Science

Growing to Scale: Theatrical Journeys-Embedding STEAM into Early Childhood Education Through Multi-sensory Guided Pretend Play

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Young child engaging in The Journey Playbook
Courtesy Photo

As students attend school during the COVID-19 pandemic, it is important to support  learners in thinking “outside-the-box” and practice problem solving skills.  Young children often engage in pretend play, acting out observations and experiences they have.  Educators know children learn through play and the importance of providing children with interdisciplinary learning opportunities in languages they are familiar with. Through, her project, Growing to Scale: A 3-Phase Teacher Development Initiative of The Theatrical Journey Project,  veteran CentroNía staff member and theater artist Elizabeth Bruce, developed and published a bilingual STEAM curriculum enhancement for Pre-K children to “become science problem solvers who remedy science problems through handson simulations of real phenomenon. They are experts who solve the problems and emergencies presented in each journey.”

The concepts presented in The Journey Playbook are valuable to educators as The Journey Playbook provides fun opportunities to guide young children through play as they learn STEAM concepts and develop problem solving skills to become experts in solving problems most children experience regardless of socioeconomic factors and educational setting.  Located in Washington D.C., CentroNía overwhelmingly serves low and moderate income and immigrant families, a majority of whom are Latino, African, African-American, or bicultural. CentroNía’s holistic approach provides a bilingual, multicultural environment where children and families they serve receive the support and encouragement they need to succeed.

What were the goals of the project and how were they achieved?

Elizabeth Bruce wanted to support the expansion of the strategies presented bilingually in the Theatrical Journey Playbook: Introducing Science to Young Children through Pretend Play to scale by expanding a previously funded Teacher Development Initiative locally, regionally, and internationally through CentroNía’s Institute. To reach her goal, she created the project, Growing to Scale: A 3-Phase Teacher Development Initiative of The Theatrical Journey Project.

As one can imagine, with the undertaking of her project, there were many steps Elizabeth Bruce needed to accomplish.  She planned to produce and translate The Journey Playbook, train educators, collaborate with educational and community partners and disseminate The Journey Playbook.

She planned to :

  • Embed the Journey Project Teacher Development with CentroNía Institute’s Development of Laboratory Pre-K classrooms led by Master Teachers, who will become Trainers of Trainers with Four CentroNía Sites.
  • Have participation from Pre-K Colleague Centers through linkages with DC Public Schools, Public Charter Schools, and Early Childhood Centers.
  • Collaborate with the CentroNía Institute to present about The Journey Project’s methodology within the  Early Childhood Education, STEM + Art =STEAM, or arts education sectors, locally, regionally, and/or internationally
  • Create and distribute low-tech teaching tools for Journey Kits for participating Lab Classroom Master Teachers.
  • Partner with CentroNía’s pro-bono partners, including engineering professionals to conceptualize/design low-cost, multi-use, inter-changeable, space-saving devices as Journey teaching tools.
  • Print and broaden promotion of The Theatrical Journey Playbook and Teacher Development Program through press, social media, and professional networks.

What progress was made toward her goals?

Elizabeth completed final production and translation of The Journey Playbook! She co-facilitated in Spanish with CentroNía’s Food & Wellness staff, providing Professional Development/Teacher Training Workshops with CentroNía Teachers through a bi-weekly series of workshops on The Theatrical Journey Project to Early Childhood Educators.  Educators participated in either the English or Spanish cohorts.  The workshops/training included The Theatrical Journey Project content and process and integrated nutrition and wellness content explored through the journey process.  She also provided  bi-weekly Journey Project demo/training workshops with all Pre-K Lead Teachers and Assistant Teachers at CentroNía Maryland and co-facilitated (with Robert Michael Oliver, PhD, of The Performing Knowledge Project) workshops on Creativity and Dramatic Engagement for CentroNía Early Childhood, StudioROCKS, and Family Center teachers and staff. Here are a few other highlights from the project efforts:

  • Facilitated year-round journey workshops with: Pre-K/Junior Pre-K/Early Headstart Classrooms at CentroNía.
  • Presented bilingually with Spanish translation workshops engaged in 1 ½ hour hands-on demonstration of The Journey of the Sick Teddy Bear, complete with teddy bears, stethoscopes, thermometer, vocal/physical warm-ups, etc. Explanatory debriefs followed each section of the workshop, with a Journey Project one-pager, sample journey, and curriculum methodology handouts were provided. Through this experience, Elizabeth received “Excellent engagement and feedback!”
  • Presented a Training of Trainers on the methodology and pedagogy of the Theatrical Journey Project for Early Childhood Home Visitors.
  • Facilitated a collaboration between CentroNía Family Center and the Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers (SHPE).
  • Nurtured additional elements of the Journey Playbook/Project Teacher Training Project including:
    • Disseminating mini Journey Kits to Early Childhood Classrooms.
    • Planning CentroNía Family Center parent-child journey workshops.
    • Developing new journeys with CentroNía Food & Wellness , specifically on topics of hydration, circulation, vitamins and nutrients, and oxygenation.
    • Highlighting Journey Project techniques and methodologies
      during teacher assessments using the “CLASS” assessment tool.
  • One bilingual Journey Project collaborating teacher, Phoenix Harris, previously adapted her own variation of a Teddy Bear Journey as a final project for her Masters’ Degree at Trinity Washington University.

Exciting plans for the future

Project leaders participated and networked extensively at conferences and submitted proposals to continue to present, disseminate, and train teachers on The Journey Playbook.

The Journey Project is collaborating with the “Changing the Face of STEM: A Transformational Journey” event targeted to under-represented communities (Latinos, African-Americans, Native Americans) at the National Academy of Science in June 2018.

Elizabeth Bruce and others within CentroNía leadership have engaged in/are pursuing extensive and accelerated outreach to educational colleagues and organizations (nationally and internationally) receptive to Journey Project/Playbook teacher training, project collaboration and replication including English-language cohorts and one Amharic-language cohort (with translation). Additional plans include continuubg to facilitate workshops at CentroNía with Kinder/1st Graders; having weekly Journey workshops with CentroNía Universal Pre-K Classrooms, and continuing with fundraising for Journey Project Replication/Video Tutorials.

Early Childhood Educator and student engaging in The Journey Playbook
Courtesy Photo

How has The Journey Playbook affected the learning of students and/or teachers?

The learning of students and teachers has been deeply affected both directly, through the extensive hands-on Journey workshops, hands-on teacher trainings/professional development, conference presentations, and indirectly through the production, promotion, and dissemination of the Theatrical Journey Playbook: Introducing Science to Early Learners through Guided Pretend Play, as well as promotion of the Journey Project introductory video, webpage, and promotional materials.

Extensive outreach to major educational partners, schools, and institutions has been and continues to be underway, with projects for teacher training/project replication or adaptation with educational colleagues and Journey Playbook distribution to at least 135 educational colleagues and targeted teacher training/project replication, funding, or other support activities.

PreK/Early Childhood Educators/Teachers engaged directly in collaboratively journey workshops, collaborations, mentoring/modeling, and other teacher training.  The Journey Project began working for the first time with younger children, ages 2 ½ to 3 years old, with remarkably successful results when the project was adjusted to a slower pace with fewer activities per journey, plus repeating the same journey from week 1 to week 2. This addition allows the Journey Project at CentroNía to engage the same cohort of children for a full three years.

What challenges were experienced along the way and ideas for improving the project?

