This week teachers from all three Fort Huachuca Accommodation Schools took part in the 2012 Summer Institute held at the new Colonel Smith Middle School. The teachers focused on student centered, project-based learning that crosses subject areas. During the institute they worked in groups to develop a unit lesson plan that can be used in the core subject areas. Another focal point of the institute was collaborative learning, both for students and teachers.
Project-based learning is a key part of the Science, Technology, Engineering and Math or STEM curriculum. It is an approach to classroom teaching and learning that is designed to engage students in investigation of problems. While FHAS are not STEM schools, they offer a STEM-driven approach that allows students to actively engage and participate in the learning process.
The institute “allows teachers to collaborate and drill into their standards [Arizona Academic Standards] in order to design student-centered projects based on inquiry activities, bounded by an essential question or overarching concept.”
The teachers are here all day, so there is a lot of discussion and dialog. The groups are mixed up, so the teachers are not just with their project groups, said Val Quarto, technology integration specialist at Smith Middle School.
Before the start of the training sessions, the teachers were addressed by Robert Henderson, principal of Smith Middle School.
“We have an incredible new building that will remove all inhibitors to providing a new level of instruction for our students. The ability to facilitate instruction to focus on inquiry and project-based instruction that centers on our students is boundless. The new facility is designed to remove the vestiges of the old 20th century instruction and will allow us to meet the 21st century needs of our students.
Teacher from Colonel Johnston and General Myer Elementary schools were taken on a tour of the new school, while the Smith Middle School teachers were given an orientation of the features and equipment of their new teaching and learning environment by Tony Wall, construction program manager for the new school.
“I could not be more excited about this week … we are in a collaboration work area and that’s what we will be doing this week. And that’s what this [school] is all about, people being together and interacting,” Wall said.
Wall showed how the design of the new school offered teachers and students an optimal learning space, at the same time conserving energy. The feature that received the greatest response from the teachers was the skylights in the flexible learning rooms (classrooms). Teachers will be able to control the amount of light coming through the skylight with the flip of a switch.
Then Frank Bell, director of technology for FHAS, demonstrated the mediascape and projector in the student collaboration area. Mediascape is a collaborative work area, where students can plug-in laptops or iPads and share information with their classmates. At the same time teachers can connect their device to the large overhead projector.
Following the tour and orientation, and after being introduced to the key terms and objectives, the teachers got to work developing their collaborative project-based lessons.
“I plan to incorporate the real world applications I have learned; these are the skill for 21st century students.” Said Lorraine Draeger, 3rd grade teacher at Colonel Myer Elementary School.