Excellence in Education: $25,000 in grants over 3 years to ACMS | SierraSun.com

Excellence in Education: $25,000 in grants over 3 years to ACMS

Jessica VanPernis Weaver
Special to the Sun
Students using Lego Mindstorms EV3 Lego Robotics kits, where they have the opportunity to design, build and program small-scale robots.
Courtesy photo |

TRUCKEE, Calif. — Identifying and engaging new methods of learning is something teachers in the Tahoe Truckee Unified School District (TTUSD) do regularly.

To support and encourage use of new methods and learning tools, the Excellence in Education Foundation, a non-profit organization that was created with the intention of supporting quality education within the district, provides annual grants to schools within TTUSD.

In the last three years, in addition to grants to other school sites and district-wide grants, Excellence in Education has funded approximately $25,000 grants submitted by teachers at Alder Creek Middle School (ACMS) alone.

For the 2015-16 school year, seven grant requests were supported at ACMS, including creative programs such as “Flocabulary,” an aeroponic garden tower and engineering and design with Lego Robots.

Flocabulary, a tool that allows staff and students to create engaging educational videos, also includes interactive activities and online assessments for students in all subject areas.

Gina Stephens, eighth grade teacher at Alder Creek Middle School has incorporated Flocabulary in her classrooms for years.

“As a history teacher, it’s difficult to find the minutes to teach what’s happened in the past as well as what’s happening today. The Week in Rap solves that problem by capturing headlines from around the world and putting it to catchy beats. The kids love it,” said Stephens.

Flocabulary’s multisensory approach of using music, rhythm and rhyme is supported by a profound body of academic research.

“Music facilitates memorization and recall of academic content, while use of hip-hop and other culturally-relevant media increases student engagement,” the grant application stated. The program has been used to enhance lessons in math, science, language arts and social studies at ACMS.

Sixth grade teacher Maggie Bockius leveraged a grant from Excellence in Education to introduce an aeroponic garden tower to ACMS students.

Designed as a low-maintenance system that takes students through the plant life cycle, the garden tower aligns with both math and science lessons that require students to evaluate resource problems and design solutions.

Requiring an area of only 2.5×2.5 feet, the 5-foot tall aeroponic vertical garden allows students to grow up to 20 plants in less time than it takes in soil, allowing them to experiment, collect data and analyze their results.

In her grant application, Bockius indicated that student success would be measured “by student engagement and excitement about the Tower Garden. Feeding the Earth’s people with limited water supply is a challenge now and a growing concern in the future. Informing young people about this problem will help start solution development.”

Another area of learning that continues to expand not only at ACMS, but within the district is in relation to Lego Robotics. Using Lego Mindstorms EV3 Lego Robotics kits, students have been designing, building and programming small scale robots.

Once they’ve learned basic skills, they are given challenge scenarios in which they must use design thinking and work in teams to create, build and program a robot prototype that solves a particular problem.

In her application, eighth grade ACMS teacher Katie Kosich indicated that “these team design challenges will allow opportunities for students to improve communication, collaboration, critical thinking and creativity,” all of which are highly transferrable life skills.

“As we’ve introduced ‘design thinking’ into our robotics course, I’ve seen students apply more creativity, take greater risks in their design, and become more resilient in problem solving,” said Kosich. “These skills are critical for any 21st century learner who must solve complex 21st century problems.”

The grant provided by Excellence in Education allowed the staff at ACMS to update their robotics kits, as well as expand the program to the seventh grade. Students now have the opportunity to take robotics for two elective cycles while at ACMS, allowing them to dig deeper into the discipline.

“Having the ability to support programs and technology that enhance learning opportunities for kids in our district is incredibly rewarding,” said Laura Brown, executive director of the Excellence in Education Foundation. “The creativity of the teaching staff in implementing technology and new methods in an effort to further student learning is remarkable, and each year we look forward to contributing to the success of students within the Tahoe Truckee Unified School District.”

Jessica VanPernis Weaver is an Excellence in Education Foundation Board Member. Visit exined.org to learn more.

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