Some pretty remark able learning is taking place in our middle schools. As well as the regular core classes, there are a number of interesting electives offered. One of these is the “SMARTLab”, formerly called the Tech Lab.
This unique classroom has a number of computers and other high-tech equipment and is organized in workstation pods, each with its own focus. Lessons are delivered in modules with small groups of students working their way through each, under the close supervision of the teacher.
The SMARTLab is a project-based, student-centered, technology-rich learning environment that introduces students to 21st century working environments. The tools in this unusual classroom include hardware, software, electronics, multimedia, construction kits and a variety of manipulatives. Students rotate through the stations that cover mechanics and structures; computer graphics; science and data acquisition; publishing and multimedia; alternative and renewable energy; robotics and control technology; circuitry; and computer simulation.
While visiting these classrooms at Marshall, Yucca, and Gattis middle schools, I watched small groups of students, huddled together, engrossed by their projects. Some were focused on large computer screens; others were working with pneumatics equipment; others were surrounded by parts of all shapes and sizes, in the midst of construction.
A few of the comments overheard were: “We can’t use those angles; the bridge will collapse!” and “Check the circuitry; we may have to reprogram!” Stopping to question a student about what their group was doing, they began explaining how pneumatics worked and about the advantages of a “sustainable supply through compressed air,” or something like that expanding my own realm of knowledge and vocabulary on the spot. In fact, I had to tactfully stop them when they lost me completely.
The teachers who facilitate these learning environments have to have unique skills to survive in the SMARTLab. Not only must they master each station, but they also need to effectively nudge and prompt students as they build their electronic work portfolios. Amanda Johnson heads up the SMARTLab at Marshall; Vikki Albright oversees the Yucca SMARTLab, and John Mead runs the SMARTLab at Yucca.
In addition to Marshall’s SMARTLAB, Principal Jay Brady also purchased the television station component, which has become “MTV” — Marshall TV. The multimedia classes of “MTV” produce from start to finish a regular news show that is broadcast throughout the school campus.
Seventh grader Destiny Hodges began explaining how the “Tri-caster” worked, and her group of students hustled me into the “studio” and demonstrated. They were clearly experts by now, and “anchors” Hope Tyler, Andrea Fripi and Hailey Camacho explained the whole process.
Later, eight graders, Austin Hodges, Donovan Hackett and Patric Gillespie sat down and talked about the class in general. There was clear and enthusiastic consensus: “I love this class! I like how we are in control of our projects and have the freedom to explore our own ideas and just run with them.”
That explains, perhaps, why several had repeated this elective more than one semester! Unique learning from unique teachers!
Cindy Kleyn-Kennedy is the instructional technology coordinator for the Clovis Municipal Schools and can be reached at cindy.kleyn-kennedy @clovis-schools.org