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Digital Maker's Club brings 'creating' to next level

Students at Marquette Senior High School have been busy programming, printing and building computer software, hardware, video games and more as part of their Digital Maker’s Club, a new group offering students unprecedented access to new and developing technologies.

MSHS Earth Sciences Teacher Rebecca Simmons started the club this fall after she realized the sheer number of students interested in computer technology who — beyond some computer coding and industrial technology classes — didn’t have access to any tools or opportunities outside their home, Simmons said.

“A lot of the students say ... they’ve been hiding in their bedrooms doing this, and everyone thinks that they’re crazy,” Simmons said. “They’re already creating these amazing things on their own, but no one is seeing, so this gives them a venue to kind of showcase some of that work.”

Over 75 students attended the first after-school meeting with about 50 attending every meeting since then — an enormous turnout considering how busy many of the students are, Simmons said.

Even if the students don’t end up with careers in computer science, the club offers important exposure that wasn’t there before, she said.

“If kids never get exposed to the possibilities in computer science, they may never know they are interested,” Simmons said. “Computer science is the fastest growing job sector in the world with some of the highest potential salaries. At MAPS, we believe we would be doing our kids a disservice if we did not work to expose them to this realm.”

Since student response was so overwhelming, the club was broken up into five groups to allow students to pursue their specific interest, Simmons said. The groups are: 3-d printing, an additive process in which an industrial robot produces computer-programmed objects by successively adding layers of plastic or other material; hardware design, building computers and video games; software design, programming applications, computer games and websites; wearable electronics, designing and constructing smaller devices that are built into clothing, such as lighting or GPS units; and digital photography and video.

Simmons hopes, once teachers become more familiar with the technology, this kind of training can be integrated into the curriculum as soon as next year, she said.

There’s a good deal of overlap among projects and students between the Digital Makers Club and the Lego robotics team, with robotics being a good venue for competition, she said.

“This (club) is more for the creative side of that,” Simmons said. “So we don’t do competitions. ... We’re all about making and remaking and celebrating that maker’s spirit in everyone ..., so playing with things and tinkering are the keys to what we do in our club.”

MSHS Junior Noah Sorelle, 16, is on the Lego robotics team and is the student leader for the 3-d printing group within the club. While this is the first time he’s been given access to technology like 3-D printing, Sorelle has always been the computer guy in his family, he said.

“It’s just kind of always been, I’m the one who works on everything, and if anything ever needs fixing, I’m always the guy who does it,” Sorelle said.

The school’s two new 3-D printers have allowed the team to design and build their own custom parts for their robot, Sorelle said. But the computers are the easy part — the most important thing he’s learned is how to work effectively with other people, he said.

Sorelle believes integrating this technology into the classroom is something students are more than ready for, he said.

“There are a lot of students who like to do these kinds of things, but the school’s never really actually had that many opportunities to teach it,” Sorelle said. “But now, (with the club) people can actually do and go into things that they like.”

The club is satisfying students’ curiosity while also preparing them for a variety of potential careers in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics, or STEM, fields. Most importantly, it allows students the freedom to create, Simmons said.

“To get students away from just being consumers of technology and actually have them be creators of technology is one of our goals, and so these kids are craving that opportunity,” Simmons said. “Many of our students have moved beyond just using games or even using apps. They wanna make their own apps. They wanna customize things, and I think that really speaks to their generation. They’re all about customizing and building something unique for them, and so this club lends itself really well to help them kind of step over and dip their toe into actually creating technologies.”

The club’s largest source of financial support has been through “Expanding Possibilities,” a donation-based fund to help teachers offer better opportunities to students, Simmons said. The club is looking for public support, and interested donors can contact Simmons directly through email at [email protected] or call MSHS’s front office to donate to “Expanding Possibilities.”

The group won’t go out and buy technology for the sake of buying it, Simmons said.

“We want to try to be purposeful and make sure we’re adopting things that really do develop our student learning and bring rigor and relevance to our programs,” she said.

This article was originally published in The Mining Journal.

