The Power of Curiosity: Educator Mark Gerl on Empowering Students to Think, Learn and Prosper
Here at Learn To Solder Kits, we’re always inspired by educators who transform learning experiences and unlock their students’ natural curiosity. We caught up with educator Mark Gerl from the Galloway School in Atlanta Georgia, who shared with us just how powerful curiosity can be in the classroom.
Would you tell us a little more about your teaching environment?
Galloway School was started by Elliott Galloway in the late 60s, following the great social upheaval in the country. His aim was to create a school that broke away from discriminatory practices that informed much of the national schooling system at that time and create a curriculum that wasn’t influenced by race, culture, or class.
Based on his philosophy that learning is a human joy, the school has continued working to create its own curriculums and projects. The school also actively recruits diverse students from every walk of life, and this is what really drew me to The Galloway School.
It sounds like a great environment for both students and educators. What are the results of this type of education?
What the school has accomplished is incredible. What we’re very proud of is that many students graduate from our school with a very clear idea of what they want to do in their careers. They’ve gone on to attend Ivy League and top tech institutions.
Do most of the students pursue technology and science?
What’s really exciting is that that’s not always the case. I’ve had students return to tell me that because of their classes in technology, they were able to think critically and unlock their creativity and went on to study business or finance. We’ve also had a fair share of students pursue careers in music, acting, and dancing. Not only do our students go out and work in just about every field, but they’re also excelling!
So what does an ordinary day in your class look like?
There is nothing ordinary about our classes! I am a huge believer in the concept of project-based learning. What I say to my students is: “when you’re in this class, there will be no homework, quizzes, or tests; but when you’re in this class, you give your full and undivided attention and focus.” I purposefully craft my classes so that I give my students all the resources that they would need: books, videos, and even other people they can talk with, and from there I say: “Okay go!” and that’s when the magic of learning, exploring and creating really starts.
I teach fifth through eighth grade. So for instance, in the fifth grade, we start exploring creativity. We do 3D modelling and VR design, and by the end of it, instead of doing a book report, the students design a VR experience. In the sixth grade, on the other hand, we explore software that makes 8-bit games, like the old Nintendo systems. My students have made the most amazing racing and maze games, and I get to upload them onto the internet, and their parents can go and play with their children’s creations.
I just took on a high school class that we’re running as a game design studio. The students have done everything: from the original idea to the art, the music, and the coding. It’s a 100% student-designed video game, and the goal is to publish it on itch.io by April.
So you cover a wide range of themes in your classes?
We explore many different topics and themes. We do everything from board game design to Python and Unity programing, AI and game design, and robotics systems. We even touch on the ethics of AI! Recently, I taught my students to solder, and we’ve used Learn To Solder Kits in the classroom. Through this, they learned how to make wearable technology, like clothing that lights up through movement or sound. By sparking their curiosity, we’ve found that students are independently exploring new topics on their own, which are traditionally only covered at a college level!
It must be amazing seeing your students really explore their creativity like that?
Absolutely! And I simply present them with the basics, and then give them the freedom to experiment and explore and come up with their own ideas. The best part of it is seeing the pride and accomplishment on their faces when they’ve not only learned something, but created something. And they are able to take that into the world and show their friends and parents.
When you think about education, what are your thoughts on how you would like to see it transformed around the world?
My hope is that all schools can get to the point where they stop trying to push information out, and rather leverage students’ natural curiosity and let them learn on their own. We should let our students climb the mountain on their own, and simply be there to make sure they don’t slip or fall. We’ve seen what can be accomplished when this happens, and the results speak for themselves.
To learn more about the work Mark does with his students, follow his Twitter account, by clicking here.