G-M, Four Rivers schools collaborate with science grant 

  • Mandy Locke of Four Rivers Charter Public School, Craig Tully of Great Falls Middle School and Robert Perlman and Robin Harrington, both from Turners Falls High School, work on a team-building activity at the Hitchcock Center in Amherst. Contributed photo

Recorder Staff
Published: 6/21/2017 10:06:21 AM

TURNERS FALLS — On the day after the 2016 election that saw a statewide measure to expand the number of charter schools fail, Gill-Montague Regional School District Superintendent Michael Sullivan called Four Rivers Charter School Head of School Peter Garbus.

The environment surrounding the expansion question had been tense locally and across the state and after it failed, the two schools saw an opportunity to foster a relationship with each other — one that then turned into an application for a state grant that would allow science teachers from the two schools to work together, take classes and craft new curriculum for the state’s new science standards.

“We’re always looking to get better and become more student-centered,” Turners Falls Principal Annie Leonard said.

Leonard and Garbus coordinated the effort that put together a grant application to the Massachusetts Mathematics and Science Partnership. Their effort bore fruit as the state Department of Elementary and Secondary Education awarded them a grant.

They now have $35,000 that will go toward a professional development class through Clark University as well as stipends for all of the teachers who will be participating in the class outside of their regular contract hours. It begins at the end of June.

In talking about how it all got started, Garbus and Leonard had met informally through a Franklin County principals’ group and both said their thinking of education and schooling aligned.

Both work on Expeditionary Learning, which is a style of learning that focuses on students learning through doing activities, and may involve changes or moving away from a traditional classroom setting. Those goals aligned nicely with the grant and the changes to science curriculum.

The coursework will emphasize teaching hands-on engineering skills for students and will include 11 teachers, six from GMRSD and five from Four Rivers.

The course was developed by Clark University and two veteran science teachers will facilitate the teacher’s course, according to Garbus. The weeklong course will take place at Four Rivers.

“Part of it is learning and part of it is learning to design curriculum and activities,” Garbus said.

The teachers have previously gathered at the Hitchcock Center in Amherst to get to know each other and work on team building activities to prepare them for the course.

The class will help prepare the teachers for hands for the state’s new science standards, something the schools are embracing. The new standards focus on technology and engineering.

Garbus and Leonard said that it’s a move that focuses less on memorization and recitation of facts, and more on critical thinking and fostering curiosity. That work is though students forming hypotheses and understanding how scientific processes work and how to apply them beyond the classroom. Leonard said that the standards try and replicate the kind of thinking and work that a student could eventually do in a lab or as an engineer.

Beyond the classes this summer, the group of teachers will continue to work together and share ideas about implementation during the following school year.

Reach Miranda Davis at 413-772-0261, ext. 280 or mdavis@recorder.com.


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