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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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Waltham Integration Network: Connecting Teachers to Investigate and Improve Digital Learning Across Contexts

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It’s easy, as an educator, to feel like an unmoored ship in a vast sea.  Pricks of light in the distance indicate other ships, largely unreachable.  Even though teachers in the same districts and schools work closely in a physical sense the gulf of communication can be vast and many good ideas and techniques are not shared and refined amongst a larger pool of minds.

Teacher Inquiry guides exploration of new ways of teaching. Still from project video.
Teacher Inquiry guides exploration of new ways of teaching. Photo from project video.

This is what Elizabeth Homan, of Waltham Public Schools in Waltham, MA, is changing with her program Waltham Integration Network: Connecting Teachers to Improve and Investigate Digital Learning in Urban Settings.  While the name is complicated, the aims are simple. This project proposed to bring together a small group of teacher leaders from across an urban school district to engage in collaborative inquiry and teacher-research related to the integration of digital technologies in classroom practice. The goal of this project is twofold: (1) research the challenges and possibilities of digital integration in a high-needs urban school district, and (2) increase the capacity of the district’s digital professional learning opportunities for teachers.

How can collaborative inquiry for teacher development work?

By keeping research at its center, engaging teachers in conversations about “what works” for their digital learning, and helping teachers support their colleagues in reinventing their teaching to meet the needs of today’s very “plugged in” learners. The first year was largely preparatory with an articulation of goals and a formulation of an action plan that would turn into quarterly meetings.

Project Website - walthamintegrationnetwork.org
Project Website – walthamintegrationnetwork.org

At the start of the project, cohort members worked to identify the student learning goals for the year and articulate how their goals could be measured using qualitative or quantitative classroom data. These goals could be as simple as learning how to create and fully integrate a new tool, such as a classroom website, or it may involve an entirely new approach to instruction, such as “flipping” the classroom.   Later in the year, team members shared classroom artifacts, lesson plans, and examples of videotaped practice from their classrooms with other team members in quarterly face-to-face workshops, connecting their practice with research-based approaches and examples.

The project will continue to meet these goals through recruitment of additional teachers, teacher mentorship of new recruits, sharing teacher work through the blog and, in the summer, development of video evidence of teacher practice with technologies.

How can collaborative inquiry impact educators?

Classroom video helped teachers better understand the impact of new teaching strategies. Photo from project video.
Classroom video helped teachers better understand the impact of new teaching strategies. Photo from project video.

The educators at Waltham Public Schools have been busy.  In their first year they have recruited research assistants to help mentor teachers at the middle and elementary school levels.  They have also developed a number of #WINproj spaces for sharing practice. From their blog (walthamintegrationnetwork.org) to their twitter hashtag (#WINproj) and Facebook page, these educators have worked this year to foster a digital voice for the network and to develop consistent expectations around the content and design of their website/blog and social media interactions.  The teachers have worked throughout the year to archive photos, examples of student work, or videos of their practice, which they will use this coming summer to develop video reflections on their experience and what they have learned.  And because the project and leader are new to the district, much of this year has been about building relationships, learning what’s happening in the buildings, and building excitement for the project.

How can collaborative inquiry improve instruction and pedagogy?

Teacher blogging strengthens teacher collaboration.
Teacher blogging strengthens teacher collaboration.

The first and most obvious benefit is a larger network of teachers and educators who have bridged the communication gap.  Partnerships between teachers have formed both online and in person.  The teachers are also becoming increasingly proficient with web writing and familiarity with the online tools such as the blogs and message boards.  It’s clear they’ve been doing something right as they’ve been asked to present at the National Council of Teachers of English in November which will serve to get the word out about the program and widen the network of the educators involved.

How could this program be improved?

According to the team, the biggest challenge the program participants faced was that of time.  Not expectantly they had trouble with the temporal logistics of getting so many teachers in the same space physically.  More support and training for online meeting spaces is paramount for the growth of this project.

On a lesser, but no less important note, they found that some teachers needed to get acclimated to blogging.  While they’re perfectly proficient in the classroom, the public articulation of methods of pedagogy doesn’t come easy for everyone.  More support for first time bloggers would have a large impact on the productivity and communication between all parties.

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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.

Real World Relevance Builds Career Skills at Digital Art Afterschool Studio

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A student designed logo for Overton High School.
A student designed logo for Overton High School.

Where can students spend time after school honing career skills and building a portfolio?

Miami-Dade County (Fla.) Public Schools’ career-oriented program Digital Art Afterschool Studio offers students exactly that.

Last year, one of the biggest themes in the projects we funded was real world relevance.  Students are often bored with classes that they can’t see themselves using in the real world.  Tactile skill based courses such as Art and Music have limited career prospects when compared to STEM courses.  The Digital Art After School Studio is a prime example of how to synthesize real world skills and arts education in a way that profits both the school and the students.  Over the past three years they have turned from a tiny operation that struggled to find funding to a nearly self-sufficient model that will continue for years to come.