Early literacy is top priority with two local counties in Southeast Michigan

They leap over obstacles, tackle tough tasks, and use their knowledge-power to change outcomes. These modern day super heroes aren’t in Gotham City, they’re in the classroom, tackling the challenges of improving literacy in our youngest learners. Once a month a core group of educators from Washtenaw and Livingston counties meet for the Study of Early Literacy (SOEL), a long-term professional development that is arming them with new approaches to transform the way they teach literacy. Washtenaw and Livingston counties’ Literacy Instructional Coordinator, Melissa Brooks-Yip, oversees SOEL and, based on current information, she said the time has come to aggressively bolster literacy.
“Studies and educational initiatives aimed at early childhood education all point toward an achievement gap in literacy, with low literacy levels being used as predictors of high school drop-outs and incarceration rates,” she says. “The Study of Early Literacy began in an effort to prepare teachers to not only teach students to learn to read, but to read to learn from the start of their literacy journey.”
Brooks-Yip structured SOEL to focus on an approach to teacher professional development (preschool through grade three) that empowers and leverages teacher knowledge and everyday experiences working with students. Currently there are 40 educators from 10 school districts participating in SOEL.
“Meaningful improvement in teacher’s pedagogical content knowledge happens through education, not training,” Brooks-Yip explains.  “We are setting the stage for deep, collaborative learning over time, to empower teachers with their own knowledge of content, best practices and instructional decision making skills. This confidence building helps teachers become adaptive to their student’s needs and are better able to provide authentic learning experiences for their students, rather than following a script written by someone outside of their classroom. Effective teachers, matter much more than materials, or programs.”

During the first year of SOEL the group conducted an intense study of research anthologies of early literacy and tapped into the knowledge of early literacy experts at top universities. As a result of the study, five “Big Learnings” emerged that captured what is crucially important in preschool and early elementary literacy education. They are:
  • Classroom Culture
  • Prior Knowledge and Vocabulary
  • Integration
  • Inquiry and Collaboration
  • Assessment 
In year two, participating educators are spending the school year identifying their own research question, observing and collecting data, analyzing that data, reporting results, and determining next steps in instruction and teacher professional development based upon their findings.
Kate Rossetter, a Howell Public School District second grade teacher, says engagement in SOEL is making a difference.
“The Study of Early Literacy has impacted my teaching by giving me the boost I needed to find unique ways to cover the common core standards and yet engage and inspire my students to want to learn,” Rossetter says. “I am really working on being more of a facilitator than a teacher with my students. I am also using integration of the subject areas instead of teaching each subject area as a separate piece of the day.”
Lynne Gronvall-Fountain, a first grade teacher with Dexter Community Schools, says she has been impressed with the results of putting SOEL practices in place.
“I am watching what happens when first grade readers and writers share common language and strategies between reading and writing.  It has been fascinating to see some of my youngest readers and writers understanding and looking at text in a different way,” Gronvall-Fountain says. “They are noticing things that in the past, most of my readers did not notice.  As writers, they are working in concert with mentor text and mentor writers and deepening their understanding of what it means to be a writer.  They are applying skills to their writing I never imagined a six year old would understand.” 
Brooks-Yip is gratified by the professional growth of SOEL participants and what they are able to bring to their districts.
“Many teachers now have a very intentional focus on building student’s background knowledge and vocabulary. We learned that this may be the single most important factor in students’ understanding in school,” Brooks-Yip says. “Being aware of this gap, and knowing that the highest rate of vocabulary development occurs during the preschool years, we know that educators have time to intervene to help children make gains in vocabulary development.”
Rhoshawda Miller has been a teacher for 14 years and says participation in SOEL has impacted her first graders at Ypsilanti Community Schools.
“Meeting regularly helps build off of the last session and to stay focused.  A lot of the material that we are learning in SOEL supports our district vision, including building a better classroom culture and building students’ vocabulary,” Miller says.  “I am inspired and confident in teaching more authentic literacy instruction.  As soon as I learn something in my workshop I can’t wait to get back to my classroom to try it out.” 
Many educators describe the literacy work as a “gift.”
“SOEL allows us the gift of working collaboratively with our colleagues. Sustained, embedded, focused, professional development is a powerful way to grow as a teacher,” Gronvall-Fountain says. “It is amazing what our youngest learners are able to do when we use best practices in instruction, supported by collaborative work with our colleagues.  We have to build time in our school year to allow our teachers to work together as professionals if we are going to meet the needs of 21st century learners.”
Rossetter, a 16-year educator, agrees that the camaraderie strengthens their skills.
“It is important for teachers to collaborate and allow them the space to try and feel comfortable with new ways and approaches to teaching that don't have to be a purchased program. Knowledge is power,” she says. “I feel blessed to be a part of this amazing group and look forward to each session.”
Follow the latest develops in literacy and SOEL through Melissa Brooks-Yip’s blog.

