Greenfield’s Math and Science Academy grows, Franklin County schools emphasize STEM
Ben Derivolkov and Max Charest make a lava lamp by pouring salt through a layer of oil on top of colored water, which initially sinks and then floats back up as it reacts with the water, during a demonstration of physics at the Math and Science Academy in Greenfield.
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Math and Science Academy students test a bridge built during a teambuilding activity. From left to right: Tabitha Caloon, Isabella Daye, Jason Daye, Luke Wisnewski and Longyao Xu.
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Alex Taraburca, a seventh-grade student in the Math and Science Academy, launches his water powered bottle rocket into the air at Green River Park after his partner pumped enough pressure into the half-full bottle. The students have been studing Newtons laws as applied to pressure and force. They also found the height of the rockets, almost 100 feet, by triangulated the angle vs distance from launch pad.
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Since the Greenfield Math and Science Academy opened its doors five years ago, the speciality public school has quickly expanded, with 120 middle schools students packing the program to capacity this year.
The academy is the most visible example of a new focus on math and science in area schools as students throughout Franklin County head back to school, starting today.
Originally, Greenfield’s math and science program attracted 14 sixth and seventh graders who shared one wing of the Four Corners School. In the 2012-2013 school year, the academy added the fourth and fifth grades as a lower school, and it now has 120 students enrolled.
“I think there is a general recognition that STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) education is a key factor in preparing students for an increasingly global marketplace,” said Principal Heather Evans. “Parents are recognizing they can give their kid a leg up.”
The academy was designed as an accelerated, project-based program for students interested in math and science and who were willing to prioritize their education.
“We prepare students to give them a strong, advanced education,” Evans said.
As the academy continues to grow, space may become an issue. The academy is now in the former Green River Elementary School. If there is a need and an interest, the academy will continue to grow, Assistant Principal Gina Fasoli said.
The academy opened as President Obama and the federal Department of Education made STEM education a priority and set goals to increase the number of students and teachers who are proficient in the fields of science, technology, engineering and math. Specifically, Obama has set a goal to develop and recruit at least 100,000 excellent STEM teachers over the next 10 years.
In some places, school districts are choosing to emphasize STEAM — adding arts and design to the mix as well.
At Greenfield’s academy, lower school students (fourth and fifth grade) take three years of math in two years. By the sixth and seventh grades, students are ready for pre-algebra and algebra 1, which is a high school freshman level course.
In science, lower school students receive a strong foundation in observation and data analysis, Evans said. Later, at the upper school, students study high school based physics and integrated biology and chemistry.
With STEM’s emphasis on the global marketplace, the academy also focuses on Spanish learning. The lower school is introduced to Spanish culture, while upper school students take a full-year course, which is usually a half-time course in other schools.
Students follow the same curriculum as the Greenfield Middle School when it comes to English and social studies. The difference is that the lessons connect with science and math. For instance, history classes will incorporate technology developments during certain time periods.
The academy uses the Northwest Evaluation Association standards to measure academic progress among its students. Students are given tests in the fall, winter and spring to assess their strengths and weakness, in addition to taking the regular MCAS.
The STEM push results from schools aligning curriculum with the new Common Core Standards and the Massachusetts educational standards, which emphasizes real world problems and critical thinking.
At the Union 38 Schools in southern Franklin County, teachers worked in teams to strengthen the four elementary schools’ math curriculum and instruction to align more closely with the Common Core standards, according to Superintendent Martha Barrett.
After months of analyzing materials from several publishers and online resources, the district teachers selected two new resources — Contexts Math Investigations and Engage New York Math — to support math instruction at the elementary level.
This year, Barrett said teachers will introduce the new materials, to develop conceptual understanding, fluency with computation, and the ability to apply math concepts to solve everyday problems.
“The combination of these two approaches will offer students flexible approaches to thinking about and practicing their developing math skills,” Barrett said.
Meanwhile in science, Union 38 teachers grades 3 to 5 piloted new science units designed by educators from the Hitchcock Center for the Environment in Amherst that focused on energy and the environment.
Mohawk schools are also revising math and science curricula, including redesigns of the advanced placement courses to emphasize discipline-specific skills and critical thinking.
The high school’s core science curriculum will be entirely revised to align with the new Massachusetts draft science standards, Superintendent Michael Buoniconti said. The transition will happen over several years to keep in line with the state rollout of the new standards and assessments.
One key shift in the new standards is an emphasis on scientific thinking and data analysis, modeling, and experimental design. The project-based learning curriculum will support this transition, Buoniconti said.
The math department also plans to develop and pilot a new year-long inquiry-based algebra program. The district will partner with professors from Westfield State University, who would provide instructional coaching and assistance with curriculum development.
“The course will prepare students to think more deeply about mathematics and to gain more experience in creative, collaborative problem-solving with relevance to the real world,” Buoniconti said.
In the Pioneer Valley Regional School District, students are offered an after-school program focused on math investigations, Superintendent Dayle Doiron said.
The Gill-Montague Regional School District is also revamping some of its curriculum to enhance STEM education and align its lessons to meet the Common Core.
This year, eighth-grade students for the first time will have the opportunity to take high school algebra.
To enroll in the algebra class, eighth-graders have to have proven they are capable of doing the work and have been strong math students in sixth and seventh grade.
“We have a number of students who are strong in math,” said Martin Espinola Director of Teaching and Learning. “College programs like engineering like students to have five math courses, not four. If students are inclined, they can take algebra in eighth grade and four math courses in high school. It gives them a strong background.”
The school district also recently replaced its older math programs at the elementary and middle schools with more rigorous curriculum aligned with the Common Core. Math lessons now emphasize problem solving and real world applications, said Espinola.
You can reach Kathleen McKiernan at: email@example.com or 413-772-0261 ext. 268 On Twitter, follow @RecorderKatMcK