Students spend time after school honing their skills and building a portfolio.
Students spend time after school honing their skills and building a portfolio.

To recap, what is the Digital Art After School Studio?

The Digital Art After School Studio program was created with the idea of giving students with an interest in graphic design a place to learn the procedures and expectations of actual client-based projects.  The initial goals were to give students exposure to a workplace environment and ideally an increased level of workplace etiquette and knowledge of practices. The other, more long-term goal for the program was to get students more in touch with the community in order to build a client base that will continue to support the program long after the grant funding ends.

According to their project report

“Once establishing these relationships, the students were expected to maintain contact with the client. This follow-up was intended to build community ties that would emphasize the relationship the school had within the community, as well as introduce the students as individuals of worth to the adults in the community who were involved in running small businesses.”

Students working on graphic design projects.
Students quickly learn that self motivation is the key to success in this program. What they get out of it is a direct result of how much they put in it.

Where are they now?

First and foremost, the most unexpected and fantastic occurrence has been the increased student involvement and ownership of the program.  Word of mouth has gotten so strong that they no longer need to recruit to replace graduating members. They have students lining up to put their name on the list.  The students this past year even took their ownership of the program so far as to elect to rebrand it the “Painttank,” a think tank for artists.  During the past year they’ve had numerous visitations from other schools that are interested in emulating their model.  They see students voluntarily giving up their afternoon freedom to work on their own projects and wonder how they can reproduce this in their own schools. The answer is simple.  By cultivating an atmosphere of independence and freedom to explore their individual styles, the students become personally invested in their own work and growth as artists. Not only that, it’s completely student driven in the hours after school, acting autonomously and driving its own progress forward.

Student designed company logo.
Student designed company logo.

One of the biggest victories the school has achieved is the founding of the Overton Foundation, a non-profit entity that allows for donations to be made without getting caught up in the bureaucracy of the school district. In previous years, it was difficult to distribute funds from those wanting to pay for the studio’s services.

They are not at a loss for members in this after school program.
They’re not at a loss for members in this after school program.

“With this new entity we will now be able to create a cash flow that revolves around the work produced and reward those students involved with direct, over-the-board, payments. This will provide the opportunity for students to learn to keep a job budget and understand pricing. It also allows for our studio to bid on jobs, and provide invoices for those we complete.”

The Overton Foundation is key to the future self-sustainability of this project.

In terms of improvement, the program is always on the hunt for new clients.  Most of the initial client base came from sources directly related to the student and school, but now with multiple accolades under their belts and a sizable portfolio, the Studio is looking to expand further into the community.  With the hurdles of creating the Overton Foundation and the initial cost of computers and software suites out of the way, it’s really up to the students and their mentors to guide this program into the future.

And it’s looking like a bright one.

Gallery of Afterschool Studio Artwork

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Further reading on Real World Enrichment

Learn More about Career-Oriented Curriculum

CFCO: Service Learning Builds 21st Century Skills, Engages Teens

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Connecting lessons learned in classrooms to real world applications is one of the great challenges in teaching.  Teachers and administrators at Harrison High School in Evansville, Indiana have come up with an innovative new classroom model to address that challenge.

What is the CFCO?

They have created the Center for Family and Community Outreach (CFCO), which aims to use student skills (built around academic content) to create documents, multimedia, events, presentations, and more for over twenty non-profit organizations in their community.

Educators are able to connect students with members of the non-profit community, creating a symbiotic relationship wherein the student gains valuable real-life skills and the non-profits get a free service.  Not only is it easier to engage teenage minds directly if they feel a sense of involvement and contribution towards the betterment of their community, it also helps teens build invaluable skills for the transition into their adult lives.

How can service learning support non-profits and drive engagement for learners?

There are many service learning projects around the country, but few, if any, that drives content in the classroom around producing products for non-profits. The CFCO model has elements of numerous trends in education, such as:

Students enrolled in the program also volunteered at the Evansville Rescue Mission to fill Thanksgiving Food Baskets.
Students enrolled in the program also volunteered at the Evansville Rescue Mission to fill Thanksgiving Food Baskets.
  • project-based learning
  • student-centered learning
  • and new technology,

but is truly innovative for the level of engagement it produces for students.

Poster to recruit CFCO students.
Students are engaged, build real world skills and earn credit.

This program has seven distinct goals.

  1. Research the non-profit groups and social issues in students’ communities.
  2. Hold ‘Round Table’ discussions with local experts on special topic issues using the latest online literature and information.
  3. Tour the non-profit facilities and volunteer with local organizations and events.
  4. Collaborate with leaders on project ideas and write formal proposals
  5. Use project based learning and technology to design and create materials
  6. “Pitch” their ideas through benchmarks and final presentations
  7. Openly communicate with the community through blogging and video reflections.

