The Solutionary Students of Oceanside: An Interview with Mitch Bickman and Laura Trongard

Mitch Bickman is the Director of Social Studies in the Oceanside School District and is the recipient of the 2016 New York State Social Studies Supervisory Association’s Supervisor of the Year Award. This award is given to professionals who have demonstrated the highest commitment to social studies education in New York State and have established innovative and effective supervisory techniques.

Laura Trongard is a National Board Certified high school teacher in Oceanside, New York. She has been recognized as a 2016 Collaborator of Excellence by the New York State English Council and was named the 2019 New York State Council for Social Studies Outstanding High School Social Studies Teacher of the Year.

We are excited to share how Mitch and Laura are bringing solutionary practice to students in the Oceanside School District.

IHE: What motivated you to bring solutionary learning and teaching to Oceanside?

Mitch and Laura: Five years ago, New York State released Inquiry Design Model (IDM) units that focused on inquiry-based learning in social studies. These units culminated in a Taking Informed Action experience where students took their learning out of the four walls of the classroom and into the world. Focusing on authentic application of knowledge has always been a central focus of ours, and this model provided a framework and common language for us to propel this work forward. It was shortly after this that we came across The World Becomes What We Teach: Educating a Generation of Solutionaries by Zoe Weil. Zoe’s book immediately resonated with us, and we felt inspired and energized to become solutionaries ourselves. Using the big ideas from Zoe’s book we began infusing various elements of her work into both instructional practices and larger district-wide initiatives. As social studies educators, we must ensure that our students are equipped with the knowledge and tools to solve the problems that exist in their world today, as well as future problems that they are confronted with. Zoe’s words served as a call to arms and we have been moving full steam ahead ever since we picked up her book.

IHE: How have you been incorporating this work into curriculum and teaching at Oceanside?

Mitch and Laura: This work has been used at multiple levels, from district-wide Taking Informed Action projects to specific lessons within individual classes. This is perhaps best exemplified by how we incorporated Solutionary Thinking activities into a unit on the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (UNSDGs) in our 10th grade AP World History/English 10 Honors Integrated Program. Students first researched the UNSDGs and presented overviews to the group. Next students identified which goal(s) they were passionate about, so groups could be formed based on student interests. Students worked together in groups to define an area of focus within the goal. Students then completed the Iceberg Model and Leverage Points Chart from the Solutionary Program’s curriculum. Students worked together to propose solutions and evaluate them using IHE’s Solutionary Matrix. With the school year coming to a close, the Taking Informed Action segment will likely take place this upcoming fall. We plan to host Solutionary Fairs for all 4th-6th-grade students across the district which will be led by high school students.

IHE: What have the impacts been on your students?

Mitch and Laura: We have had students start to make a real difference in the lives of others and their community across the entire district. In classrooms that focus on solutionary learning, students’ intrinsic motivation has increased. Part of this motivation comes from giving students ownership over their learning and allowing them to follow their passions. Students have begun to stay after class on a more regular basis and follow up with us via email to discuss their ideas in greater depth. One student recently proposed starting a club because she had so many ideas and was passionate about making a difference.

IHE: That’s wonderful! Have there been any impacts from student solutions in your school or community that you’d like to share?

Mitch and Laura: While we are at the early stages of this work, what jumps out is the personal connections students have made with individuals and organizations outside the confines of our building. Students have become more aware of their environment and local community and, using root-cause analysis, have begun the work of framing out the problem(s) in an effort to find humane, just, and sustainable solutions.

IHE: What are some of your upcoming plans for bringing solutionary learning to Oceanside?

Mitch and Laura: We are planning to hold a “World We Want” fair at our elementary schools next school year. The fair will consist of booths representing each UN Sustainable Development Goal. The purpose of the fair is to educate 4-6th graders about the UNSDGs and provide them with the opportunity to make a difference on each goal. The fair will be run by our 10th-grade AP World History/English 10 Honors Integrated students who have researched the goals and completed Solutionary Thinking coursework. There will be extension activities after the fair that elementary students can complete with their families. Additionally, there will be suggested curriculum connections and book lists for each goal.

IHE: Thank you Mitch and Laura, for bringing solutionary practice to life in such meaningful and creative ways! 

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