07/15/2011 by Tom Salyers
Forward Thinker Mary Simon brings hands-on learning back to the classroom
California Forward has named Mary Simon a Forward Thinker for her work to give teachers access to resources and lesson plans that ensure hands-on classroom learning survives.
“I founded RAFT to help educators use hands-on education to transform the learning experience and close the achievement gap,” says Mary Simon, an educator who knows the importance of hands-on learning and has seen it deteriorate with each successive test requirement and government budget cut.
17 years ago, Simon decided to give teachers a solution to their classroom challenges by founding Resource Area for Teachers (RAFT). Now, K-12 teachers everywhere turn to RAFT for inspiration, free lesson plans, and hands-on kits to engage their students.
Simon knows from experience how hands-on activities drive home important concepts and help students learn. She also knows how hard it can be for busy teachers to come up with both the ideas to bring concepts to life and the funds for materials for each student, but she knew a way must be found.
"An independent research study demonstrated that RAFT’s approach not only gets students engaged in lessons…, but also helps them gain subject knowledge, apply that knowledge to solve 'real world' problems, and improve academic test performance,” Simon says. “Even as measured by the kinds of questions found on standardized achievement tests, RAFT works!"
Simon and her team also help the environment by keeping things out of landfills. They partner with companies to “inventively repurpose” donated items into classroom materials and engage companies to help improve education.
She does all of this with a largely volunteer team, making the classroom experience more dynamic and improve student learning for the long term.