I think that noisy classrooms are better because then you have students that are being engaged and you hear them talking about what’s happening.
At the University of Washington’s Robinson Center for Young Scholars, Alexandra Goodell (PhD ‘18) has watched students get so immersed in learning that everything else gets put by the wayside.
“We had one teacher in the accelerated Algebra II class last year and she was saying, ‘The students all wanted to take their books out to lunch with them! I had to make them take a break’,” Goodell said.
This hunger to learn is the norm at the Robinson Center, where a large majority of students have been identified as highly capable and are participating in college-level course work at ages as young as 12.
While those students identified as gifted are disproportionately White or East Asian today, Goodell is working to change who has access to highly capable learning programs. Since joining the Robinson Center last summer as its Director of Outreach Programs, Goodell has been in charge of its efforts to form relationships with community-based organizations, school districts and individuals to increase awareness of, and access to, the center's programs.
“We want to change what it looks like and what it means to be gifted,” Goodell said. “We would like to have advanced learning opportunities for everybody, not just for students who have been identified as highly capable when they were younger. Students who are interested and motivated should have equal access to those kinds of learning experiences, instead of being restricted by their circumstances.”
To achieve that goal, Goodell has focused on visiting less affluent communities in the region, such as Federal Way, Auburn, Tukwila and south Seattle.
Goodell’s work opening access to advanced education also extends into her dissertation research. As a student in the learning sciences and human development program, Goodell is conducting research with the UW’s Knowledge in Action Project. The goal of this project is to transform Advanced Placement (AP) courses by incorporating project-based learning into the curriculum.
“The idea is that we can have this deep, transferable learning experience that goes beyond the AP test to have an impact on student life. I was looking at students’ ability to develop connections to the practices of science, despite having never had access to AP classes previously. Do they feel like they can connect to those practices of inquiry, or do they feel out of place?”
Goodell’s research investigates structural changes that are occurring in many high schools, which are shifting from a closed system in which only a small number of students can take AP courses into a more inclusive format.
From AP classrooms to her work at the Robinson Center, Goodell seeks to create spaces for all students to gain access to advanced educational experiences, regardless of their socioeconomic status.
That includes the Robinson Center’s Saturday programs, which are open to students of all abilities and provide opportunities for students to engage with subjects that are rarely encountered in a standard classrooms.
“Instead of traditional reading or math, the students study things like symmetry, philosophy and podcasting. We offer full tuition and fee waivers to anyone who qualifies for free and reduced lunch. We are trying to open up access to deep learning and enrichment opportunities for families who would not necessarily have opportunities for those kinds of academic experiences.”
In the future, Goodell intends to continue challenging perceptions of which students belong in highly capable contexts. She believes that changing traditional education models into engaging learning environments is critical for student growth. When students are challenged to interact with material on a deeper level, the result has a profound impact on students and their classrooms.
“There is an ideal image of the quiet classroom where all the students are studious with their heads down. I think that noisy classrooms are better because then you have students that are being engaged and you hear them talking about what’s happening. Ideally, the classroom would be noisy with students that are excited about what they are learning and always asking questions, lots of questions.”
Dustin Wunderlich, Director for Marketing and Communications