A couple weeks before the school semester started, I was invited to talk about what I did in my STEAM class in connection to Culturally Relevant and Responsive Pedagogy during our Computer Science Summer Institute. If you weren’t there, below is an excerpt of what I said:

A given statement is that our kids live in school 6-8 hours a day. It is our job to make sure they are living every moment knowing somebody loves them, believes in them, and cares about their growth. My goal was to provide them a memorable and emotional experience where they can look back 5-10 years from now and say that we did these awesome things. If you give your learners that opportunity, we’ve just solved a piece of that equity puzzle as we gave all our kids 4 things that make them fundamentally fulfilled and happy. 1.) A Sense of Purpose 2.) Opportunity to dig into something they want to get good at 3.) A Sense of Adventure 4.) A need to share what they’ve learned. We can’t measure this sense of fulfillment quantitatively as it is something we “feel”. As you see through this video, these are evidence of student in the process of finding their sense of purpose as they are trying the master something and share what they’ve learned back to their community by expressing themselves in a way that best fits themselves.

-Jacob Aringo

At the end of the talk, I showed a video of what we did in STEAM class which is shown below. Inspired by the movie Chef, I made a video showing a collection of 1-3 second clips our time learning.


Some teachers came up to me to inquiry about what I did and how I did what I did. Some teachers said that I made whatever the students did look easy. The truth is the journey to student mastery was never an easy journey. What you are seeing in the video is student mastery in action. There were steps that our students had to take to get to a place where it looks like the task was easy. In fact, this process had so many bumpy roads in the beginning as all our young innovators had different needs. In order to do this work, we need to shift our thinking and our mindset about the ecology of our learning environment so that mastery can happen. When we think about the ecology of our learning environment, we have to consider the following aspects:

  • The End Goal
  • The Topology of the Learning Environment
  • Design of the Experience
  • Teacher as Coach, Student As Worker

As a former ecologist, I think about the learning environment as a interaction between all the people in the environment and between the people and environment with the understanding that everybody within the environment has an important role and end goal. Analogously in biology, an organism’s goals are to collect resources so that it is able to grow and eventually pass on it’s genes to the next generation. When it comes to learning, our learner’s goals are to make sure they deeply understand what they’ve learning, feel confident and satisfied about what they are learning, constantly reflect on their process of learning, and share what they’ve learned. From the teacher’s point of view, our goal is to design the environment and experience so that the above goals are met.


What is the vision and goals of your learning environment? In our first couple years of teaching, we are so worried about the next day’s lesson, designing assessments, keeping our students on tasks, taking roles, etc. We are also worried about covering standards and the curriculum because we are constantly bombard by this notion of accountability, benchmarks, and making sure our students are reaching a set of standards so they are prepared for the next part of their learning journey. Though important, we struggle to establish our roots in this work. I remember in a critical friends inquiry group, I was a little emotional because I felt like I was failing my student. My classroom management was failing and learning wasn’t happening. A fellow critical friend asked, “What is the vision of your class? At the end of your chemistry class, what are you designing your students to be?” This question made me realize that I am lacking a strong vision for myself and my students. Without that vision, my strategies to engage my learners have no purpose and therefore their is no buy-in to learn chemistry because my student don’t see the purpose behind it. That was a big AHA moment where I really worked on developing that vision for my chemistry class. When I left the school, I didn’t really succeed in solidifying that vision statement nor was I able to act on it really well. Though through that process, I tinkered with the thought as that question lingered throughout my career where I am able to develop that vision in my STEAM class. Everything that I do will lead to that vision statement.

Vision Statement for STEAM


When I think about the topology of the learning environment, we have to consider two things: 1.) physical space and 2.) the tone of the environment. When I enter into a classroom that is not mine, a narrative is being told about how and what the students are learning. The walls of the classroom, the set up the classroom, the student work, and the entrance to classroom for example are all intentionally designed so that there is a certain learning flow that is happening. I remember the process of redesigning the STEAM classroom as I was being intentional about spaces where student’s reflect, compute, make, a space where student’s receive instruction (physically and virtually).

