Hurricane Florence came through Robeson County during the fall of 2018 and disrupted the lives of the students and employees of the Public Schools of Robeson County. While focusing on establishing a sense of normalcy for all teachers and students, the district’s curriculum department began devising a plan of action to support teachers. Through various professional development opportunities and direct support, the priority was ensuring that all instruction was intentional and beneficial for students in the shortened school year.
As the world continues to evolve to be more reliant on STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math), the Public Schools of Robeson County was determined to expose students to this field of study. After receiving the FIRST STEM Diversity and Equity Grant, our goal was to showcase LEGO Robotics in 18 schools encompassing all second-grade students in each of these schools.
Students were given six to 12 weeks of exposure to coding and learning about life on the moon through the Mission Moon project. Professional development was conducted with second-grade teachers on the basics and model lessons were conducted in the classroom to assist teachers with the implementation. Schools held expos to give students the opportunity to showcase their work. Students learned to work as a team and to be open to other’s ideas.
STEM did not end here, as we also received a Burroughs Wellcome PRISM grant to incorporate more hands-on-learning activities into the classroom. The goal of this grant was to train teachers in classroom STEM lessons tied to literacy by using a book to be the precursor to the STEM challenge. Examples include giving the task of rebuilding baby bear’s chair based on the book, “Goldilocks and the Three Bears,” building a trap to capture the Easter Bunny based on the book, “How to Catch the Easter Bunny,” and even how to build a car that can travel from point A to point B the fastest based on the book, “If I Built a Car.” Students learned the engineering design process and that learning takes place in the process, not in the product. STEM lessons were made available to all elementary teachers and provided by the science supervisor.
The district implemented a learning resource across the district to assist students with math concepts. Math in Practice is a standards-based, professional learning resource from Sue O’Connell and colleagues. This grade-by-grade resource fits with any math curriculum. It identifies the big ideas of math content and best-practice teaching, unpacking essential teaching strategies and detailing why those strategies are powerful. It supports teachers, administrators, and entire school communities as they: guide students into deeper math understanding; respond to the challenges of their math curriculum; and support students who are struggling, excelling, and anywhere in between.
Teachers were given the opportunity to discuss and explore the big ideas in best-practice math instruction, including topics such as math talk, modeling, and differentiation.
Topics addressed include: asking questions that stimulate student thinking; making sense of and connections between mathematical ideas; using representations and models effectively; helping students communicate about math; and learning from meaningful formative assessment.
Math in Practice is a rigorous classroom resource that makes use of a math workshop environment to bring the Standards for Mathematical Practice to life. Rich, authentic contexts provide a backdrop for fostering the use of mathematical models as thinking tools, tenacious problem-solving, and the reading and writing of mathematical arguments and justifications to ensure the development of a positive growth-mindset.
The PSRC uses the Letterland Phonics Program in grades K and first to introduce students to a phonics-based approach to reading. Letterland phonics covers all 44 sounds in the English language and their major recurring spelling patterns. All teachers received Letterland training this year based upon their experience with the program. Teachers were broken into groups based upon grade level and experience using the program so that the trainers could best meet their needs. This training combined with Reading Research to Classroom Practice is making a huge impact in K through second classrooms. Additional training and implementation of Letterland in Grade 2 is planned.
An additional focus for the Curriculum Department this school year was to support and develop the district’s teachers. In order for this to happen, modeling exercises were conducted to provide teachers with a live example of what well-planned lessons would look like. One of the modeling exercises occurred in a sixth grade ELA class where the curriculum supervisor taught one period each day for a week. Selected teachers were invited for at least two days to view the modeling of lessons. The focus was on transitioning between different parts of the lesson and how one day’s lesson prepared for the next day due to scaffolding. After the exercise, a working relationship continued throughout the rest of the school year with feedback through evaluations of lesson plans and observations of classroom teaching. Modeling exercises such as this one proved to be beneficial as principal observations were positive, teachers’ classroom practices improved, and benchmark data showed consistent growth.
We are confident that these efforts combined with our teacher’s commitment to our students will breed success on the upcoming End of Grade testing.
This op-ed was a collaborative effort from all core area supervisors of the Public Schools of Robeson coujnty and finalized by Dr. Robert Locklear, assistant superintendent of Curriculum, Instruction, and Accountability.