Student-run credit unions help Traverse City students save $50,000

Traverse City Area Public School’s Partner In Education, TBA Credit Union, has developed a program that puts students in the teller’s seat. Started in 2010, the Student-Run Credit Union program is designed to give 5th grade student volunteers the opportunity to process deposits at their own school mini branches.
Student volunteers apply, interview and train for positions including branch manager, teller, bookkeeper, computer operator and marketing representative. Once trained, students operate their branch under the guidance of TBACU staff members and process transactions for fellow students.

The program also reinforces classroom lessons about financial literacy and allows students to apply those lessons in a real-world setting.
The effort has paid off. Students have saved $50,000 in the five years since the program started. By depositing everything from pocket change to allowances, students create personal bank accounts and learn to manage their savings.
“We couldn’t be more impressed with the example these students set, both as savers and volunteers,” said Cindy Lardie, Marketing and Education Coordinator for TBA Credit Union. “When you consider that most deposits are handfuls of spare change, it really shows that it is about being consistent with saving, no matter the amount.”
Traverse City Area Public School’s Partner In Education program works to connect community members, businesses and organizations to local schools and programs through sponsorships, financial contributions, in-kind donations and give-back programs. It is a school-community partnership that allows the community to form a genuine relationship with TCAPS schools, programs, teams and clubs by sharing their time, talents and treasures.

A video about the TBACU student-run credit union is available here

Oxford Community Schools expanding students' global mindedness

In 2007, Oxford Community Schools set out to make an impact on the global mindedness of its students and close the ever-growing global achievement gap in our country. Oakland County is home to over 1,000 international businesses, and the school district felt it was imperative to better prepare its students for the diverse global market in which they will compete. Oxford’s Fifth Core™ World Language & Culture Program, aptly titled to denote its importance within the curriculum, was implemented in the fall of that year.
The program is an 11-year Mandarin Chinese or Spanish requirement of all students. The program provides daily instruction beginning in kindergarten with the goal of fluency in a world language and its accompanying culture and customs by 10th grade. Today, Mandarin Chinese or Spanish is taught to all students. As of January 2015, more than 2,200 students were receiving daily instruction in Mandarin Chinese and over 1,900 students were studying Spanish.
All Oxford Community Schools are also authorized International Baccalaureate World Schools. As such, the district brings a global workplace setting into each classroom in the form of international project-based learning, international collaboration, dialogue and/or international workplace simulations.
Within the language department, Oxford has hired numerous bilingual/bicultural educators to afford a more authentic international educational environment. Some teach their native language while others reinforce their languages and cultures in core classes, electives and resource rooms. The district partners with Michigan State University’s Confucius Institute and Oakland University to foster teacher exchange programs between the U.S. and China. Currently, the district has 12 Mandarin teachers originally from China, and eight teachers who are native speakers of Spanish.
On any given day, Oxford world language students can be found taking part in an activity in a simulated marketplace in Mexico, singing songs in Mandarin, or playing Jeopardy in their second language. From the first time students set foot in the classroom, they are involved in activities in which they begin to use their second language in meaningful and purposeful ways. Through the district’s International Baccalaureate curriculum, students not only focus on speaking, reading, writing, and listening tasks in their world language classes, but there is also an emphasis on international and cultural perspectives in all core and elective classes. While teachers often focus on the impact of their current unit of study on the school community, they also ask their students to consider the impact generationally, nationally and globally.
Oxford’s International Baccalaureate Middle Years Program Coordinator Molly Darnell explains that as an IB World School, the Oxford curriculum emphasizes the consideration of multiple perspectives and taking the classroom experience to the farthest reaches possible.
She describes Fifth CoreTM as “one piece of a curriculum designed to help every student learn to problem solve across multiple disciplines, in unpredictable situations, in areas in which they are both familiar and unfamiliar, as a member of an international team.” She also adds, “While we are dedicated to building student skill bases to facilitate ongoing language learning, the broader goal is for students to develop a respect for, and understanding of, diverse linguistic and cultural heritages.”
Oxford Community Schools structures its curriculum so students can participate in global projects.

