What if instead of going to math class, English class, or science class, students went to school? Would they be able to say things like “I don’t like math” if they were unable to differentiate between math class and history class? While this idea may seem like an impossibility, a team of 8th grade teachers at Genesee Valley Central School hopes to make this vision a reality.
On paper, Mark Levine, Kelley McGinnis, and Donna Slawson can be identified as a technology, English, and history teacher, respectively, but in reality, innovator, risk-taker, and enthusiast would be more appropriate. This team of 8th grade teachers, in conjunction with Chris Gyr and Lindsay Simpson, technology integrators at GVCS, has implemented an interdisciplinary teaching and learning model, referred to as STEAM 8, with a focus on increased student learning by reevaluating time and relevance.
Buying Back Time
Possibly the most important concern for educators, time structures were re-examined. Hypothetically, if all 8th grade students, for instance, have either 1st period technology, 2nd period ELA, or 3rd period history, do they all need, say, 40 minutes of each period? What about the students who need 10 minutes for a quiz and others 20 and others still 40? How can we effectively ensure all students are productively and continually meeting learning targets at all times? With their new learning model, the teachers at GVCS decided to embrace these challenges.
By eliminating the “I have 40 minutes to teach ____” barrier, teachers recognized they now have 120 minutes to teach everything for the three content areas. Now, the students’ learning needs drive how time is allocated. For example, the 15 minute science lesson just allowed 25 more minutes to have a more meaningful, in-depth round-table discussion of the Battle of Gettysburg. Another option is to redistribute time as shown in the weekly schedule below in which students were teamed in group A, B, or C.
Why Do I Need This?
Beyond better use of time, STEAM 8 teachers have built greater connections between and stronger relevance in the curricula. For example, the first unit of instruction of the year for this team of teachers covers the Civil War. Consequently, Mr. Levine, Ms. McGinnis, and Mrs. Slawson use the Civil War as a means of meeting all learning targets. This approach as allowed students to review the Civil War holistically while simultaneously learning how to research, write, solve algebraic problems, and so much more; and although STEAM 8 isn’t comprised of your typical “STEM” teachers, they are undoubtedly addressing each strand of STEAM education.
Pine Grove Middle School
STEAM 8 is, in part, a product of the work with GVCS and Jason Fahy, middle school science teacher at Pine Grove Middle School. Jason was able to experience, first-hand, how changing both the physical environment and the instructional approach can heavily impact student learning. However, one glaring difference worth noting between East Syracuse Minoa Central School District and Genesee Valley Central School District is the focus on physical environment. ESMCSD was able to vastly change the manner in which learning took place due to its extensive structural changes; GVCS has made similar instructional changes while making minimal changes to the physical building.
Do not underestimate the importance of this difference. Often times we allow ourselves to get discouraged in thinking “I don’t have enough space,” or “we don’t have the right technology to do that.” Yes, GVCS did repurpose some of its space and has updated that environment, but as any successful educator can attest, good pedagogy supersedes good stuff.
By: Mark Beckwith, CA BOCES Professional Development
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