Elizabeth states, “I have learned that the process of engaging educational colleagues and their organizations as
targeted teacher training/project replication collaborators is a longer, more gradual process of deepening relationships and inviting educational leadership to observe/engage with the Journey Project, and especially to commit to teacher training/project replication. Colleague educational organizations, like most nonprofits and schools, are deeply engaged with their ongoing operations and missions and extensively committed to operationalizing, maintaining and funding their organization’s endeavors. Hence, learning about and embracing a new, even highly simpatico, methodology or pedagogy calls for a strong relationship and decisions by leadership to advance mutual commitment to in depth teacher training and project replication. Laying the groundwork for such partnerships, however, promises to come to fruition within a time frame of 1-2 years. Reaching critical mass for project replication/teacher training, thus, is anticipated once extensive ground-laying has been done.”

Further reading

Theatrical Journey Playbook

What is STEAM Education?

Three Core Concepts in Early Development

Global Learning Experiences Take Students to New Heights: Collaborating with Students in Other Countries On The United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals

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Photo of students collaborating
Project Photo

It is often said that teachers create magic in their classroom.  Kathryn Crawen at Ashford School in Venon, CT took creating magic to a global classroom with the project, Global Learning Experiences Take Students to New Heights.

They are developing an exciting and immersive cultural exchange for students from Kindergarten to 8th grade using the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals as a launching point for project based learning and collaboration with students in other countries (both in person and virtual). Students in K-8th grade will be immersed in school-wide projects that connect them with their global peers, working to engineer solutions the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals. This project is the first of its kind to utilize these parameters and tools laid out by the United Nations.

What is the project and their goals?

The goal of the project was to create global competency opportunities through international student-led collaborations focusing on the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals. Students met the following criteria defined by the Asia Society: 

  1. Recognize perspectives from around the globe 
  2. Communicate ideas to diverse populations
  3. Take action to design innovation solutions to global problems
  4. Investigate the world

Prior to their collaboration, 7th and 8th grade students completed a reflection rubric on their global leadership skills. The rubric included questions and scales for the four criteria from the Asia Society (above). The same students completed the survey at the mid year point and on average they moved 1.8 levels on the global leadership rubric. 

The students had the opportunity to practice recognizing perspectives from around the globe by using Skype with German students on topics such as climate change, gender equality, and sustainable economics. They communicated ideas through presentations both in Germany and within the local community. They took action through creating an interactive GIS map of indicators of the U.N. Sustainable Development Goals. And, most importantly they had the opportunity to investigate the world through the district’s first exchange program. 

What did they accomplish?

Students created the first part of a StoryMap on ArcGIS. Each student generated a question based on a United Nations Sustainable Development Goal. As a whole school, they collaborated with their German friends to discuss the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals and how to meet them. Most of these collaborations were done via Skype, though they had substantial collaboration while in Germany as well.  Kathryn Craven states, “It was fun to watch them all grow while working to meet the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals.”

photo of two students
Project Photo

How has this project affected the learning of students and/or teachers?

Katheryn Craven and her colleagues were thrilled and honored by how involved their whole district got in the Global Learning initiative. In addition to making progress towards the goals listed above, their major achievements for this year were: 

First International Exchange for Ashford School:

They participated in the first international exchange ever for their district. Most of their students had never been out of the country or on a plane before and grew enormously while in Germany. This exchange was life-changing for the core group of 20 students, and also reached every part of their school through virtual collaboration and exchanging ideas and solutions back and forth. See students working on their exchange here: http://ashfordabroad.weebly.com/ 

First District Wide Teacher Exchange in the state of Connecticut:

photo of teachers and students
Project Photo

While they were in Germany collaborating with other schools, they realized that teachers could also benefit from teaching abroad. They met with administrators at the German partner school and then in their home district, and came up with an idea for a reciprocal exchange in which teachers

switched classes for three weeks. Since their district is so enthusiastic about the partnership, it allowed them to use district funding for this – a sign that the relationship is going to continue for a long time! 

Schoolwide Global Learning Initiative:

All students have engaged in Skype sessions with partner classes where they talk about the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals. In addition, they were accepted as one of four Empathy Project schools in the United States. This means that each student in the school in grades 1-6 will have a virtual partner school in a different country. 

Collaboration on the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals:

Their collaboration focused primarily on students developing solutions to the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals. Students have worked on solutions to goals like UNSDG-13 (Climate Change) by holding a maker drive. 

What challenges did they experience and how they are addressing the challenges to improve the project?

One challenge that they faced with getting the program up and running was that some people in small towns can feel intimidated to get involved with international exchanges. In fact, prior to the proposal, their school had never had an international exchange before, and many students had never even spoken to someone from a different country. However, the support and the enthusiasm about global learning garnered by this grant helped them to overcome these problems. They used to have children who struggled to converse with anyone with an accent. But through these in-person and virtual exchanges, their students’ natural curiosity helped them overcome these challenges as they learned that people in other parts of the world have amazing stories to tell. Currently, each classroom has a virtual partnership, and they were blown away by the difference in their students when it came to talking with people from around the world. To continue their growth in this area, they would like to begin collaborations with non-Western countries so students can continue to gain different perspectives from around the world. 

Further reading

Cavity Nester Citizen Science Study: Field Biology Boosts Math and Science

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American Kestral
Photo from https://madisonaudubon.org/

In 2012, HawkWatch International (HWI) created a school-based “Cavity Nester Urban Bird Study” in partnership with the Salt Lake Center for Science Education (SLCSE) in 2017. Designed to be a student-led expansion to the project, the study has allowed them to start studying all cavity-nesting birds living in urban settings.

In this project you’ll learn more about how citizen science increased student awareness related to cavity nesting species, specifically the American Kestrel, a species in decline across much of its natural range. Both the Salt Lake Center for Science Education (SLCSE) and Farmington High School participated.

What were the goals of this project?

Barn Owl from Field Journal
Barn Owl from Field Journal , Project Artifact

The goals for this project were to collect data that allowed an understanding of the
survivorship and reproductive success of the American Kestrels, and to reinforce high school math and science concepts by allowing students to gain hands-on experience in field biology. Students would complete a field journal where they would record observations, collect data, and draw conclusions. They would also present their findings at a symposium open to their peers, families, and the broader community. The journals and presentations were to be shared to draw attention to the project and its benefit to local students.

How did they approach the project goals?

This goal was achieved through several visits to each classroom, a total of eight visits — focusing on project and monitoring procedures, natural history information about American Kestrels and other cavity nesters, nest check ethics, and how to determine the age of nestlings. They brought in live birds to connect students to the natural history of raptors, as well as actual monitoring equipment for the students to become familiar with the technology used and to ensure a comfort level with the process. 

Participation in Large Scale Citizen Science

Working directly with the students and teachers in the classroom and in the field to practice and understand the necessary protocol to monitor the nest boxes, capture photos and videos of the activity in the boxes, and to enter their nest box data. Project leaders worked with students and teachers to learn how to use the technology employed to check the nest boxes and how to use the data platform, Jotform, to enter the data. And they participated in the regular monitoring of the nest boxes.

Journaling for students and lesson plans for teachers

They developed sixteen lesson plans related to both math and science, as well as a journal developed with teachers for students to keep track of their own data. The journal also included some valuable reference information about the American Kestrel and the nest box procedures.

How did they achieve their goals?

Through the project, three visits were offered to SLCSE and five visits to Farmington High School. These visits helped develop relationships with students and teachers. At each visit, they established an aspect of the project, covering the concepts of natural history of cavity nesters, procedures for the project, and practiced how to use the technology and equipment necessary for the project. This was accomplished using Powerpoint presentations and actual equipment in the classrooms. 

