Lynden Spotlight: The outdoors and fifth graders power Nate Hoch

Lynden Spotlight: The outdoors and fifth graders power Nate Hoch
Posted on 03/23/2017
Nate Hoch has embraced Whatcom County, moving from Seattle to teach in Bellingham before landing at Isom Elementary this year. “Whatcom County was really a lot about the connection between the communities, the schools and the outdoor pursuits,” he says. “We live in nature. We live in an amazing part of the world. Whether Lynden or Bellingham, everyone is very connected to the world they live in. For some families that is through farming and for others that is purely recreational. That connection is really important to me.”

That connection also bleeds into the fifth-grade classroom Hoch serves at Isom. Not only do his students love to understand what keeps him busy outside of the classroom, but as Hoch says, the students have started to become “super aware” of what life is like beyond themselves.

“Whether talking about future careers and starting to understand what their parents and families are going through,” Hoch says, “they are starting to see the world as a lot bigger and more complicated place. I am really trying to help them experience how big and great the world around them is.”

Sometimes that example can be purely fun, such as the mountain biking that keeps Hoch busy when he’s not in the classroom. Last year he started a mountain bike club for his students in Bellingham and he plans to soon have something similar set up in Lynden.

While it may be mountain biking for him, he wants all students to find what keeps them excited. “As a class, we definitely talk a lot about how the things that drive us outside of school give us a reason to be successful in school,” he says. “It is more buy-in than you get from learning for learning sake.”

Inside the classroom, activity really helps students connect the world, he says, often giving “authentic connections” to what students see in the world. “Everything has connections to the world around them, so everything becomes authentic,” says a teacher who spent three years teaching special education kindergarten before a master’s degree and moving into six years of fifth grade. “That is the experience that is so powerful. That is why so many adults, when you talk to them, they can remember what they did in fifth grade. You really start to open up to how much what you are doing connects with the world around you.”

Too help accentuate that connection, Hoch tries to keep the learning project-based, such as with the Rube Goldberg machine he enjoys watching the students try to create. Following a national competition’s rules, students bring all the supplies from home and spend a least a month building up a prototype, that inevitably requires problem solving.

“Getting 23 kids on the same target is quite a task, but the other real big part of it is they get to experience failure over and over and over again in a safe zone,” he says. Facing failure together requires the students to work with each other to create solutions, a challenge that gives students an even greater connection to the real world.

As Hoch experiences the world around him and brings it inside his Isom classroom, his students get to gain the value of those real-world connections.