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Discovery Time Promotes Innovation, Critical-Thinking

Video produced by Thomas Wagner and Tennyson Thomas, Clayton High School
New this school year, elementary students across the District are spending time each week specifically dedicated to exploring their own interests and ideas. “Discovery time” empowers students in kindergarten through fifth grade to use their critical thinking and problem solving skills to explore their curiosities related to the curricular content – and beyond.

“Discovery time permits teachers to step outside of the role of teacher and become a facilitator for students as they explore answers to questions that perplex them,” said Glenridge Elementary Principal Beth Scott. “These questions may be related to curriculum learned within our core subjects, or they may not relate. The intent of discovery time at Glenridge is to allow students to freely explore their curiosities and interests.”

The District has a common schedule in place at the elementary level to ensure the minutes of instruction in each curricular area are aligned across grade levels and schools. In response to requests from teachers for dedicated time within the schedule for innovation and differentiation, the District’s elementary principals met during the summer to find pockets of time at each grade level that could be dedicated to discovery time.

While still in its infancy, this initiative has been widely embraced by students and teachers alike. Discovery time looks different in every classroom, as teachers give their students the autonomy to pursue their interests in different ways. Some of the fifth-graders at Meramec Elementary, for example, are focusing on solving problems they have identified in their school building by preparing a proposal to reduce food waste in the cafeteria and increase recycling. Conversely, Glenridge Elementary fifth-graders have spent part of their discovery time taking part in a “cardboard challenge” to design and create simple cardboard arcade games for their kindergarten buddies to enjoy.

At Captain Elementary, first-grader Cate Gabel illustrates how discovery time encourages students to problem solve and build their growth mindset. While drawing lines and color blocks to create her own codes using Ozobots, she said, “Even if [the code] is wrong, I just make another one and it’s a success.”

Discovery time is not only about learning new concepts or exploring known concepts more in-depth; it’s also about giving students the opportunity to grow as individuals and as members of a group.

“A large part of our discovery time is learning the social skills for negotiating and problem solving when things come up,” said Meramec Elementary Kindergarten Teacher Patricia Casseau.

Discovery time across the District is likely to continue changing and evolving throughout this school year and in the future. But one thing remains certain: providing dedicated time for out-of-the-box, differentiated learning is making a lasting impact on Clayton students.