Additionally, they went out with the students and teachers on nest box checks to make sure they understood the process and equipment use.

What was the impact of this project?

Here is a quote from one of the participating teachers. 

“We have a student at our school who is autistic and struggles socially and academically. In an effort to provide opportunities for students of all abilities, we’ve invited this student to participate in our nest box monitoring because of his love of birds. Each week we checked the nesting boxes, and this student was required to complete all of his homework to attend because he was not actually in the statistics class. He did not miss a week. He is constantly telling me about the new information he is learning about random raptors. Just today he went out with his group to check his assigned boxes and there were some people there from Hawkwatch who were kind enough to point out some nearby raptors. His enthusiasm about birds keeps growing.” -Emma Chandler, SLCSE science teacher 

Working on this allowed educators to develop and execute an in-depth citizen science program. They often only see students for one class period and then part ways, but with this project, programs were offered for teachers and students on a regular basis throughout the semester. They were able to share their passion with them and engage students in a way wherein they started looking forward to checking boxes and developing “relationships” with the nestlings in their assigned boxes. Having the students see science careers that happen outside the lab and working directly with scientists was beneficial for students in considering higher education and career opportunities in science.

What challenges did they encounter?

Project Photo
Project Photo

They budgeted for 12 cameras for Farmington High School, but had to allocate 4 of those cameras to SLCSE due to wear and tear on the older cameras. In an effort to mitigate this challenge next time, they plan to meet with the administration of Farmington High School to encourage support for allowing the students to check boxes during school hours. They will also ensure there is a camera and set up for each group, rather than a certain number per school. 

The other challenge faced was ensuring timely and accurate data entry by the students. A greater focus was needed in emphasizing the importance of entering the data in a timely manner from the nest box checks. The same is true for the accuracy of the data entry by the students. A fair amount of time was spent by staff going back and verifying data entries with students and/or teachers. In the future, they plan to practice data form entries more diligently with the students prior to actually checking nest boxes in an effort to prevent these kinds of challenges moving forward.

Explore Citizen Science

Full STEAM Ahead with Project Based Learning

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All aboard and Full STEAM Ahead!

Project Photo, Full Steam Ahead
Project Photo, Full Steam Ahead

The educators over at Bates Middle School in Sumter, South Carolina have been working hard laying tracks for the past year in order to bring their exciting project to fruition. By combining Project Based Learning (PBL) and a curriculum focus on Science, Technology, Engineering, the Arts and Mathematics (STEAM) and working with local businesses they are hoping to create a new generation of students who are prepared to be in an agile and competitive work force. One of the brilliant concepts behind this project is that nothing exists in a vacuum. You can’t well understand engineering if you don’t have a good handle on physics. You can’t code a videogame without understanding the underlying code. And you certainly can’t have music without math.

The Full STEAM Ahead project aims to remove the traditional isolation of subjects through the use of the “Critical C’s” of Collaboration, Cooperation and Communication which are emphasized with project based learning through interdisciplinary activities.

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Now that they are a year in, let’s see what has transpired. 

Bates teachers, led by the Transforming Learning Together (TLT)

Project Photo, Full Steam Ahead
Project Photo, Full Steam Ahead

mentor teachers, in the first stage of this initiative begun by identifying large-scale student learning goals for the year. They then researched new teaching approaches in order to integrate STEAM and Project Based Learning to help them achieve their goals, along with developing “action plans” for each year’s practice. The belief was that art can spark creativity in young scientists and engineers, develop observational abilities, and strengthen collaborative skills. One of the guiding questions for this project is ” How can we improve instruction, pedagogy, and student learning across the curriculum through the use of STEAM and PBL?”

Project Photo, Full Steam Ahead
Project Photo, Full Steam Ahead

So how do they propose to do this?

They began by having their trainers and the TLT team attend a PBL and STEAM workshop that spaned six sessions. This team returned to Bates to lead the entire staff through a STEAM Project Based Learning activity in order to familiarize everyone with the methods. Teachers investigated and utilized critical inquiry to work through this challenge. The thinking was that teachers will experience everything that the students do, giving them the tools to help elevate the projects as well as answer previously unanticipated questions. Teachers then guided students through one PBL unit in the first year of implementation.

 

A year in… where are they now?

They started off by providing professional development to their teachers during the first semester of the school year. STEAM lessons were developed to be a part of the regular curricula as well as embedded in Project Based Learning. The second semester brought about school-wide PBL units. Then on March 24th, there was a school-wide PBL Kickoff to begin the grade level units.  This is where things really began to take off. For this initial thrust into the unknown they gave each year a different subject field to dig into. Sixth graders explored the guiding question: “Are animals placed in captivity at an advantage or disadvantage than those in their natural habit? Why/ Why not?”

Project Photo, Full Steam Ahead
Project Photo, Full Steam Ahead

The kick-off was a field trip to the Riverbanks Zoo. The 6th graders researched the question and created suitable habitats for animals of their choice. The 7th graders explored the guiding question: “How can we be prepared for the unexpected?” Dealing with the preparedness for natural or man-made disasters was the focal point. The Red Cross, Fire Department, EMS, Disaster Management, Police Department, Shaw AFB and Salvation Army each set up a station to explain their role in disasters and how the community can prepare for disasters in the future. Students researched a disaster and prepared community service presentations on disaster preparedness. Eighth graders explored the, very relevant, guiding question: “Can separate be equal?” This question dealt with the Civil Rights movements of 1960 -1990. Guest speakers, Nathaniel Briggs (Briggs vs. Elliot) and Artrell Benbow (civil rights activist in Summerton and Sumter) spoke to the students of their personal experiences. This culminated with the 8th grade Drama class presenting a skit about the infamous Orangeburg Massacre. Students then rotated rooms to watch films about civil rights, explored civil rights virtual museums, and participated in gallery walks. Students researched the civil rights eras of 1960’s through the 1990’s and created projects to address the guiding question. The PBL classes occurred every Tuesday and Thursday beginning March 28th and ended in a PBL Excellence Fair held on May 4th at 6:00 pm at BMS to showcase student work and presentations.

 

What are some challenges facing STEAM/PBL learning?

Project Photo, Full Steam Ahead
Project Photo, Full Steam Ahead

For as exciting as this method of PBL learning is, and it’s clear that it’s starting to work; students and teachers on the whole are more engaged in their study areas… it’s not without it’s challenges.  One of the biggest cited in the report is that not all of the teachers have bought into the STEAM /PBL concept. This makes communicating those ideas to students that much harder.  Further professional development is needed in order to ensure more participation by teachers. They have also had some difficulty setting up model classrooms so we are hoping teachers observing other teachers will assist in this. But as more teachers undergo professional development and find the merit in this method of teaching the easier it will get.  And year two has some exciting things in store for the students.  One word: Robots. We look forward to hearing about their experiences with Robots.

How might Robots, cross-cultural references and civil rights intersect?

Project Photo, Full Steam Ahead
Project Photo, Full Steam Ahead

Let’s mix up that engineering and art a bit, shall we? The term “robot” came from a Czech play called Rossums Universal Robots and is derived from the word “robotnik” which means slave. It’s about a robot who is forced to work for a shady company that then rebels and leads to the extinction of the human race.  It’s bleak, but not without hope.  But it’s a good lesson and a challenge for students on how we should be thinking about a newly created servant class.  Just some food for thought.

 

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The Village Science Project: Reducing Barriers to Science Education in South Sudan

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VSP Engineering Club, Project Photo
VSP Engineering Club at Loreto Primary School in Rumbek, South Sudan. Project Photo.

