How Summit Learning Inspires My Students To Be Scientists

“I want to be a scientist when I grow up!” one of my 6th graders told me last May.

As a first-year science teacher at Aspen Valley Prep, this was the best thing I heard all year.

Last year Valley Prep introduced the Summit Learning Program to its 6th, 7th, and 8th graders. This personalized approach to teaching and learning meant that for the first time, students were in charge of their own education. They were at the center of every decision.

Within the science projects I assigned, students had the flexibility to look up different resources and complete different levels of work based on what they were interested in or how deep they wanted to dive into the material.

middle school science
Middle school science students at Aspen Valley Prep work on a science project.

Projects with an Impact

Over the course of the year, my students worked on a variety of different projects, from creating an earthquake-safe building to developing an edible model of the Earth’s crust.  My youngest students — 6th graders — were the most enthusiastic, especially when it came to their project on climate change.

They were really excited because they realized that they weren’t just doing this project for a grade.

Instead, they were able to present their project to the School Board, with recommendations to improve our school’s environmental footprint. Their project ended up making an impact.

More Confidence in the Classroom

Each day in my classroom is different. Some students form into groups to work on a particular assignment or decide to take an assessment early if they’ve moved ahead in the reading.

What surprised me the most is how the community and the environment changed in the classroom over the course of the school year. Usually, you think everyone’s for themselves, but it soon became “No classmate left behind” — my students were focused on helping each other succeed. My students began taking more initiative in the classroom, helping other students and collaborating to help each other reach “the Green Zone” — classroom slang for passing a focus area. Each time a student passed a focus area and wrote their name on the whiteboard “Green Zone,” their confidence grew.

I saw a shift in my students. They started thinking, I’m really good at something so maybe I’m good at other things.

middle school science
Middle school science students at Aspen Valley Prep work on a science project.

That confidence also translated to more curiosity. My students are now participating more in class, asking questions and doing research beyond what the assignment requires because they’re excited to learn something new.

My Growth as a Teacher

I believe this inquiry-based model for learning will help my students continue to be active learners as they grow up. But students aren’t the only ones who changed last year. I transformed as well.

As a teacher, I am now able to keep every student engaged and challenged in the classroom every day. Instead of trying to find lessons that will work for the majority of the classroom, I can give customized instruction to each student based on where they are that day.

Every morning I get up with a big smile on my face. It gives me a lot of hope for my students, because each student is taken care of.

They’re not going to be pushed back and forgotten about — especially the accelerated learners, who often get put on the back burner. Summit Learning allows them to shine like everyone else.

This school year when I welcomed a new group of students — a brand new class of future scientists — I felt confident that the Summit Learning environment will give them the skills, knowledge, and habits to succeed.

About the author

Abel Ruiz
Abel Ruiz is a middle school science teacher at Aspen Valley Prep in Fresno, California. He teaches using the Summit Learning personalized approach to teaching and learning and was first introduced to the magic of science by his high school physics teacher. He studied physics at UC Berkeley where he was involved in research projects on quantum computing and high energy particle interaction and was on his way to becoming a scientist. But his experience as a camp counselor revealed his true passion of working with children. He left his research position and returned home to the central valley of California to “work with the children who needed passionate and dedicated teachers the most.” He calls this career choice the best decision of his life.