Taking Learning to a New Level

Filed under: Schools |

With a desire to see profound learning take place, Duncanville ISD believes that 21st Century environments are the key to student engagement. Those educational atmospheres are being created across the district through problem-based learning (PBL) lessons. Two recent PBLs at Smith Elementary are inspiring a love of learning and preparing students for life beyond school.

Collaboration across Campuses 

In third grade today and part of the engineering workforce tomorrow, Lisa Treibly’s students are preparing for their futures through collaboration with the Duncanville High School Engineering Academy. Their partnership began as part of a problem-based learning lesson designed to teach third graders about ecosystems. DHS students have created an Aquatic Farm that has grown to now maintain three generations of fish.

Visiting the Academy in January, Smith students observed the EcoPond and posed questions to its creators. “We wanted to show them a working, living ecosystem so they could see how different species of aquatic plants and underwater life interact to support each other’s life cycles,” said engineering instructor Bart Burnett. “Another objective was to show them how Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) principles can be used to create self-sustaining ecosystems that support our environment.” “Our hope is that by being effective designers and facilitators of this project, both the students at Smith and DHS will be encouraged by one another, leadership skills will shine further, and we will develop a love of the engineering design process and career,” added Treibly.

Third graders will continue to communicate with DHS students via Skype throughout the rest of the semester, discussing the EcoPond’s progress and making suggestions on how to increase its success. The Engineering Academy has also promised Smith students the fourth generation of baby fish so they can start their own aquatic ecosystem. With plans to roll out an engineering program at Smith next fall, Treibly says she’s excited for her students to be its pioneers. “They have already designed their tank, what it should contain, the types of plants that need to be included, and much more. They talk about it all the time and can hardly wait for their fish to arrive!”

Bringing the Outside World In

Providing real-world experiences on a regular basis, Smith Elementary has created its own little town complete with a mayor, jobs, and special interest clubs. Every Friday from 8:00 – 9:15 am, Smithville is in full swing. The idea for the project came after principal Shea Shaefer visited a school in Coppell that has conducted a town center for seven years. “We want our students to be excited about coming to school,” said second grade teacher and Smithville Mayor Krystle Gomez. “We also wanted to give our teachers an opportunity to show what they are passionate about.”

Smithville is made up of 31 jobs/clubs that are hosted by teachers, school administrators, paraprofessionals, and community volunteers. Every eight weeks, students fill out an application to apply for a position, and Gomez places them according to their interests. Students who don’t fill out the application on time report to the “Unemployment Office” run by the school secretary to find their assignments.

On Smithville days, students don’t report to their classrooms, but instead go straight to their job/club. Some positions include the Yogatry Club run by Shaefer, which combines yoga and poetry; the Healthy Kids Club, where students learn about the human body; and the Geek Squad, where students learn about new web 2.0 tools to teach their fellow students and possibly their instructors. “Arts are missing in our elementary school, and I wanted to bring them back,” explained Adventures in Art leader and third grade teacher Lisa Treibly. She will also offer a Karate Club later this school year, saying, “Self-discipline and focus are key. I hope to instill that in our students.”

After eight weeks in a position, students will fill out another application, switching jobs/clubs to explore other interests. But before they do, they’ll present a culminating project that shows what they’ve learned. Only one month into operation, Smithville is already creating excitement among its participants. “On the first day of Smithville, I was excited because it was the first time that we ever got to go to clubs,” said second grader Talyia Parson. “It was really great, a perfect day.”