While there are always needs in the schools in our own country, it is important to remember that other countries have students that have the same potential but lack even the basic resources available to many U.S. students.

This is what Candacia Greenman is aiming to address by working with the Loreto Primary School in Rumbek, South Sudan. The Village Science Project (VSP) aims to use an inquiry-driven, hands-on and play-oriented approach to improve access to high quality science education for over 200 disadvantaged students over a 3-year period in this MDEF funded academic enrichment project.

How can educators address barriers to high quality science education?

VSP intends to target the four main hindrances to science learning in their community in order to better serve the students:

  1. Limited resources for practical, inquiry-driven science exploration
  2. Poor English language acquisition
  3. Little community engagement
  4. Psychological barriers to learning

VPS’s proposed addressing these in the following ways:

  • Providing students with the resources needed for science exploration through the use of science experiments and engineering and robotics projects.
  • Implementing techniques to improve English language skills in science learning by promoting reading through tablets, facilitating peer learning experiences and encouraging student presentations through science fairs
  • Stimulating community engagement through science fairs combined with field trips and career talks from local community members.
  • Creating low-stress environments for our students, especially our girls to become interested in learning science (students are also given opportunities for “tinkering” or “free play” with science kits through the formation of an after school “tinker club”)
VSP participants show a simple circuit. Project photo.
VSP participant shows a simple circuit. Project photo.

How can teaching methods improve students’ love for science?

Loreto Primary School serves over 600 students, with an emphasis on girls’ education and VSP will benefit about 200 different upper primary students over 3 years. The students live in a community with limited access to electricity and potable water and currently, classes are conducted outdoors under trees.

Most of these students never get a real chance to find a love of science because it’s taught almost exclusively in a theoretical, teacher-centered manner. As such, VSP is ground-breaking because of its use of a more hands-on and child-centered methodology to elevate student learning. They’ll do this by keeping a strong focus on inquiry-driven science exploration, which will help these students to develop their critical thinking skills. VSP will also deepen students understanding of, and interaction with the local physical environment as well as addressing social issues that adversely affect science education such as gender inequity, trauma-induced stress and poor community engagement.

At the end of year one the educators working on the VSP conducted initial baseline assessments of science performance and interest of Primary 5 and Primary 6 students after the following programs were implemented:

  • Teacher demonstrations
  • Laboratory exercises/activities
  • Robotics and engineering projects
  • Tablet usage
  • Mathematics manipulatives usage
  • Science fair
  • Career talks
  • Field trips
  • Tinker Club

Revealing effective science and math teaching

The VSP team members have conducted baseline assessments in both science and mathematics enabling the teachers to tailor the rest of their programs according to how best to serve the students needs.  In light of a mathematics assessment revealing gaps they’ve launched a mathematics intervention program targeting student understanding of number operations for Primary 3 through Primary 6 students. All teachers have adapted their teaching programs to allow for more time for Mathematics instruction and they have expanded their focus on number operations.

In addition, all of the primary school teachers attended a month-long training workshop to learn how to integrate demonstrations into their lesson plans for effective science teaching. In order to maximize the use of the science teaching aids, they expanded their focus to include demonstrations in Electricity, Magnetism and Weather modules.

Students work with tablets to improve math and science fluency
Students work with tablets to improve math and science fluency

Best of all, afterschool programs to supplement students’ science education have also been implemented. In these programs, the students use science kits to expand their learning of material covered in their Electricity, Magnetism and Weather modules. Those aren’t the only exciting things going on after school for Loreto Primary School students.

VSP has also introduced programs to introduce students to engineering principles and robotics. In these programs, students have been using Engino engineering blocks to build simple machines and learn how to code using the Lightbot app as a first step towards understanding robotics. The engineering afterschool program encompasses the proposed ‘Tinker Club’ in which ‘free play’ is encouraged and students build simple machines of their choice.  Students are also being provided with tablets to use in the afterschool programs to aid them in their mathematics and science courses.  

One of the most exciting additions have been the science fairs which give the students a place to shine in front of Teachers, parents and other community leaders also attending the event. The science fair focused on energy and engineering and students gave presentations on the design of solar toys, the basics of electricity, and the design and utility of simple machines.

Loreto Primary School students present at the VSP science fair. Project photo.
Loreto Primary School students present at the VSP science fair. Project photo.

One of the greatest feathers in the cap of the VSP project is that all of their after school programs and the science fair were conducted in English and has resulted in a vast improvement in English comprehension. In addition, students have learned how to use technology and the basics of coding through the use of tablets. Their teachers have reported that tablet usage has also helped the students with Mathematics anxiety.

Lessons learned in academic enrichment

The accomplishments of this project have not come without challenges. The VSP team have reflected on ways they can improve their program in later years.  Their biggest challenge was the field trips due to security concerns. As a result of this challenge, they have shifted their focus and are currently designing a “Mathematics and Science for Life” program in which students will attend weekend sessions to learn how mathematics and science are useful in everyday life.  Being able to adapt and shift strategies in response to challenges is a necessity for success for a program like this.

The VSP team also learned the difficulties of relying on applications that are not as readily available on the international networks. Google Play is not enabled in South Sudan. As such, all apps must be pre-loaded before transportation to Rumbek. Unfortunately, this means that updates cannot be installed as needed. Furthermore, a lack of consistent and fast internet access has limited the utility of many apps that would be very useful for the students. And in addition to these challenges, having electricity in the classroom has been an issue.  As such, they recently invested in solar energy to provide electricity to their school campus and  are have installed solar electricity panels for our primary school which will improve their internet access.

All in all, it sounds like some really exciting things are going on with the VSP in Rumbek.  They’re swinging with the punches and adapting when necessary.  The McCarthy Dressman Education Foundation is excited to see where they go in the years ahead.  If they succeed, other schools in the region will benefit enormously from the pedagogical strategies that these educators are pioneering.

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Aquaponics: Growing Our Own Food Sustainably

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Learning how to grow food engages culinary students and harvests real-world science in this featured project.

In an age of environmental unpredictability and rising cost of living one thing not being discussed enough is self-sustainability.  Understanding how to grow and prepare one’s own food is an incredible life skill to develop, regardless of one’s chosen profession.  This is something that Michael Kosko and the educators at  Al Raby School for Community and Environment, Chicago, IL are taking on right now through their program “Aquaponics: Growing Our Own Food Sustainably.”  By teaching students how to grow their own herbs and vegetables, alongside certain types of fish they are hoping to create a program that produces students mindful about their environment and who can also cook up a decent, healthy filet of fish.  This program will also provide students with the opportunity to explore issues of food justice and food deserts which many students experience within their communities.

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Recipe for Success

This project is unique to the Chicago area. While there are many culinary and horticulture/agriculture programs in the city, Al Raby will be the first to combine these two types of programs into one. The Office of CTE (career and technical education) Programs provided equipment for the culinary lab.  In the grow lab, students will grow salad greens, kale, and various herbs while taking care of tilapia and koi. Eventually, this program is looking to partner with local businesses to sell the student harvest. In the classroom, students will study the life cycles of plants and fish and the optimal way to grow both. Since this class will be heavily rooted in the scientific method and student inquiry, students will also study how different variables affect plant growth including temperature, light intensity, nutrient/chemical levels, water quality, diseases, and aquatic pests. And since no pesticides or synthetic fertilizers are used, all produce grown in the lab is classified as organic according to the USDA National Organic Standards Board (NOSB) definition.

