Budding scientists at Windsor Mill Middle School got down and dirty this spring in Josh Foorhogue’s 8th grade GT Science class. Foorhogue provided students with materials, a budget, and a lumpy mixture of gravel, water, dirt, and coffee grinds; their task was to develop a filtration system based on percolation and infiltration to improve water turbidity, so they could fully understand the engineering-design process. Students tested their designs in stages, tweaking and reworking their plans. On the Prototype-Test Day, each student team ran the sludgy mixture through their filtration system and recorded the time of filtration and the turbidity, and evaluated the prototype’s practicality and cost. Collected data was compared to determine the most effective system. A significant engineering and life-lesson takeaway from the process surprised the class: elaborate systems might work well, but they won’t fly in the real world if they break the budget.
Ms. Hahn’s math class was grappling with a welcomed problem. What purposeful ‘May Dos’ would further student learning and keep students engaged? Ms. Hahn and I devised options: coding math games and creating digital math journals. The students had other ideas—peer tutoring. The plan was music to my ears. Before coming to Windsor Mill Middle School, I was coordinator and elective teacher of a high-school AVID program, the core of which was the tutorial program. A group of five students and I developed a peer-tutoring system based on the AVID model that was grounded in students identifying a point of confusion and peer questioning. As part of the training, students practiced questioning a partner while the rest of the group provided effective feedback based on “I Can” statements. Discovery Ed Coach, Michael Capps pitched in by supporting students in learning the process of effective feedback. During the session, a practice tutor struggled to ask a question to move her partner’s learning forward. In true AVID fashion, an observer-student eagerly asked to join in. “I have a question!” he exclaimed. He posed his question. The group held its collective breath, and the hard-working student had an ‘aha’ moment and solved his math problem.
History came alive this year for students in Windsor Mill Middle School social studies classes. Department Chair, Rick Kline, transformed desks into super pods and designed inquiry-based projects for his classes. In March, students ran an election campaign to elect the most effective leader for ancient Rome. Students selected candidates and created Facebook pages, Twitter accounts, and commercials to garner support leading up to the final debate and vote. In April, students researched the role of the Roman Catholic Church in the Middle Ages to determine if the price of the church’s influence was worth the cost. Students vigorously defended their positions with textual references during a lively Philosophical Chair. In May, Chelsea Bracci from the Maryland Historical Society beamed into the classroom, leading a virtual lesson on National Anthems using the Star Spangled Banner original document as a primary source.
A cornerstone of Ms. Delenick’s teaching practice in 6th grade math at Windsor Mill Middle School is creating an environment where learning is personalized and responsive. Eager to re-invent her room from top to bottom as a place of inquiry, Ms. Delenick designed an Interactive Bulletin Board where students could create word problems for other students to solve. The activity is called “Draw a Story Problem.” Students select an operation, a set of numbers, and a setting from the pockets on the board, and create a word problem on a template. The student-generated word problem is then posted on the bulletin board for other students to solve. Ms. Delenick said of the activity, “Students have choice. One boy took the setting he selected—football—very seriously and researched the Carolina Panthers, so he could have an authentic reproduction of their logo in his problem.” Both the problems and the solutions give rise to vigorous debate and rivalries to create the toughest and most creative problems.
Reflections from teachers, administrators, and students at the Lighthouse Schools.