There is also a tone to the classroom. Are the student quiet or are they talking? Where is the learning happening? Are students in their seats or are they walking around the room? What are structures are being put into place that allow this tone to happen?


In order for the learners to practice the skills, you need to design an experiences that closely matches the experiences that they will be dealing with in the future. In boxing, you don’t just talk boxing. If that is all you do, 2 things will happen, our students will lack the skills to thrive in a competitive environment, you will bore the students, and/or you won’t have any students. Boxers must do the mitt work, foot work, sparring, roadwork, weight training, and eat right. People must DO the learning to practice what they’ve learned in order to demonstrate what they’ve learned. This model connects back to a Coalition of Essential School Principle, Learning to Use One’s Mind Well which states,

The school should focus on helping young people learn to use their minds well. Schools should not be “comprehensive” if such a claim is made at the expense of the school’s central intellectual purpose.


So my question for you is “What will your students be doing or demonstrating? What experiences will you be designing that will closely match what your students will be dealing with in their near future?

We can also approach designing the experience in two ways. I remember a talking to former principal who said that we can have the “buffet” model or a “specialist” model. This model connects back to the Coalition of Essential School Principles of Less is More, Depth over Breadth which states,

The school’s goals should be simple: that each student master a limited number of essential skills and areas of knowledge. While these skills and areas will, to varying degrees, reflect the traditional academic disciplines, the program’s design should be shaped by the intellectual and imaginative powers and competencies that the students need, rather than by “subjects” as conventionally defined. The aphorism “less is more” should dominate: curricular decisions should be guided by the aim of thorough student mastery and achievement rather than by an effort to merely cover content.


This quote resonated with me and guides my curricular decisions as with the “buffet model”, students touch on the so many skills and content knowledge that they only learn at a surface level. Covering a limited amount of skill sets allows for students to really focus and proficient at those skill sets.


Being a boxing coach and a teacher mentor gave me a different lens on how I interact with my learners. When I act as a learning coach, my goals are to:

  • Keep our learner engaged and immersed the learning process.
  • Design experiences in which student can actively practice essential skills so that they are able to function autonomously within the learning environment.
  • Design the space, the learning experience, and set the tone of the learning environment.
  • To relentlessly offer feedback so that our student can grow in the learning environment

In coaching students, we shouldn’t be the center of the learning. Of course, YES, our student need direct instruction but we use direct instruction as a means to teach the tools and the practices they need to become the owners of their learning. This is what it means to COACH our students to become the drivers of their learning.

The governing practical metaphor of the school should be “student-as-worker”, rather than the more familiar metaphor of “teacher as deliverer of instructional services.” Accordingly, a prominent pedagogy will be coaching students to learn how to learn and thus to teach themselves.


In order for our students to show that they have mastered those essential skills, they must demonstrate those skills repetitively. Mastery means those essential skills are now innate and automatic and can be accessed at anytime. This connects to other Coalition of Essential Schools Principles, Demonstration of Mastery which states:

Teaching and learning should be documented and assessed with tools based on student performance of real tasks. Students not yet at appropriate levels of competence should be provided intensive support and resources to assist them quickly to meet standards. Multiple forms of evidence, ranging from ongoing observation of the learner to completion of specific projects, should be used to better understand the learner’s strengths and needs, and to plan for further assistance. Students should have opportunities to exhibit their expertise before family and community.



Just remember, mastery is not static state, it’s a dynamic process.

Questions to reflect on:

  • What is the vision of your learning experience? What are you designing your students to be able to do?”
  • What does your current physical/virtual space tell you about how students are learning in that space?
  • What essential skills are our students focusing on and how are they getting to your expected level of mastery?
  • How are you designing the learning experience so that student are able to practice the essential skills needed to demonstrate mastery?
  • How are you coaching your student so that they are able achieve mastery?
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