By Jayne Hanson
Starline Elementary School teacher Bridget Hagest, of Lake Havasu City, has a knack for teaching that extends beyond the ho-hum standard to nurture critical thinking and kindness when it comes to her 39 combination fifth- and sixth-grade gifted students.
Hagest’s latest venture has her nudging her pupils toward a large-scale competition that kicks off at the state level in mid-April of this year.
“It’s a program called Future Problem Solving,” Mrs. Hagest said. “It’s part of an international competition but its sectioned by state. It’s really cool because it teaches the kids critical thinking and problem-solving skills when it comes to real world problems. Ultimately, it’s a writing competition. It’s super cool.”
The competition was brought to Mrs. Hagest’s attention during a conference for teaching gifted youth. Recently, she has traveled monthly to Phoenix to ensure she properly coaches the two teams of her students she will select for April’s state bowl. Thirty teams from around Arizona are signed up. Mrs. Hagest’s are the only ones from Havasu.
For now, in class, Mrs. Hagest and her students work their standardized school lessons with a twist as the youth inch toward their own local FPS finals – which determines who will strut their stuff at the state-level contest.
The FPS program features a six-step problem solving module including such steps as identifying challenges, selecting underlying problems of each challenge, producing solutions and planning for action.
“The idea is that the kids get a future scene, it’s a one-page description,” Mrs. Hagest said. “There are no right or wrong answers.”
For example, the practice scenario takes place in the year 2040 in the Sumatran rain forests of Indonesia. The topic is drones. Prior to the scenario being unveiled, the students were assigned to research drones through articles within newspapers or magazines or observing an in-class demonstration by a local drone operator.
Their problem’s future scenario centered on scientists using a drone system to feed and water an endangered species of orangutans. The wildlife has become too dependent on the consistency of such a delivery system. The students must first identify 16 possible problematic issues with the drone-delivery system, and begin to apply the steps to solve it.
“They came up with ideas of creating Indonesian Ninja Warrior courses in the rain forest so the orangutans will make their way through the course, chasing, and promoting health,” Mrs. Hagest said. “Another student team had drones teaching Zumba class.”
The practice answers were passed along to program evaluators in Phoenix, as were the answers from all of the other students within the state.
“They got the best scores,” Mrs. Hagest said of her Havasu students. “During the state bowl they’ll have two hours start-to-finish to apply the steps while working the problem.”
The FPS qualifying problem currently being mulled over by Mrs. Hagest’s class is about food loss and waste and identifying who are the biggest wasters in the world by region. They’re in a two-week research phase.
There are four students per team and two teams from Havasu are set to attend. In all, Mrs. Hagest’s eight top students will make the trip.
“I still have to teach the standards, it’s just covered in a different way, yes, but in a more unique way, a different way, I definitely do have more freedom,” Mrs. Hagest said.
This isn’t Mrs. Hagest’s first time thinking beyond ordinary when it comes to meeting her student’s needs. Within the last few school years, she researched and taught herself bucket-drumming on her own time in order to incorporate it in the classroom in the wake of the school district’s woes of cutting back on special classes like are, physical education and library time.
“I taught them bucket drumming, it was three years ago, we did it once weekly in class,” Mrs. Hagest said. “I even got half the buckets donated.”
Furthermore, Mrs. Hagest’s ties to IJSBA (thanks to her husband and former pro rider Chris Hagest), each fall season in Havasu is yet another arm of the local educator’s outside-the-box teaching style focusing on the worldly event. This year, classwork began a month ahead of the international races as she led her minions in building a website about the event.
“It’s such a cool thing that we have here in the middle of nowhere, and people come all the way here to do this,” Mrs. Hagest said of IJSBA.
The racers are from all around the globe. Each student is assigned a racer and their corresponding country and the research begins. Mrs. Hagest arranges a field trip to the beach and the students come face-to-face with the very racers they’ve been learning about.
The students’ website encompassed an interactive map of all the races and the classroom was decorated with the local race course. Mrs. Hagest would strategically move the personal watercraft racers along the display course in her classroom during the lessons.
“It’s very evolved,” Mrs. Hagest said of her own grassroots IJSBA curriculum, we even have math lessons leading up to it and we’ve even brought racers into the classroom.”
DUDE, BE NICE
In it’s third year at Starline Elementary and introduced by Mrs. Hagest after she found inspiration on the namesake’s website, it’s a pay-it-forward concept centering on showing kindness to others.
The week long program morphed into a school-wide effort and promotes a daily focus on kind acts. For example, sit with someone new at lunch, teacher appreciation efforts, thanking local police officers, firefighters, and even the mayor.
Each of the 24 classrooms at Starline Elementary participated in voting one of their peers as the nicest kid in class. Mrs. Hagest’s class alone voted to identify the nicest teacher at school and a favorite local restaurant. Mrs. Hagest followed up with recognition tokens to the identified teachers and businesses.
The most recent left-field project of Mrs. Hagest’s was Elf Academy held the last day of class before winter break.
“Instead of a class party with popcorn and watching a movie, or a gift exchange, they wanted to do something for the kindergarteners to make their day a little more special,” Mrs. Hagest said of her students.
It was a lesson in disguise as far as Mrs. Hagest was concerned.
“We want them to be good citizens, we want them to be kind to others, and to be good people,” she said. “It’s not the book part of school. It’s the emotional piece of school, and I think that’s a huge piece.”
In all, 75 kindergartners from three classes at Starline Elementary were treated to their prepared choice of participation be it reindeer caretakers, gift wrappers, toy makers, or treat bakers as they were invited to spend time in Mrs. Hagest’s classroom.
Her own students participated and dressed as reindeer and elves as they helped the younger students accomplish their crafty tasks. Santa Claus made a guest appearance, too.
Each of the kindergarteners left with party favors and a bagged gift containing a color book, crayons, stickers, a Hot Wheels, a holiday pencil and emoji eraser.
All of the supplies for the pay-it-forward holiday party were donated by fellow staff and parents of her own students who were on board for the project idea. The inaugural Elf Academy was considered a success.