Additional Bertie County Schools articles:
WINDSOR, NC – Last year, leaders in Bertie County Schools in
Windsor, NC, moved to refocus Bertie Middle School’s career prep,
implementing Pitsco STEM Units at the sixth-grade level and
Pitsco STEM Expeditions® at seventh- and eighth-grade levels. The
ambition was to provide more exploratory options for students
and a pathway to the STEM offerings at the high school level.
CTE Coordinator Stephanie Cottle explains that the school
considered Pitsco Education at the recommendation of a
previous superintendent. “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.”
Add to this the fact that the school had elected to become
the subject of an ongoing pilot study by the Friday Institute
for Educational Innovation looking at the success of the
Expeditions curricula. Exciting? No
doubt. But a sweeping change meant transitions for both
teachers and students.
Business education teachers Latisha Freeman and
Jacqueline Thompson were skilled at teaching computer
applications, but STEM was a whole new game – different
content, different teaching methods.
Freeman explains, “We were used to the class being teacher
led. The Pitsco model is more student led and the teacher does
facilitation. At first it was difficult to wrap our heads around
this!” Would the new model be beneficial or a burden?
“Initially, I was extremely nervous,” said Thompson. “Though
I like science, I had never taught it.” She understood that her
role in the lab would be facilitating student-led learning, but
she worried about being overwhelmed by the new content.
The verdict? Over the course of a semester, the two
teachers went from apprehensive to enthusiastic.
“All I would say is just wait,” says Thompson. “It will get
better over time. It seems so overwhelming in the beginning,
but it is something you can do. And it helps you professionally.
You get to experience new skills as far as facilitation versus
direct instructional teaching.”
Thompson likes the effect it has on her students. “It forces
them to think on a higher-order level versus someone always
telling them the answer. 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.”
Freeman as well found the benefits of the facilitation
model. “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.”
Freeman likes all the hands-on experience her kids get. “I
thought when I taught computer applications that working on
the computer was hands-on, 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.”
A BUZZ IN THE HALLS
Have students discovered the same enthusiasm for the
new paradigm as their teachers?
Though they may have been uncertain at first, student
buzz has begun to surround the program. CTE Coordinator
Cottle hears this buzz firsthand from her son, a sixth grader
now in Ms. Freeman’s class. His enthusiasm started before the
semester even began.
“He came home excited. I hadn’t talked about it with him
at all, but he said, ‘Mom I’m ready to be in Ms. Freeman’s class.’
There’s chatter among the student from the student body about
the things that they’re doing in these classes. They’re getting to
experiment and explore and work hands-on with different things.”
Ms. Freeman has heard the same buzz. “In the beginning,
they were really unsure what an Expedition was. . . . Now you
might be down the hallway and hear them talking about things
within the Expeditions, using Pitsco vocabulary. And the other
kids are looking at us like ‘What are they talking about?’”
Perhaps part of this buzz comes from the relevancy
students can see between their coursework and their lives.
“I like the career connections on the back of the logbook,”
says Freeman. “It gives the kids an opportunity to see some
careers that connect with the Expeditions.”
Thompson agrees. “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.” According to
her, most students have similar answers when asked what they
want to be when they grow up. The Expeditions help expose
them to new possibilities. Thompson highlights this by having
her students create PowerPoint presentations about the listed
careers: what they like about them, what they require, and how
they pertain to what is being learned in class.
Any drawbacks? Well, in one case, excitement for the
program may have helped spread the common cold.
Thompson tells the following story: “One of my students,
she came to school sick. 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.’”