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For me, the start of a new year means envisioning opportunities I see unfolding during the year to come. In 2016, I see a whole lot of opportunity for us all to support student learning.

The Bentonville School District made a commitment to focus our instructional delivery on project- or problem-based learning for students at all grade levels to increase the level of student ownership in the learning process. Our goal was, and still is, to ignite a passion for finding solutions to real problems through collaboration with our community.

The basic concept is to have students identify an issue, situation or challenge and then employ resources to create a solution. Teachers challenge students to think about why the problem exists, why a solution is needed and how their solution will impact the world -- instead of just providing the problem and telling them how to find a solution. Given the opportunity, students learn more than facts and figures. They learn to apply knowledge to find solutions, "soft skills" necessary to work with others productively and the habits of mind necessary to create their pathways to college and career. Or career and college, these kids have options.

I see over and over again how our commitment to letting students follow their passions leads to incredible results. By focusing on solution finding and opportunities for learning, students are learning to appreciate time-honored methods toward understanding -- trial and error, scientific method, reiteration through collaboration -- that successful people have been using for years to achieve a goal. The best part: Students allowed to experience set-backs are actually developing some of the most marketable skills of the innovation economy -- grit, perseverance and an entrepreneurial mindset. As I think about it, that's a delivery model grounded in why Northwest Arkansas is so successful.

Creating innovators is the driving force behind project- and problem-based learning. Our new Ignite Professional Studies Program challenges students in their junior and senior years. The Ignite program expands significantly in 2016 to include culinary arts and sciences, construction professions, medical professions, logistics management and digital media production. That expansion brings new opportunities for community involvement as mentors, clients and expert facilitators for students in all the strands of Ignite Professional Studies program.

But let's not stop there. There are opportunities to share your expertise with students in every classroom in the district. There are opportunities for supporting students at all grade levels engaged in real, relevant learning through project- and problem-based learning. My challenge to you for 2016 is to find a way to share your knowledge with kids of all ages. Whether you're an architect or X-ray tech, chef, engineer, or marketing professional, we need your expertise to help prepare students as innovators not exclusively in our Ignite program, but across every grade level at every school.

I love thinking about all of the opportunities for collaboration between a community rich in resources and some of the greatest kids in any district anywhere. Innovation is in the DNA of Northwest Arkansas. This area thrives because of a mindset that is grounded in looking for opportunities to make a difference and change the world. I know if we create opportunities, excellent things will happen.

NAN Our Town on 12/31/2015

Print Headline: Excellence found in problem-solving

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