When news of The Welsh Academy made the front page of the Cleveland Plain Dealer, friends of Kim Brandt immediately knew she would be the perfect person to join the team.
“It’s really hard to start something brand new,” Brandt says. But when The Welsh Academy was being implemented, Brandt knew she was up for the challenge. She joined the academy team at its inception as the founding STEM teacher after teaching math at Hawken School for 18 years. Brandt earned her master’s degree in teacher leadership and brings with her a level of confidence to the role that makes building a new curriculum from scratch seem like riding a bike.
“I had always done a lot of projects in my class,” she says. An expert in project-based learning, Brandt has presented on the topic in collaboration with fellow teachers across the country.
Project-based learning starts with an essential question or situation that the learning in class seeks to answer. Lessons are designed on what students need to know in order to let them answer that question or navigate the situation. Student voice and choice are priorities, letting each student decide how to present his results to classmates and teachers.
“The opportunity to come in and create those experiences for students was really exciting to me,” says Brandt.
Watching Brandt teach probability to a class of seventh graders puts project-based learning to the test—especially when that class follows lunch. What better way to teach the concept than with a hands-on experiment? The sound of coins hitting their desks fills the room as the students flip to tally the number of times the flips result in either heads or tails. With a commanding voice and gentle care, Brandt calms the high energy of her students as she takes the time to meet them where they are.
“Because our students have such a variety of backgrounds, they haven’t all been given the opportunity to be creative and think out of the box,” Brandt says. “Helping students learn to trust in who they are as students can be really hard.”
Yet, in the classroom, it is obvious that Brandt’s students trust her. As she walks around the classroom, Brandt positions herself side-by-side with students as she provides instruction. She refers to the students as gentlemen, and uses words like “tomfoolery” and “shenanigans” to keep things light and ensure students are paying attention. Her face lights up when she sees students make a connection to what they are learning in class.
“Any time you can see this is how I can use something in a practical way, it deepens students’ love of learning,” she says. Through curriculum planning, Brandt has created school-wide projects that cross disciplines.
Whether building gingerbread houses, learning about the Olympics or creating a business in a truck, students bring together what they are learning in math, science and humanities in a single lesson. “As we design the curriculum, we are looking for natural connections,” Brandt says.
Brandt’s influence on curriculum at The Welsh Academy runs deep, but she has also impacted the world of education in greater Cleveland. This past year, she served as part of a STEM curriculum development team with a group of Cleveland educators through an opportunity with BrightSide Educational Partners. As part of this project, she worked with a team of teachers across northeast Ohio to generate K-16 materials that teachers & programs can use to discuss the Cleveland Guardians name change.
“We looked at locations where stadiums are and those environments over time. We looked at the progression of a name over time, physical stadiums, cost of stadiums, and the cost to change a name.” Ultimately, the curriculum would end by designing a new environmentally-friendly stadium. Brandt hopes to lead Welsh Academy students in this lesson next year.
Identifying these types of connections helps Brandt relate to her students. She loves to watch them grow in their love of learning but also enjoys hearing about their weekends and success outside of the classroom. Now she looks forward to seeing the continued growth of her students as the current eighth graders prepare for graduation.
“The personal connections are my biggest joy,” she says.