some of the exciting things happening in our high school and middle school classrooms -- more examples of #HollistonInnovates to come!


  1. Thank you for sharing these examples.
    You answered my question in your closing paragraph - what is happening at the middle and high schools? So often "innovative" and "fun" instructional strategies are aimed at early learning.
    Beyond fun and engaging activities, I believe students can be greatly motivated by positive trusting relationships with teachers, and also activities that allow for personalization.
    I look forward to reading more.
    I also would like to hear more about how teachers at each grade/school level are sharing these experiences and providing more consistent quality for students from classroom to classroom.
    Thank you!


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