Building a Grow Lab and Disseminating Learning

Ultimately, the goal of the project was to build out a grow lab in the school to support their preexisting culinary/food science career and technical education (CTE) program when those classes began in September 2016.  Accomplishing that meant getting the grow lab up and running, which they did, leading to a bountiful harvest in May. Students who took the vegetables home came back with rave reviews from family and friends.  

Currently they are working with the Garfield Park Conservatory, to create a teen docent program made up exclusively of Al Raby culinary students. Fifteen of their freshmen students interviewed for ten spots on the inaugural docent team. During the summer, these students work to create educational experiences for area elementary students and during the school year they will be released from their culinary classes once a month to lead tours for second and third graders.

Along with those benefits, this past summer the selected students ran experiments in the grow lab with Akilah Henderson, the Student Engagement Coordinator at the Conservatory. Under Akilah’s guidance the students will tracked the growth of crops on the conservatory’s farm and in the lab, building on the Botany students’ work from the past semester.

Meeting Challenges and Planning for the Future

They were not without difficulties.  Unfortunately they discovered too late that the district requires schools to obtain special permission to raise fish.  Because of this, the first round in the lab had to do without the fish.  But David Blackmon, the program coordinator for all the culinary CTE programs throughout the district, toured the lab earlier in the month and is working with central office to obtain permission for Al Raby to start raising tilapia and koi next school year. Fortuitously, fish can easily be added to the current units in the lab with no modifications once permission is obtained.

Regardless of the fish-hiccups it sounds like the students and educators at Al Raby are off to a great start.  It sounds like before long they’ll be swimming in so much fish and so many vegetables they’ll have have trouble giving them away!

Plans for a dinner for district leaders and community stakeholders are in the works to share the success and help others savor the impact of the project.

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STARS: Real world inquiry excels to new heights at Research Ranch

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The mobile observatory from the STARS project. This picture was taken by drone of the director standing in the brand new facility.
The mobile observatory from the STARS project. This picture was taken by drone of the director standing in the brand new facility.

Science, inquiry, project-based learning, and relevance take center stage in STARS.

At a time of such ecological uncertainty, when some of our greatest minds have given us 1000 years as a species until extinction, one thing is abundantly clear: the study of celestial bodies, near and far, has never been more important.  And while 1000 years may be a bit far off to even comprehend, it behooves us to broaden our understanding of our neighboring planets in stars in hopes that when the time comes for us to leave our terrestrial trappings behind, we’re ready.

This is exactly what educators at George West High School have been working on for the past two years with their innovative STARS (South Texas Astronomical Research for Students) program.

“It has widely been assumed that scientific research and especially astronomical research was an endeavor to be pursued at the university level, and even then primarily by graduate students, certainly not at the high school level.  STARS challenges that notion.”

-Kenneth Zeigler

Research Ranch Cultivates Learning

STARS is not limited to astronomy. At Research Ranch, tiny ranch by Texas standards of only 34 acres, introduces students to real research in the following fields of study:

  •   Astronomy
  •   Solar energy to electricity conversion
  •   Ecology
  •   Materials engineering
  •   New techniques in ranching (the solar ranch)

According to the report, in the first two years of this project all the areas above demonstrated tremendous progress in regards to research. Current efforts continue to focus the project primarily on astronomy, materials engineering, and solar energy.

A Converted Marching Band Trailer becomes a Mobile Astronomical Observatory

One of the most exciting developments of the past year was the STARS observatory telescope coming fully online to fully begin the program.  It’s housed in the Mobile Astronomical Observatory, an 8 by 16 foot, 30-year-old converted marching band trailer.  

This year saw the final steps of the transformation into a scientific research facility.  Even receiving a brand new coat of paint and its official logo as the school year began.  

Students of the science club get busy painting the mobile observatory’s exterior in the new color scheme.
Students of the science club get busy painting the mobile observatory’s exterior.

The mobile observatory is divided into a control room and telescope room section. Most of the student researcher’s time is spent in the control room which is climate controlled.

The primary instrument used this year with the telescope was the thermoelectrically cooled CCD camera that could be used to take timed exposures of the heavens as well as make measurements of star brightness at a variety of wavelengths. This opens the possibility of making measurements of color and surface temperature of stars or the shapes and rotational periods of asteroids. The student operators, CCD camera and main telescope are shown in the slideshow below.

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Rocketry Club Qualifies for National Competition

The observatory isn’t the only thing to be excited about.  An unexpected offshoot of the astronomy program has been a new rocketry program.  Interest in the mobile observatory inevitably led to an interest in all things space, and it led students to pursue the Team America Rocketry Challenge.  Two teams from George West High School participated in this nationwide competition.  The challenge was to build a rocket that would carry two raw hen eggs to an altitude of exactly 850 feet and return them to the ground undamaged in a flight time between 44 and 46 seconds.  This is a most difficult task and one of the two teams (Cloud 9) qualified for the national competition.

The Cloud Nine rocketry team preparing their rockets for competition in Washington, DC.
The Cloud 9 rocketry team of the STARS research project preparing their rockets for competition in Washington, DC.

Solar Voltaic Arrays Support Real World Agricultural Inquiry

The solar ranch is another reason to celebrate this program.  Junior Ryan Repka has been working on two different designs for photovoltaic arrays.  The first one is the semi-active array.  The first panel will be finished before the end of the school year and will be installed during the summer of 2016 with the entire photovoltaic array to be completed during the fall 2016 semester.  At that point, Ryan  will begin a semester long study as to the best ways to maximize efficiency, from panel positioning to water cooling of the panels.

Through repositioning of photovoltaic arrays as part of the STARS research project, an additional 15-20% solar power efficiency can be realized.While this project exceeds expectations for high school students, it continues to expand student learning opportunities.  

In terms of agricultural and ecological research, the project is just beginning to make progress. In fact, an intriguing future project is taking shape.  Not far from the observatory site and solar ranch, the first trees of a citrus orchard have been planted.  The observatory site is a bit north of the main citrus growing region of Texas. Being on a hill out of areas of cold sinking air help, but this area is subject to serious killing frosts about one year in four.  To combat this problem, the students and educators plan to develop what they are calling a microwave defroster.  This system could be used to prevent frost damage on citrus but would be even more useful on more sensitive winter vegetables such as lettuce. They plan to initiate a pilot project for this device no later than the winter of 2018.

It truly is an exciting time to be a student or a teacher participating in the STARS program at George West High School.  There’s something very powerful about teaching and learning while simultaneously working for a better future for all humans.

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App Development and 3D Printing for At-Risk Youth increases Learner Confidence and Problem Solving Skills through Maker Magic

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“Failure is a good thing in the development world, it teaches developers quite a bit.”-App Development Instructor

Becoming good at anything is a process. Educators know that students must develop confidence in the face of mistakes and failure, because they are truly an opportunity for learning. As Bob Lenz explains in Edutopia, “failure is an opportunity for students to receive feedback on their strengths as well as their areas of improvement — all for the purpose of getting better. When reframed as a good, constructive, and essential part of learning, failure is a master teacher,” (Failure is Essential to Learning, 2015).

In this report from App Development and 3D Printing for At-Risk Youth, you’ll hear more about how a partnership at Helensview Alternative High School in Portland, Oregon, helped students build confidence and work through failure by developing 3D printed objects and apps. By integrating “maker” culture which focuses on DIY (do it yourself) engineering, students gained confidence and developed problem solving skills. Learn more below!

Students and educators pose with 3D printed objects.
Students and educators pose with 3D printed objects. (Project Photo)

Why support students in making and developing?

