09:11 AM

Bright Ideas: Innovation in the Classroom

Stimulating a student’s interest in learning a new idea or concept can be a challenge. For educators, there’s the additional challenge of funding learning experiences in the classroom that are outside the textbook.

That’s why Jackson EMC funded $51,461 in Bright Ideas grants this academic year to give middle school teachers the tools and technology they need to bring their innovative ideas to life. Since 2015, Jackson EMC has funded more than $216,300 in Bright Ideas grants to fund innovative and creative classroom projects developed by state-certified educators in public middle schools throughout our service area.

These are some of the stories from the latest grant recipients.

3D Science

Russell Middle School  |  Barrow County

Nicole Baker  |  $1,851

Students in Nicole Baker’s physical science class at Russell Middle School in Barrow County are learning key physics concepts thanks to a Bright Ideas grant, which funded small “smartcars,” tracks and wireless sensors that enable students to collect data, make predictions and use critical thinking skills.

“The students can see real-time data and experiment visually while running the cars,” Baker said. “Before we received this grant, students just saw the chart in a textbook. Now, students can see the data while the cars are running. We’re the only school in the county with this new technology.”

Baker said the cars and tracks are used for numerous other lab units across multiple classrooms, benefitting more than 1,000 students this year alone. She has used the components to teach conservation of energy, acceleration, velocity, speed, Kinematics and Newton’s Law.

Our Model City

Sweetwater Middle School  |  Gwinnett County

Shane Thompson and James Mitchell  |  $1,845

Shane Thompson, a STEAM teacher at Sweetwater Middle School in Gwinnett County, developed an interdisciplinary program for his students that incorporated five subject areas: social studies, technology, engineering, art and math.

“The Internet of Things is the next frontier in computing science,” said Thompson. “Thanks to our Bright Ideas grant, our students can develop their own version of a connected world by building a model city.”

First, students worked in groups to select a significant building in Africa. They created a presentation demonstrating the historical, economic, governmental, cultural or religious significance of their building. The math portion of the project involved determining the dimensions for each building and creating a scale ratio factor.

Using the scale factor, students created a model, then painted them to match the real building. “All their buildings must fit in the classroom-sized model city, so the students worked together using engineering principles to design the layout,” said James Mitchell, a STEAM teacher. “They’re learning how to use micro-controllers and sensors to build a roadway system around their city.”

Next, the students will create a road network around their buildings that will support self-driving cars, which they will build using a microprocessor, LED lights, ultrasonic and temperature sensors and other electrical devices. They can also use the LEGO EV3 robots from Mitchell’s 2017 Bright Ideas grant.

“These grants help us provide hands-on learning opportunities for real-world situations,” said Thompson. “Our students are learning how to create a city of the future.”

Innovation in Soil and Water Conservation

Hull Middle School  |  Gwinnett County

David Schoenrock and Celia Ayenesazan  |  $845

Students at Hull Middle School in Gwinnett County used their Bright Ideas grant to plan, plant, grow and harvest varieties of lettuce through an aeroponic tower garden — which uses at least 90 percent less water than soil farming. Water circulates continuously in the aeroponic garden, and the lights for encouraging plant growth allow the garden to be used as a teaching tool year-round.

“The mobility of the aeroponic garden gave us opportunities to use it in more classrooms, the STEAM lab and the Green Team — an after-school club that maintains the outdoor garden and recycling program,” said science teacher Celia Ayenesazan. “We can use it as a teaching tool in all seasons, indoors and outdoors.”

“The garden supports visual and tactile learning,” said STEAM teacher Virita Bridges, who also uses the garden in her classroom. Students see a live representation of their biology book. “It’s a textbook in action,” she said.

Before transplanting assorted varieties of lettuce from the aeroponic garden to the school's outdoor garden, students learn the importance of hardening-off the plants; gradually acclimating the plants to the cooler outdoor temperatures. The cycle repeats as students germinate seeds which they will transfer into the growing cells of the tower garden. During the entire process, the students learn about the health benefits of greens they grew themselves.

“This is the Bright Ideas grant that keeps on giving because each year more than 2,000 students will benefit from the reuse,” said science teacher David Schoenrock.

Applications for the 2019-2020 Bright Ideas grants will be available in July. Stay tuned to jacksonemc.com/brightideas for additional details.