CMS patterns American pioneers by offering innovative courses for future

Wednesday, September 28, 2016
Cassville Middle School student Lily Love focuses on an assignment in one of several new, innovative courses offered to keep the school, and students, moving forward into the future. Contributed photo

Staff seek to prepare students for a future not yet invented

In the spirit of the 19th Century, when westward expansion began after Thomas Jefferson orchestrated the Louisiana Purchase to improve the nation's health, Cassville Middle School started the school year following in the footsteps of the earliest American pioneers by offering several innovative courses to keep the school moving forward--and staying healthy. Much like Jefferson believed, the success of the Republic "depended on an independent, virtuous citizenry for its survival," CMS Administration and staff believe that their success depends on providing opportunities for students to grow their skills to meet the changing, evermore competitive demands of an interconnected world. Where Jefferson saw opportunity for the young country to flourish through land ownership and independence, staff at CMS are pushing students to take ownership of their learning through courses that promote creativity, analytical thought, problem solving, and a better understanding of citizenship in a digital world.

Project Lead The Way

Pictured are students in Jake Forste's class, one of several innovative and pioneering new classes helping to prepare students in the fields of technology, science, engineering, robotics and more for a future not yet created. Bottom row, from left: Andrew Hermansen, Kasen Holman, Idamaris Herrera, Amani Firestone and Trenton Carlin. Top row: Michael Morgan, Zac Acheson, teacher Jake Forste, Ryan Yang and Simon Whitehead. Contributed photo

This summer, CMS joined Project Lead The Way (PLTW), an Indiana-based, non-profit organization dedicated to providing curriculum and services in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) education. With 48 counties represented in Missouri offering programs through PLTW, CMS becomes the first facility in Barry County to teach this project-based curriculum. Courses in design and modeling, Vex Robotics®, and introduction to computer science are offered to current seventh and eighth-grade students as electives. A brief description of each follows:

Design Models (DM)
Students apply the design process to solve problems and understand the influence of creativity and innovation in their lives. They work in teams to design a playground and furniture, capturing research and ideas in their engineering notebooks. Using Autodesk® design software, students create a virtual image of their designs and produce a portfolio to showcase their innovative solutions.

Automation Robotics (AR)
Students trace the history, development and influence of automation and robotics as they learn about mechanical systems, energy transfer, machine automation, and computer control systems. Students use the Vex Robotics® platform to design, build, and program real-world objects such as traffic lights, toll booths and robotic arms.

Introduction to Computer Science 1 (ICS-1)
Studies show that by 2018, 1.4 million job openings will be available for computer specialists. In this unit, students discover the principles of this fast-growing field by focusing on creativity and an interactive design process as they create their own basic apps using MIT App Inventor.

Introduction to Computer Science 2 (ICS-2)
Students continue to explore the fundamentals of the stimulating career path of computer science. They venture into text programming through Python and, in the final problem, develop an app to crowdsource and analyze data on a topic of their interest.

To teach just one of the courses above, teachers must complete week-long 'boot camps' of instruction at various locations throughout the state. CMS industrial tech teacher, Robbie Artherton, attended two such sessions this summer at Rolla S & T to become certified in DM and AR instruction. CMS technology teacher Jake Forste, traveled to UCM's Lee's Summit campus for his week of training in ICS 1 and 2.

Both teachers were amazed at the structure, the intensity, and the fun they had in doing the exact same projects they will be asking their students to do this fall--one big difference, they did it all in one week, not a semester.

The teaching process for a PLTW class is much different than what most are used to. Teachers are instructed to provide the guidance and resources to students, then to step back and monitor progress, teamwork skills, and guide students. Children have vivid imaginations and are prone to think outside the box when presented problems with no real solutions and only the result in mind, so teachers find themselves learning right along with their students over time. There are currently 70 students enrolled in these courses for the first semester. CMS hopes to expand offerings in the future to include the biomedical field and forensic science.

Computer Literacy

Cassville Middle School student Tristan White prepares an activity in one of several new courses in science, technology, engineering, design and robotics, which aim to prepare students for a future that has not yet been invented. Contributed photo

Another pioneer offering this year at CMS is the inclusion of computer literacy classes for all sixth-grade students. It took some creative scheduling to maintain ideal numbers in core classes, but the students, all sixth-graders, will receive a semester of computer literacy with a targeted focus on digital citizenship. As younger and younger children have internet capable technology in their fingertips on a daily basis, the need to help them understand a digital footprint and its effect on human life is vital. Topics covered in the class taught by CMS social studies teacher, Chris Seymour, will include cyber-bullying, digital footprint, written communication forms, reputable resources and social media.

Study Skills

CMS communication arts teacher Shari Rhea will be teaching sixth-grade students how to organize their life as they transition into middle school and the added inherent responsibilities. While the topic is not new, it is to CMS. With no curriculum to guide her, Rhea will use experience and expertise to help students understand how to summarize notes, maintain a calendar, prioritize information, even how to prepare both mentally and physically for assessments. Research consistently shows that effective communication skills are a top factor in post-high school success and lifetime wages earned. The goal is to promote good habits that will have lasting positive effects throughout their education and career.

Publications

In a true pioneering spirit, students Evan Foulke and Gavin Moore pair up to complete an activity in one of several new courses offered at Cassville Middle School designed to lead students into the future -- and into technology and related components that have not yet been invented. The courses cover subjects like robotics, science, engineering, robotics and design processes. Students often work in teams to come up with innovative solutions. Contributed photo

Most people think of publications as the typical high school yearbook course. CMS Library Media Specialist Becky Haynes is taking the premise of that course and expanding it greatly this year. Typically, CMS has used enrichment periods to have students learn cameras, take pictures, and edit articles for the annual yearbook. This process greatly limited both participant numbers and quality of the product, given it was only open to academically strong students, and offered just 30 minutes two days per week. A class was added to the schedule this year that will open the class to more students for an entire period on a daily basis. Now, 24 students are enrolled in the class.

The library media center has several resources for students, including a green screen with movie production software for ipads. Students will be using the latest in digital photography equipment to snap awesome shots for the yearbook, but they will also be learning to produce and edit short films and build websites. These students will also get to hone their acting skills as they produce instructional videos on the CMS Positive Behavior System, also known as Wildcat expectations.

Summary

Each of the courses outlined focus on helping CMS not only meet Goal 1 (21st Century Learning), and Goal 2 (math and literacy) of the district-level expectations, but also make sense for today's world. The staff at CMS hope to prepare students for a future that, in many cases, hasn't even been invented yet. A CMS student survey last spring showed that 72 percent of students have either strongly considered, or seriously considered, making their adult home in the Cassville and Barry County area. With the amount of highly skilled technical and engineering jobs available in the area, we hope to build an interest in our students that would start them on a path to return and compete for those high-paying positions. Even if students decide to leave the area, we hope to have provided the tools and drive to be successful in a highly competitive worldwide market.

Just as Jefferson's Louisiana Purchase helped begin a national expansion in innovation a size the world had never witnessed before, the staff at CMS see the pioneer spirit alive and well in our students and will continue to work with them, forging ahead into the future as leaders of innovation for Cassville R-4 and beyond.