According to the funding proposal “When Google released their diversity stats it came as no surprise that nearly every field was dominated by white men” so with an interest in building interest in STEM careers, the non-profit organization ChickTech partnered with high school teacher Brian Granse to offer making opportunities in the classroom. ChickTech, which focuses on increasing gender diversity in technology through hands-on activities, supported Helensview educators in pursuing the following project goals:

  • Provide at-risk students from Helensview Alternative High School with technical workshops
  • Allow students to create unique 3D printed objects and apps
  • Improve students’ confidence and interest in learning
  • Create lessons that can be improved upon next year and shared with others

How can you use 3D printing and app development to enhance learning and student interest?

This 3D Printer prints with heated plastic filament by creating geometric shapes in layers, Project Photo
This 3D Printer prints with heated plastic filament by creating geometric shapes in layers, Project Photo

In this project, students were offered access to workshops instead of their regularly scheduled classes. For five weeks, regular 3 hour sessions were offered on Tuesday and Thursday afternoons. Initially, others in the school were concerned about the length of the sessions, given that most students had a hard time staying involved in 45 minute classes. As the students became engaged and interested, the school community was pleasantly surprised. Students were not only engaged, but some stayed after school had ended to continue to work on their projects, a feat the report called “unheard-of” for this school.

Workshops focused on two types of making, 3D printing and app development.

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3D Printing Layers Learning in Geometry and Measurement with Practical Knowledge

In the 3D printing workshops, students created multiple unique 3-D printed objects they could later take home. These included:

  • personalized name plates
  • custom-shaped containers
  • bracelets (also personalized)
  • toy cars
3D Printed Car and Designer, Project Photo
3D Printed Car and Designer, Project Photo

The workshops supported the students in learning important concepts and skills for 3D printing (explained here by 3Dify) over the course of creating the various designs, including:

  • creating 3D objects using basic sketch tools such as rectangles and circles
  • customizing objects with text
  • adding loops to an initial sketch to build a 3D object in successive layers
  • using a computer to navigate three-dimensional space
  • drawing complex sketches using geometry for practical objects such as containers
  • creating objects based on real-world measurements
  • creating objects with functional wheels
  • sketching flat designs onto curved surfaces
3D Designing In Process, Project Photo
3D Designing In Process, Project Photo

The more that the students learned, the more creativity they expressed. The most rewarding project for the instructors was the most complex and required the students to integrate all of the skills they were learning over time. By creating a custom built car model including customized mufflers, tailpipes, headlights, spoilers and wheels the students moved way beyond 3D modeling and into the real world – their designs even had to follow strict guidelines in order to be printable. “By the end, the students who clearly wanted to be designers stood out as did the students who wanted to be the builders of 3D printers” (Project Report) highlighting the effectiveness of the workshops focused on these skills.

App Development Builds Confidence in Problem Solving and Learning from Failure

TouchDevelop, MIcrosoft (2016) https://www.touchdevelop.com/
TouchDevelop, MIcrosoft (2016) https://www.touchdevelop.com/

The second series of workshops focused on app development, which also required the students to demonstrate complex problem solving skills. To get started, students followed a tutorial to learn TouchDevelop, an app creation tool, before brainstorming ideas for apps they would like to create. Once they decided what apps they wanted to develop they worked in teams to create them.

Learning how to develop apps required the students to practice and apply the following skills:

  • problem solving
  • content creation
  • following directions
  • managing time
  • working in teams

Each app went through several iterations over the three week period. Two groups worked on two separate apps. One app taught about telling time on a conventional handed clock and the other taught about geometric math formulas that many students must learn for exams. Students also worked to incorporate a quiz feature that would test the app user’s knowledge of the content presented. Through trial and error, students learned about the complexity of app creation. According to the report, “Because the focus was on the process and not the finished app, students were able to explore many issues involved in developing technology for a wide audience of users. Students expressed how appreciative they were of apps that effectively solved problems as they understood how difficult it was to create and maintain a bug-free application.”

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Although students came into the app creation workshops enthusiastically having already explored 3D printing, they needed a fair amount of encouragement to work through the challenges of app development. The instructor of the app development workshops wrote:

“Successful developers (app or otherwise) have a unique ability to manage frustration well, and this skill really only comes with practice and time. I did see students give up quickly at first. There was a lot of waiting for instruction rather than self guided discovery. My impression was that there was still a lot of fear attached with “failure.” Failure is a good thing in the development world, it teaches developers quite a bit. After explaining that to students, they were more inclined to try and try again without feeling frustrated. I noticed around this time, too, that students were starting to share what they were learning. If a student came up against the same bug or error message as another student had previously, it became an opportunity for those students to collaborate, and learn from one another.

We are fortunate enough to live in a world where apps are plentiful and most are very well made and fun to use. Once students learned how complex and time consuming the process really is, they were initially put off by the amount of work that loomed in front of them. Students came up with ideas that were really fun but ambitious. And once the hard work started, it was a struggle to keep the students motivated. The enormity of making an entire app that looked as flashy as something already on the market started to seem like a “why bother” scenario. But, by breaking our apps into smaller, more manageable pieces, the students had consistent success with creating new features.

There are almost infinite solutions to solving even the same problem in computer programming, so we really tried to communicate to the students that giving up is not an option. There is always something new to try. At points I know the students would have preferred to give up altogether, but I did see them gradually start to shift away from one problem to tackle another-rather than abandoning the entire project altogether. That is a very evolved problem solving technique, and one that even professional developers don’t learn until years on the job.”

App Developers, Project Photo
App Developers, Project Photo

Celebrating Results of a Maker Nurturing Project

After 5 weeks of workshops, the project team held a celebration party for all students, teachers, school and school representatives, and the workshop instructors. During this celebration, students showed off their projects and received feedback from the community.

Positive Response from Administration

The response was outstanding; Helensview High School administrators highlighted the value of partnerships for academic enrichment, explaining in writing:

“Schools are constantly challenged with the task of offering varied, meaningful hands-on projects, while public education is placing more focus on core academic standards and high stakes exams. Most programs lack the personnel, money, and equipment to experiment with cutting edge technologies. However, outside organizations can help tremendously with this challenge. In the case of our program, both the
McCarthy-Dressman Foundation and Janice/ChickTech have made incredible contributions that have provided at-risk youth with eye-opening, confidence-building activities that are both inspirational and academically enriching. The workshops facilitated in this program are the perfect example of how collaboration between schools and outside organizations can deliver fresh experiences that are meaningful, cutting edge, and connected to real industry people who operate beyond the walls of the public school system.

By producing 3D printed objects and phone apps, our students learned that acquiring new skills isn’t just for passing tests and earning diplomas. They learned to take an idea, develop a plan, and create something real with several weeks of dense, action-packed courses in 3D printing and application development. We are grateful for the foundation’s support, and thrilled with Janice’s/ChickTech’s implementation of the programming. For everyone involved, this is time and money well spent on a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for youth who will remember
this experience forever.”

Strong Evidence of Student Growth

According to results of pre and post surveys, students were definitely enriched by this program.

Of the group (93% non-white students – mainly African-American and Latino/a with a 63% parent education level of high school educated or below), some exciting increases were noted:

  • “I plan to go to college”: 21% increase
  • “I can work through problems”: 22% increase
  • “I have resources I can go to when I have tech questions”: 22% increase

In addition, students self-reported an increase in technology skills. On a 1-4 reflective scale there was an increase from 1.9 to 2.9, a 52% increase. In addition, responses to the question “Would you be more interested in school if more classes were like this?” also on a 1-5 scale, averaged 4.2. The project team found this especially exciting, writing:

“Although this is a great experience for the students who attended, what if all of their classes were hands-on and interactive? What if they got to solve interesting problems, learn how to work as a team on things that affected them, and learned useful skills in every class? Can you imagine what the above numbers would look like for these students? I can, and it gives me hope for our society’s dismal track record of serving its highest-risk students.

