Jul 19, 2023 - Education

SMU to help study new ways of teaching

The entrance of Southern Methodist University

Photo: Brian Harkin/Getty Images

SMU's Center on Research and Evaluation (CORE) will take part in a five-year study examining how elementary school classrooms can become more playful.

  • The study will focus on under-resourced schools around the country, including in Dallas.

Why it matters: The basic model for teaching elementary students — one teacher talking to 20-30 kids — hasn't changed much over the last few centuries. Academics call it the "sage on a stage" approach.

The big picture: SMU is one of seven universities participating in the "Learning Through Play" study, which will be led by Temple University in Philadelphia and funded by roughly $20 million from the LEGO Foundation.

  • The project aims to develop a way of teaching that fosters children's creativity, critical thinking, communication skills and confidence.

Context: The pandemic set students back and has led to widespread teacher burnout. Dropout rates have skyrocketed.

  • And in a future where AI will be able to handle a broad scope of tasks, a student's ability to memorize and recite facts won't help build the skills needed to thrive.

What's happening: Researchers will work with dozens of teachers to build customized lesson plans for pre-K through fourth grade, with the goal of making learning more playful and collaborative.

  • Through classroom observation and a series of teacher surveys, researchers will evaluate how the teaching process changed, whether classrooms became more playful, and whether students engaged in deeper learning.
  • SMU's team, led by CORE executive director Annie Wright, will coordinate all research activities for the project and consult with the national team on school partnerships and parent engagement.

What they're saying: "We have to be partners with our teachers and schools in order for [the study] to be embraced and implemented with integrity," Wright tells Axios.

What's next: A pilot study is scheduled for the 2023-2024 academic year. The full study will begin in the 2024-2025 school year.


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