Project platforms used since 2007 have included: ThinkQuest Learning Projects in which student teams internationally collaborate and compete in website and narrative challenges; ePals in which students participate in a global community of classrooms for exchange and collaboration; The Center for Innovation in Engineering and Science Education in which students participate in international projects with peers and experts that employ real time data; Creative Connections for setting up class-to-class exchanges on cultural and social themes between American schools and their counterparts around the world; and Global SchoolNet for engaging teachers and students in meaningful project learning exchanges with people around the world.
Since the launch of Fifth Core™, Oxford has also grown its family tree to include 24 premier sister schools across the globe. All rooted in educational excellence and international collaboration, each school shares similar educational philosophies and offers invaluable support to the Fifth Core™ World Language and Culture Program. Oxford has sister schools in China, Mexico, Spain, England and South Africa.
Cindy White, Oxford High School Spanish teacher, explains how she and her students have benefited from such relationships.
“We are entering into our third year of an international exchange program with Bachillerato Cinco de Mayo in Puebla, Mexico. The program offers a 15-day immersive experience to students from both schools and has proven invaluable for all who participate. Oxford students have had the opportunity to be fully absorbed in the language and culture of another country, improve their language skills, and make new friends. It has been rewarding to watch students apply and expand their knowledge and to learn first-hand about global awareness, open-mindedness, and collaboration. The rewards for teachers have been equally profound. Having been to Puebla each year with our students, I have had the opportunity to guest-teach in English classrooms. Working with these classes and being able to share our culture and language has given me a new perspective and has strengthened my abilities as a teacher. The benefits have also extended beyond the experiences of students and teachers who travel in the exchange. Through the use of technology, we have been able to incorporate activities with Cinco de Mayo into daily lessons and have brought these unique learning opportunities home for all Oxford High School students,” said White.
Oxford Community Schools’ students also engage locally with peers who are native speakers of Chinese and Spanish. Many elementary and middle school students benefit from international winter and summer camps hosted by the district, while students at Oxford High School interact on a daily basis with over 50 full-time foreign students from eight different countries. Oxford High School has even cultivated an extracurricular International Club to promote cultural intelligence. One of the club’s key objectives is to empower students by developing critical thinking and social action skills. Members of the club gather together after school to share stories about life in other parts of the world and exchange recipes, dances and music.
The language and cultural exchanges in Oxford reach far beyond the classroom as well. Many community members have opened up their homes to host students from other countries, and it is not uncommon to see more than one language being spoken in a home.
Connie Ginste, her daughter and two elementary-aged grandchildren have opened their home to host six Chinese international students in the past two years. The international students come to Oxford for year-long stays as pupils in the Oxford International Residence Academy. Ms. Ginste and her family have found the experience of hosting international students both interesting and educational.
“My two grandchildren have enjoyed introducing our international boys to our holiday traditions, teaching them about our culture, playing games and sharing experiences,” said Ginste. “My grandson is fascinated with different countries, their customs, and their relationships to other countries, and frequently floods the boys with questions.”
Ginste even joked that her grandchildren’s Mandarin classes are sometimes more successful than the high school Chinese students would like, saying that the kids will often translate aloud pieces of conversations the boys are having amongst themselves.
Dawn Sterner, her husband and two teenage daughters have hosted students from Germany, Spain, France, Russia, China and Mexico. Her oldest daughter also participated in the exchange program with Bachillerato Cinco de Mayo.
Sterner explained how the experience of sending her own daughter to live with a host family in Mexico and then reciprocating the exchange by welcoming her daughter’s host sisters into her own home immediately bonded the once strangers as family.
 “All of the exchange programs and experiences have been fantastic learning opportunities for my children. There is really nothing more important than kids learning how to live and work together and become understanding of differences. Every international student we have hosted has had something to teach not only my children, but my husband and me as well. It is so important in the world in which we live today to learn about other cultures. The world is not so big anymore and we all share one global community,” said Sterner.
Janice Smith, a Spanish teacher, summed up Oxford’s world language and culture programs.
“We are working to maximize the opportunity for students from all cultures to learn and achieve in the classroom. Our goal is not only to teach the core democratic values that enable people to work and reach decisions together, but also to cultivate an understanding of ethnic diversity and how it can be a source of strength,” said Smith.
Teacher Cindy White also added the impact Fifth CoreTM has on the students.
“Without the incorporation of Fifth Core™ and the IB Programme in our schools, I do not believe the experiences our students now have available to them would have been possible,” said White. “The fostering of the love of language and cultural intelligence that these programs give our students has allowed us to maximize learning through real-life experiences that our students and teachers will never forget.”
Oxford Community Schools firmly believes the understanding and appreciation of diverse cultures and the ability to function seamlessly within those cultures is key to student success in the global marketplace in which we live. This belief remains the driving force behind the growth of the Fifth Core™ World Language & Culture Program and the commitment to maintain IB World School authorization.

185 Articles | Page: | Show All
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