Shoshone’s teaching strategy: like reading a book

Fifth-graders in Liz Torkelson’s Shoshone Elementary School class became archeologists for the past semester: digging for bones, sorting and numbering them and then putting the skeletons back together.

The kids were guided by the question: How do changes to the environment affect a species’ ability to adapt or go extinct?

Torkelson was guided by a new teaching strategy called “Storyline.”

This research and hands-on strategy helped students learn to fluently explain the climate changes that occurred in the Triassic, Jurassic and Cretaceous periods and the effect that these changes had on flora, fauna and dinosaurs in the Mesozoic Era. Model dinosaurs live in huge classroom dioramas. Students not only can explain the reasoning behind why the models are not to scale, but mathematics behind the scales to which they were created.

This learning is occurring with Storyline, which takes required curriculum and integrates it into a story. Essential questions form the story’s framework. Guided by the essential questions, students and teachers construct a setting, become characters and solve problems as incidents unfold.

“Key questions designed to be big and broad activate students’ prior knowledge and experiences,” said Shoshone Principal Emily Nelsen.

Nelsen got the Storyline idea after visiting a Bend, Ore., school where this strategy had been in place for years. Nelsen was so impressed with the school climate, the students’ active engagement in learning and the results that she brought teachers from Shoshone to see Storyline for themselves.

After only two years, Shoshone teachers and students are a model of Storyline success.

“It has changed our school,” Nelsen said.

Second-grade teacher Julie Nordstrom said, “We need to make our parent-teacher conferences longer because the kids want to tell their parents everything they learned in Storyline time.”

In the past semester, kindergarten students became farmers, third-graders became astronauts and first-graders became florists. Fourth-graders learned about aeronautics. Second-graders were world travelers.

“Active involvement in learning has skyrocketed learning outcomes in Shoshone,” Nelsen said.

While learning to read, write, listen and speak, students also learn to solve problems, communicate and collaborate.

Said one fourth-grader: “Storyline is mostly about working together.”

LEARN MORE: Find out about Shoshone’s academic trends and how they compare to other Idaho schools at our new data center, IdahoEdTrends.org.

Patricia McRae, professional development coordinator for the Idaho Leads project, developed this story. The Idaho Leads project and Idaho Education News are funded by the J.A. and Kathryn Albertson Foundation.

Republish this article on your website