Hands-on curriculum renews passion for learning in teachers and students
Merriam-Webster defines expedition as “a journey or excursion undertaken for a specific purpose.” The word itself, however, conjures up more than this simple definition. Expeditions are adventures that lend themselves to some type of insight or enlightenment. Expeditions are exciting. They are life affirming.
And in that respect, that’s exactly what students at Bertie Middle School in Windsor, North Carolina, have been getting – both in the form of curriculum as well as in the form of a journey leading to new heights. Pitsco STEM Expeditions® have students excited about possible careers and eager to learn more and teachers thrilled with the engagement.
Trial . . . and Success!
When administrators and educators at Bertie agreed to be part of an ongoing STEM Expeditions pilot study by the Friday Institute for Educational Innovation in 2017, they were looking to provide more exploratory options for students. The STEM Expeditions for their seventh- and eighth-grade students, along with Pitsco STEM Units for their sixth graders, fit the bill.
“The options that Pitsco had for the middle school were so numerous and in-depth and there were so many different titles, we felt we could serve all our kids,” explained CTE Coordinator Stephanie Cottle.
From a purely observational standpoint, the results are clear: this trial is a success. Although both students and teachers were initially hesitant, the excitement the Expeditions bring to the classroom quickly dispelled any fears. Over the course of a semester, business education teachers Latisha Freeman and Jacqueline Thompson went from apprehensive to enthusiastic.
“It helps you professionally,” said Thompson. “You get to experience new skills as far as facilitation versus direct instructional teaching.” Freeman agrees. “It gives me a chance to walk around and talk to my students. If there is something they don’t understand, I can go to them directly and work with them one-on-one versus having to deal with the class as a whole group.”
Meanwhile, the students were learning new skills of their own. “[The STEM Expeditions curricula] force them to think on a higher-order level versus someone always telling them the answer,” Thompson said. “That looks so uncomfortable in the beginning. But as the children go along, they are seeing what the requirements are and what our expectations are.”
‘Different Than Other Classes’
Some of those expectations, especially those that build social and emotional skills, were difficult at first. As Freeman explains, many of her students initially resisted working with partners. “Some people say, ‘I don’t want to work with this one. I don’t want to work with that one.’” In the end, though, the engagement and sense of adventure inherent in each Expedition made collaboration with a partner an easy concept to grasp. “By the end I had kids that were excited about ‘What Expedition are we going to do?’ and ‘Who’s going to be my partner next time? I’m ready for the next Expedition!’”
The hands-on aspect of the curriculum is a huge plus as well. “I thought when I taught computer applications that working on the computer was hands-on,” said Freeman, “but teaching the Pitsco model, I get to see a different kind of hands-on activity. . . . And the students can see the content they are learning is relevant to their lives.” Thompson concurs. “One of my students wanted to be an architect after working on one of the Expeditions. That might never have been in his thought pattern before.”
But the real testament to a great curriculum? When students want to come to class, even when they’re not feeling 100 percent. “One of my students, she came to school sick,” said Thompson. “I asked her, ‘Why are you coming to school?’ She said, ‘The only reason I came is because I didn’t want to miss this class. This class is fun. It is engaging. We get to do things. It is different than other classes.’”
Not that we encourage kids coming to school sick, but that’s quite an endorsement!
Read more on what Bertie students and teachers have to say about Pitsco STEM Expeditions in A pathway to the pathways at Pitsco.com.