By Mary Layton
On Tuesday, December 16, I went on the inaugural Oak Ridge School’s Community Tour.
We met at the American Museum of Science and Energy bright and early at 8 am. We were divided into two groups. The Einstein Group was hosted by Tracey Beckendorf-Edou, and the Curie Group had as its leader Chris Marczak.
We began with a short history of Oak Ridge given by Ken Mayes. We were reminded of the important role our city played in World War II.
Bruce Borchers, superintendent of Oak Ridge Schools, welcomed us to the tour. He told us about the Keys to College and Career Readiness. These goals were developed by interviewing and surveying Oak Ridge students, parents, staff, and community in late 2013. The goal of the keys is to prepare students to go to college, obtain industry certification in a skill, or receive military preparation by graduation. Borchers told us that our tour would show us how they were working to obtain these goals.
I was in the Einstein Group. We rode the school bus to our three schools: Woodland Elementary, Jefferson Middle School, and the High School. The Curie Group made their way via bus to Willow Brook, Robertsville Middle School, and the High School.
My observations covered a wide spectrum. In first grade I saw enthusiastic first graders using Google Earth to locate Woodland Elementary and find their playground. Then they traveled to Mexico to learn about Christmas customs. They listened to Tomie dePaola read his story, “The Legend of the Poinsettia,” to them. The teacher found the book on the Internet and projected it on the screen.
Next, we saw a computer class learning how to code. This skill will teach students how to computer program. It is being used by all the grades.
Then, a fourth-grade class worked in groups to determine how to prepare a habitat in the Smoky Mountains in case they were caught in a snow storm. They were researching facts on the Internet and drawing pictures of possible shelters.
At Jefferson Middle School, we visited a combined art and science class. It was amazing. They were working in groups looking at slides under the microscope and copying what they observed on paper. The students were amazed at what they saw. When the paper was filled with their observations, the student would color the page with pastels or paint. The teachers told us they were working to enhance skills such as creativity, collaboration, communication, and critical thinking.
Our next stop in the STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) tour was a social studies room. The students were reviewing for their semester exam. They were using a program called Kahoot, a competitive online game used to help students review. The teacher challenged the students to collaborate and create their own Kahoot review using “reverse engineering” techniques. To do this, they take an answer and make a question from it. They could use their iPad to research.
Our next stop was a math class. The class was graphing a math problem. The teacher went from group to group and gave suggestions. Seeing the problem explained visually on the graph paper was a good technique for visual learners.
Our last school was Oak Ridge High School. We were greeted by David Bryant, principal of ORHS. He told us that there were 1,400 students in the high school. Their goal is to educate all 1,400 and prepare them for college, industry certification, or military preparation by graduation. We visited several classes at the high school.
We were treated to a wonderful lunch followed by comments about our day from all the participants. I know I felt energized about our future. I am a retired teacher with 30 years’ experience in the classroom. On the tour, I saw students who were actively engaged in learning new things using the STEM method. I believe this kind of learning can level the playing field so that all students can find their talent and become the best version of themselves.
More tours will be conducted. I hope many Oak Ridgers will take advantage of this learning experience. I am very glad that I did.
Oak Ridge Schools are once again on the cutting edge. We have been given the opportunity to be a pilot school for the STEM education program in the United States.
Please feel free to contact the school administration office if you would like to go on a tour. Our schools are at a turning point, and it will take all of us to achieve the goal. Once again, Oak Ridge has the opportunity to use technology to reshape and fashion a bright future for America.