All but one student said they would recommend that their friends take this class next year. We expect to see a strong increase in students who want to attend next year, and our instructors are so excited to improve and continue increasing their impact.”

Lessons Learned and Ideas for Improvement

ChickTech described the challenges for project implementation included finding experienced instructors, curriculum developers and drag and drop software for app development. They also noted that the educators involved were already meeting many demands in the classroom which affected the overall timeline – in fact, the student post-surveys were obtained after the project concluded which may have decreased the amount of enthusiasm shown in comments on the surveys.

In the future, the team plans to work with the same instructors so that less time can be spent on planning and their existing rapport with the students can be leveraged for more enthusiasm and interest.

Even though some of the students are moving on before next school year, some of them plan to come back as teaching assistants or to work on more advanced projects with the support of the instructors.

Funding for the project provided by the McCarthey Dressman Education Foundation supported this effort in several areas including instructor fees, teaching assistants, curriculum development, materials and evaluation costs. Sixteen students participated (50% male/50% female) which was perfect for the availability of resources within the school and the number of instructors.

Learning More about Making Projects in Education

If you would like to learn more about integrating maker culture in the classroom to build student confidence, increase gender diversity in technology, and develop complex problem solving skills, we recommend the resources below.

ESD: Expandng Sustainable Education Through International Understanding

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“I learned that even though other cultures live totally different lives, many things are still the same and we do them alike.” – Student Participant

Students Exchange Pen-pal letters with students in Korea. Project Photo.
Students Exchange Pen-pal letters with students in Korea. Project Photo.

How do students learn about other cultures from studying sustainability? In a project like ESD: Sustainable Education Through International Understanding based in Orem, Utah, these things go together quite naturally. In our first update from this project we learned about how an international collaboration with Japanese students focusing on global issues and sustainability. They also worked within their local community through service projects to highlight local issues. Since we last heard from this team, they have busy growing their sustainability focused academic enrichment project to involve more learners, more educators and more conversations.

Exploring Human Equity Through Sustainable Development Education

http://wbvsmallingerland.nl/ CC by SA 2.0
http://wbvsmallingerland.nl/ CC by SA 2.0

During this second year of funding for the project, the goals expanded. The team wanted to stimulate and facilitate responsible sustainability awareness and interaction at the individual, community and global scales, so they planned to:

  • Develop teacher collaboration;
  • Build a Sustainability Retreat;
  • Expand the Sustainability Fair;
  • Conduct cross-curricular collaboration/training
    and
  • Expose students to international discussions.

International Teacher Collaboration Fosters Partnerships and Training Opportunities

Educators from The World Studies team at Lakeridge Junior High School collaborated with teachers from Utah and Scandinavia on sustainable development education to establish partnerships and teacher training. This included hands on sustainability training in Hammarby Sjostad, Stockholm Sweden and at the European Union Offices for Environmental Education. In addition they visited schools and met with teachers where we were able to set up exchange projects between their students. This collaboration directly impacted student learning by giving students hands on and direct contact with students in Finland about sustainability.

Examples of Projects created by Merinda Davis http://www.davisworldstudies.com/
Examples of Projects created by Merinda Davis http://www.davisworldstudies.com/

Through the grant team members were also able to arrange an international exchange with students in Finland and pay for penpal letters to be sent to Finland, Japan and Pakistan. Students were also able to Skype with students in Japan and South Korea to discuss global issues and learn some of the language. They were also able to continue to work with Japan Societys Going Global project (from the first year of this project) to talk about current events with kids in Pakistan, Japan and Finland. These collaborations also inspired an end of the year international food tasting so that students could experience new foods.

Project Team members were able to present and train teachers at several conferences during the course of the year including Utah Council for Social Studies/Utah Geography Alliance Conference, Utah Environmental Education Conference, Utah Coalition for Educational Technology Conference, and Merinda Davis was a panel speaker for Finnish Educator/Author Pasi Sahlsberg when he spoke at BYU. Utah Education Network has also asked the team to submit lesson plans for these projects to share with teachers throughout the state.

Sustainability Retreat Prepares Students for Global Conversations

Using from the McCarthey Dressman Education Foundation Lakeridge educators were able to sustain the‐day, 2night Sustainability Retreat. At the retreat this year they offered special schedule of University Professors and community specialists who came to speak to the students in a TEDTalk format.

Students who participated in the previous year of the project helped to serve as councilors and helped prepare the current students to be chairmen for the school wide Model United Nations Conference. During this time they were given the opportunity to learn about sustainable development topics and how they influence the local and global communities.

To share their learning, students who attended completed reflection videos from their experience. Through access to technology students completed sustainability based research, communicated with international partners on global issues and produced dynamic media in partnership with Adobe who donated software for all of the computers labs in the school.

Project Sign Up http://www.davisworldstudies.com/
Project Sign Up http://www.davisworldstudies.com/

Student Documentaries Evolve for Sustainability Fair

Using the model they created the previous year, the team made some changes to the ‘Sustainability Fairso that they could include more students. As the 9th grade students worked on their sustainability documentaries they created posters, trailers and PSA’s to advertise their documentaries. Each poster had a QR Code linked to their trailer or PSA and were posted throughout the school for ParentTeacher Conference and for the rest of the year.

Another way they evolved the project was that they set up a school Student Film Festival, where each day student media was exhibited and students voted on the best documentary. The winners of the best documentary for each day received prizes being donated by local businesses as well as purchased through the McCarthey Dressman Education Foundation grant. In addition, students created projects for the Fairchild Challenge, a sustainability based competition for Utah. Through these partnerships, the team was able work together to expand student participation in sustainability fair.

Model United Nations and Model European Union Conferences expand Student Perspective on Migration

Modern European Union Project http://www.davisworldstudies.com/
Modern European Union Project http://www.davisworldstudies.com/

In addition to the Model United Nations (MUN) Sustainability Conference that they offered on the topics of Water, Urban Planning, Energy and Agriculture in December 2014, in May 2015 they scheduled a Model European Union (MEU) Conference to discuss the topic of Migration. About 400 students participated in both conferences.

For MUN they assumed roles of diplomats from over forty different countries in ten different committees. Students studied their respective countries and their policies on the assigned topics, two topics per committee. They produced documents that outlined their countries’ policies and applied this knowledge, using parliamentary procedure, in debating, compromising and writing resolutions with fellow participants. For MEU they assumed roles of country leaders in the European Council. Much like MUN, they studied their countries and the impact of migration on both their country and the European Union using the most recent information available. Because this is a timely issue and they have contacts in Europe, students were able to learn about the perspective of European students.

Achievements Extend Beyond Curriculum

Students, in conjunction with watching the movie “Gandhi,” completed ‘Roman Kent Peace Projects’ for which the purpose was to help them understand how their actions make a difference. Students came up with a wide variety of ideas – as unique as the students themselves. All of the projects throughout the year had a cumulative effect in increasing awareness and student discussion.

One student decided to write kind notes on index cards and hide them in books in the library for people to find. Another sent 25 text messages to friends and family telling them how important they are, and said after, “I learned that everyone needs a little love no matter who they are, and the community as a whole should express more kindness and peace towards their peers.” 

Another student taught a lesson on tolerance and avoiding discrimination to elementary school kids, because “I wanted to leave an impact on people younger than me. My generation and the generations following mine are responsible for the future moral values of society, so I thought it would be important to reinforce ideas about tolerance and peace to kids at a young age.” 