Importance of Community Support

Students are immersed in the tangible application of skills from the classroom, and since students know what they are doing will have a real impact on their community, it is readily apparent how seriously they take it. The program has relied on a tremendous amount of community support and is currently in it’s third year of operation.  Fortunately they continue to draw in new non-profit partners based on the satisfaction of their initial partners and publicity the projects have generated for the mission of non-profits in Evansville.

What is the impact?

So where are the teachers and students of Harrison High School now, a year into the program?  Reports have come back with very positive results, including:

  • Students have a sense of ownership and engagement in their work as well as their community.
  • Non-profit data shows that the community’s organizations have much higher perception of the schools and teens’ abilities after working with the CFCO.

Moving forward they plan on moving the program to a half day model, to increase student exposure, as well as continuing to nurture community involvement and contribution.

Comments from participants.
Comments from participants.

With such an easily adaptable model, educators around the country should be looking to Evansville, and Harrison High School in particular.  How they proceed could very well dictate how dozens of similar programs pop up in the future.  Community involvement and concrete links between lessons learned in the classroom and real world applications are key in both advancing education as well as building a student body that is invested in the present and future of their community.  While the saying “It takes a village to raise a child,” has been politicized as of late, I think we can all agree that fostering a child’s investment and involvement in his or her village can only lead to positive results.

For more information

Microfinance in Action

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How can high school students learn about globalization in an economics course?

In an increasingly globalized world the standard skill set of a global citizen is rapidly shifting.  While it would be impossible to give the students every bit of skill and knowledge they will need to be competitive in the global marketplace, one program is setting about to make a small change in how high school students approach economics that looks to be paying big dividends.

Students visit Scott Kessler at the Cora Texas Manufacturing Company in White Castle, Louisiana to learn first hand about sugar production.
Southwind High School students visit Scott Kessler at the Cora Texas Manufacturing Company in White Castle, Louisiana to learn first hand about sugar production.

The teachers at Southwind High School in Memphis, TN have implemented a completely unique approach to teaching economics students about globalization and microfinance.

The project, currently in progress, involves the students in project-based learning to address multiple student skills including:

  • critical thinking
  • decision-making
  • global citizenship, and
  • responsibility

So how has this school approached this project and how successful have they been in its implementation? This ambitious endeavor is projected to take three years to implement.

Incorporating Problem Based Learning with Global Economic Issues

For economics students at Southwind High, things have changed.  No longer the victims of textbooks and lectures, these students participate in an integrated curriculum on globalization.

What does an integrated curriculum exploring globalization and economics look like?

First, students work in groups to develop awareness of important concepts for the project. Research topics include:

The Eight Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) ...
The Eight Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) of UN. Target date: 2015 http://www.un.org/millenniumgoals/ (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Next, using ‘future problem solving’ skills, the groups develop a solution to address those issues in their selected country.

Finally, students will present their findings to the Ambassador of their selected country. Presentations will also be shared in a guidebook entitled Microfinance in Action: A Guide for Teenagers that will be used to supplement other high school economics courses.

How are real world skills and field experiences incorporated into the project?

In addition to the web research conducted, student groups communicate via Skype to high schools in developing nations. Using social media, students promote awareness of global economic issues, publishing research to a global awareness blog and producing video documentary segments.  The blog also invites other schools to get involved or start their own program.

Students also have the opportunity to travel to various locations in the United States and Central America to document individual stories of those most affected by economic issues. During that time students will produce presentations on research they have conducted on economic, political, and cultural issues on selected developing nations.

What is the impact of this project so far?

During year one, students created the project website where you can watch the project unfold. (http://shskivamemphis.weebly.com). Groups have completed their Global research and the first two chapters of the Guidebook have been drafted and are being revised.  The students and participating faculty traveled both to the Global Youth Institute as well as to Mississippi to film their documentary projects.  So far, the program served 150 students at Southwind as well as teachers from ten different schools.

How can this project inspire other educators?

Phyllis Cassidy, Executive Director, Good Work Network, New Orleans, Louisiana shares with students how to the organization she founded helps minority and women owned businesses start, grow, and succeed.
Phyllis Cassidy, Executive Director, Good Work Network, New Orleans, Louisiana shares with students how to the organization she founded helps minority and women owned businesses start, grow, and succeed.

By taking such a unique and global perspective on economics, teachers Biba S. Kavass and Landon Hawthorne are insuring their students will have a much easier time navigating the global market place due to the early exposure to real economic disparity issues and their subsequent research and involvement.

Project-based learning and integrated curriculum are powerful opportunities to engage students and build real world skills. Here are some resources to explore for developing similar projects for your students.