On Sept. 17, five congress members from Japan’s Upper House, and two researchers specializing in education technology from Japan, came to Washington to visit Renton Prep Christian School. They observed students in a nontraditional setting, spread out, laptops in hands of first graders. The students of all grades are working with technology, creativity and collaboration.
Renton Prep has recently been named one of the 17 schools in the world selected for the Microsoft Flagship School program. They are one of two schools chosen in the U.S., along with University of Central Florida.
Although representatives from countries like Brazil, Pakistan, Serbia and New Zealand have visited Renton Prep before, this was the first time an upper-level government came to see its innovative use of technology.
Delegates were able to see sixth-grade students use Minecraft for learning. For the Minecraft Education Edition projects, students created museums using research, blueprints made of digital ink and then they used criteria included on their OneNote notebook, which all students have access to.
The representatives from Japan were able to see kids from first to sixth grades collaborate together. Younger students from the Seattle location came down to Renton for a collaborative project. The groups were all presented with a concept: make a piece of paper cross a taut, horizontal string line from one chair to another.
The groups were given independence to go online and try to find a way to make this work.
Even as the delegates visited, Michelle Zimmerman, director of innovative teaching and learning sciences at Renton Prep, later said she and other educators came to the agreement the multi-age groups had been too large for being the first time the younger and older students worked together. She wrote a reflection on the project for what went wrong, why it’s important to understand that, and what to do next time, which she sent to the visitors from Japan.
“We are constantly reinventing and that means steep learning curves for educators,” Zimmerman said.
For Zimmerman, she said this was a benefit to this team of visitors, as they were able to see how educators are willing to assess a problem with feedback and then re-evaluate the learning in an innovative program, instead of just seeing it run smoothly.
House of Councilors member Michihiro Ishibashi said it was great to see how the school was using technology to do a new innovative learning methodology, and that in general, Japan has a traditional classroom structure.
“We’re also trying to introduce these new technologies, new methodologies, using IT technology, so you have more collaboration, more innovative creativity in school kids. This is very interesting and this can bring ideas, solutions and applications to developing education policies in Japan,” Ishibashi said.
The delegates went to the lower level of the academy and received gifts from the eighth through 10th graders. The older students created original art pieces as gifts for the guests, and the students talked through their creative processes and created websites through Microsoft Sway showing their process.
Tenth grader Afomeya Hailu used a Microsoft translator, that uses the foundation of Artificial Intelligence, to feature English and Japanese on her site with her artistic rendering of Mount Fuji.
“It was easier to do the drafts (online) because they were erasable, but it was cool seeing how different it was to paint it,” Hailu said.
Another tenth grader Emmy Sung created an art piece that integrated tea, Starbucks, raining and cherry blossoms to merge Japanese and Pacific Northwest traditions together.
One of the delegates commented on the art, a rendering of a Starbucks mug for tea.
“Can I buy this at Starbucks? Because it’s very beautiful,” the delegate said.