Reflecting on their international and sustainability experiences students said:

“I learned that it is important to experience other cultures and talk with other people about their lives. I also learned that it is somewhat difficult but important to communicate with people from other countries.”

“I learned that even though other cultures live totally different lives, many things are still the same and we do them alike.”

“I learned that we have a great future map of Utah’s water which makes me happy. I did learn that we don’t have enough water if we just keep wasting, if we take little steps right now and start to conserve like shut off water then you are good and our future doesn’t need to be worried about.”

“I learned that I’m better at stepping outside my comfort zone than I thought, with talking to new people and things.”

“I learned that I can be a good leader and help people know what they can do to be helpful.”

“I learned that I have great editing skills. And I can also lead a group that doesn’t really work to get things done with. I didn’t wait until the last minute but I did at the same time. Next time I just need to take it and do little by little.”

“We learned that what we do personally can make a difference. But we can make a difference as a community to be more sustainable.”

“I liked how we were able to find out about a problem pertaining to sustainability in our community, Utah, USA, or even bigger, the world. It helps people to realize how many problems there are that may go unnoticed to many people.”

The program has also affected the learning of educators. Davis stated,

“The McCarthey Dressman Education Foundation Academic Enrichment grant has allowed for learning opportunities that I never expected. This grant has not only been transformative for my students, but for my school community and me. My curriculum is being revitalized in a way to engage and enrich students’ lives. It has given students opportunities that they would not have had otherwise. In addition to presenting to teachers throughout the state, I was able to present these projects to the Utah House of Representatives Education Committee and to the Governor during the Governor’s Education Committee meeting. As a direct result of these projects I was selected as a 2015 National Geographic Grosvenor Teacher Fellow and a 2015 PBS LearningMedia Digital Innovator where I will be able to bring back more engaging projects for my students to enrich their learning. Additionally, in January 2015 I was one of twenty­‐four international educators selected to attend the 70th Anniversary of the Liberation of Auschwitz in Poland. Because of that experience and collaboration with international educators I was able to expand the sustainability projects to include social equality.”

What could other educators learn from this project?

The end of year project report from the team offered a few reflections for project improvement. Although the documentary project worked better this year with the adjustments that they made, next year they will continue to improve by making adjustments based on student feedback. The biggest challenge they faced this year was timing because of the new projects they implemented took extra time.

Team members plan to adjust the curriculum pacing to help build a stronger foundation for students to build on using these projects. They were able to develop projects with schools in Finland and will continue that, in addition students will have more exchange time in the following year. Although students had more time this year to work on sustainability projects, next year they will submit projects to the Fairchild Challenge and Davis will work with the district to help other schools get involved in this sustainability fair.

Next year as part of the curriculum redevelopment they are going to include more of the human rights as part of sustainability. As the three ‘E’s’ of sustainability are: environment, economics, and equity, next year will be a culmination of what they have learned these last two years.

All in all, at the end of the second year, more than 100 students were able to participate in a sustainability retreat with experts and professors.

More than a thousand students were exposed to sustainable development concepts, International exchanges and international culture/food.

As Davis explains, the funding was leveraged to meet many needs and sustain further academic enrichment in this area, “This McCarthey Dressman Education Foundation Grant allowed us to support pen-pal exchanges, subs so we could get the resources, international teacher collaboration, and funding field trips to local restaurants with guest speakers. We now have a class set of computers, a multimedia lab so students have access to filmmaking equipment, filming studio, and training. These students have been able to exhibit their work and be recognized for their learning. We have been able to share these academic enrichment projects with teachers around Utah as well as internationally.”

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Sustainable Education Through International Understanding

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“When one country has an issue, it becomes the whole world’s issue. We as a planet have to try and make a change, because there is only one earth, which happens to be our only home… The small things affect the most, so definitely, I will do small things to save and conserve our planet.”

That’s a quote from one of the students, in the ESD: Sustainable Education Through International Understanding program, after collaborating internationally with Japanese students. It exemplified what the educators at Lakeridge Jr. High School were setting out to accomplish with this program.

Students Learn About Sustainable Education and How It Impacts the World

Students participate in a survey of the new Korean foods they just sampled.
Students participate in a survey of the new Korean foods they just sampled. Project Photo.

In an increasingly interconnected and globalized world the butterfly effect takes on new meaning. Emission problems in one country don’t just affect them; they affect all the surrounding countries and some that are not so close. As the rainforest is depleted we lose a global source of oxygen. When radiation leaks into the ocean, everything from algae to people are affected. Creating an awareness of global issues and sustainability is a necessary part of surviving in the modern world.

As Americans we often find ourselves a bit self-centered when it comes to world issues, but now that we can communicate across oceans with the click of a button, that distance has shrunk immeasurably and we can no longer afford to only think of ourselves.

How are 9th grade students in Orem, Utah learning about global issues through sustainability?

According to the initial proposal, submitted by Merida Davis’ team at Lakeridge Jr. High School, “Our goals are to stimulate and facilitate responsible sustainability awareness and interaction at the individual, community and global scales.” Their goal was to be realized by creating cross-curricular partnerships between the science department and the other subject instructors, initially in a professional development workshop. By creating this cross pollination of subjects teachers learned to “seamlessly incorporate sustainability into their subjects… and […] new perspectives on teaching their own subject area.” After this initial work with the educators was completed, the project moved on to address the students directly.

Japanese Students teach American Students how to make Origami Cranes.
Japanese Students teach American Students how to make Origami Cranes.

To become well versed in sustainability, students participated in sustainability-based community service projects. Part of those projects were about creating a documentary movie to highlight local issues, such as pollution, agriculture, climate change, resource management and depletion. Along with this, they also collaborated with Japanese students, giving them a perspective on this subject that they wouldn’t get otherwise.

WATCH: ESD Student Videos at VPD Awards

This project includes plans to offer a Sustainability Fair where students will celebrate their work by sharing their service and other sustainability-based projects. The Fair will culminate with a student film festival showcasing their work from throughout the school year.

Is this project something other teachers can replicate?

While now the primary benefits go to those students and educators directly involved with the program, it is the hope with future funding that they will be able to create online archives of lessons, produced videos, and other student work to serve as an outline for educators to adapt the program to their own schools needs.

Though the bulk of the cost goes into covering the teachers training, the best part about this model is once that initial hurdle is cleared it becomes increasingly easier year after year to teach this program.

How has the project evolved?

Through the lessons learned the projects accomplished in the last year, the educators have a better grasp on how to replicate the program in other classrooms more efficiently. Being able to replicate the program will enable them to broaden their scope in the coming year.

Pen-Pal Exchange builds relationships across continents. Project Photo.
Pen-Pal Exchange builds relationships across continents. Project Photo.

Through the grant they’ve been also able to fund Pen Pal letters to Toyoda Jr. High School in Japan.  The exchange went beyond traditional pen pal relationships in that they were also able to chat electronically with students in Japan and Pakistan.  A few students started learning basic Korean which resulted in a field trip to a Korean restaurant for many of the students first encounter with that culture’s cuisine.  As a result of these opportunities, exchanges have also begun over Skype with students in Korea.

Students Exchange Pen-pal letters with students in Korea. Project Photo.
Students Exchange Pen-pal letters with students in Korea. Project Photo.

All of these things are creating students with a wider worldview and a greater connection to a global society. Through building relationships between teachers, offering meaningful exchange opportunities to students and by taking time to integrate curriculum, the ESD team has made sustainability education a reality for their students.

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