Bright Ideas: Stimulating Bright Minds
It’s amazing to watch a child spark an interest in learning. It’s not an easy thing to do, so in 2015 Jackson EMC funded $50,608 Bright Ideas innovation grants to provide necessary tools and technology for classroom teachers so they could bring their ideas to life. This money went into 36 classrooms. Here are three of their stories…
TERESA JOHNSON | Haymon-Morris Middle School | $1,892
9 Little Bits Circuit Kits, 5 Sphero Robots
The classroom is full of giggling girls building complex circuits and writing the code to program their sphere-shaped robots to maneuver an obstacle course. It’s 7:30 a.m. at Haymon-Morris Middle School.
Teresa Johnson is an engineering and technology educator and the recipient of a recent Jackson EMC Bright Ideas grant. She was able to purchase tools for her classroom that bring design technology into the 21st Century.
“In the past it’s been cardboard, masking tape and paper clips – you can teach the design process with that – and you can do a good job. However, this is technology that they are going to be dealing with in their future,” she was pointing to the Sphero Robots and Little Bits Circuits her students were working with.
“In my classroom, they can try and make mistakes. With my classroom being a design classroom, using their knowledge they can create different types of circuits. For example, using basic supplies, like a paper cup and a tube, they can make a flashlight.”
Electrical circuits, specifically understanding how electrons travel from a power source through a closed path, is an 8th grade science standard.
“This being my first year with the Little Bits kits, I’m excited to see if the section on circuits clicks a little bit more for them. This is more exciting when you can see things light up, or press play and see a program play or run. It is more engaging than straws and tape. They don’t get these opportunities in other classes.”
The University System of Georgia Board of Regents decided last year that freshmen entering college in the academic year 2017–2018 can fulfill their foreign language requirements with upper-level computer science courses, which are teaching them coding.
“The programming they are learning here in this class, they are learning that second language. They are coding and can see the results of that language,” Johnson said.
When asked about what the round robots add to her experience, 8th grader Taylor Stockel said, “They help us learn the programming language, and it is fun to have a hands-on activity to learn it.”
DAWN HUDGINS & JASON CHESSER | Chestatee Academy | $1,998
Dissection tools, 60 wildlife books
Jason Chesser has a nuisance animal control operator license. It’s not a pleasant thing to think about, but sometimes animals threaten the lives of other animals or humans and they have to be exterminated. Chesser is also a teacher at Chestatee Academy and that is where his interests collide. Along with Dawn Hudgins, Chesser received a Jackson EMC grant to furnish their Wildlife Biology class with the resources they needed to learn about animal habitats, anatomy and wildlife biology.
The program is one of 40 offered as part of the school’s SOAR curriculum. There are 35 students enrolled in the class now; another 30 are waiting to get in.
Twice a week, students are invited to learn about anatomy by dissecting animals, preparing skins or furs and building articulated skeletons.
“The opportunity for them to have hands-on investigation, for them to actually touch the different organs and recognize their function in the animals is a huge thing to develop their interest,” Chesser said.
Most of the students are male, and said they hunt and fish at home. Having a science teacher on hand to walk you through the circulatory system is a new experience.
“Life science is a focus for 7th grade,” Hudgins said. “Having Wildlife Biology helps reinforce the curriculum for life science because they actually get to see the organs from different animals and compare them to what I am teaching.
Chesser and Hudgins said they teach because they want to share what they love with others. They both love research and investigation. While Chesser loves learning about wildlife, habitats and resources, Hudgins is particularly interested in how the organ systems of animals work. They say the best thing about watching children learn is seeing them develop an interest in something and that interest leading the students to conduct further research that could perhaps one day lead them into a career doing what they love.
Jacob Gipson wants to be a physician. “The anatomy of these animals is very similar to humans,” he said. “I’m glad I get to learn about anatomy. I wouldn’t normally learn this at school.”
DANA FARR | East Hall Middle School | $360.60
30 hardback books
Dana Farr used a Jackson EMC Bright Ideas grant to buy a class set of the book, “Unbroken: An Olympian’s Journey from Airman to Castaway to Captive,” the biography of Louis Zamperini. A Georgia Studies teacher at East Hall Middle School, Farr uses the story to teach students about the Great Depression, World War II and to connect them to the people of the Greatest Generation.
“I chose this book not only because I love WWII, but because I was seeing a disconnect between this generation and what the greatest generation sacrificed for America,” Farr said. “Reading a great story like Louis’ really personifies the Greatest Generation for them. As those voices fade and die out, I wanted them to learn from him.”
What could a class full of 8th graders from Gainesville, Georgia, possibly have in common with a WWII POW? More than you’d think. Scrolling through an interactive discussion board, the messages reveal how easily they can relate to Zamperini.
“The largest thing that me and Louis’ life had in common is that we both were troublemakers,” admitted student Faila Kisebwe. “There are some times where I would walk to my friend’s house without permission and stay for a long time. My parents would panic.” Kisebwe also found similarities as the child of African immigrants and an athlete who is competitive with her older brothers. “I would get hurt and want to show them how tough I was, so I didn’t quit. I cried, but I did not leave.”
Farr said, “The discussion board has really helped make the book come to life for them. Seeing other teachers from around the school on the discussion board has really made an impact for them too, people who have no stake in this at all, who just want to learn.”
At the end of the year, the class will prepare a project based on what they learn: “Louis Zamperini, This is Your Life!” They hope to share it with some members of his family through Skype or Google Hangouts.
“Louis’ story is such a fantastic one, and I have a soft spot in my heart for the Greatest Generation and keeping their flame alive for future generations. Hopefully, I’ve passed that enthusiasm over to my students – enthusiasm is one of the greatest innovative tools in my opinion,” Farr said.