Magazine article Techniques

Shaping the Future: Located in Maine, the City of Bath Is Home to Just over 9,000 People and a Rich, Centuries-Long Heritage of Shipbuilding. Bath Is Also Home to the State's Largest Private Employer, Bath Iron Works Corporation. Although the Local Industry Demands Math and Science Skills, Local Schools Have Recently Struggled to Engage and Prepare Students Adequately

Magazine article Techniques

Shaping the Future: Located in Maine, the City of Bath Is Home to Just over 9,000 People and a Rich, Centuries-Long Heritage of Shipbuilding. Bath Is Also Home to the State's Largest Private Employer, Bath Iron Works Corporation. Although the Local Industry Demands Math and Science Skills, Local Schools Have Recently Struggled to Engage and Prepare Students Adequately

Article excerpt

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The Maine Learning Results (MLRs) are state standards for public education that mandate students be proficient in a variety of skills including complex thinking and problem solving. In 2004, the state legislature ordered a review of these standards with the expectation that schools would implement programs starting in 2006-2007. Morse High School (MHS) administrators realized that the school would need to add classes and raise requirements in order to comply with MLRs, but with 900 students, MHS did not have the budget, space or personnel to quickly and successfully implement a major reorganization of its curricula.

Meanwhile, the Maine Department of Education was urging vocational schools to improve academic rigor, at a time that Bath Regional Vocational Center (BRVC) faced declining enrollment. The MLRs had an indirect but significant effect on BRVC, which shares a campus with MHS, as well: Rising academic requirements would leave students from area high schools without time in their schedules to attend half-day vocational classes.

Cindy Harris, a computer-aided design (CAD) instructor at BRVC, saw an opportunity to integrate with the MHS science department. Harris anticipated that traditional science classes at MHS could leverage CAD technology in BRVC for hands-on exploration of core science concepts that could lead to a stronger comprehension in these required subjects.

Several science teachers at MHS shared Harris'view. Chemistry teacher John Maskarinetz, physics teacher Evan Cyr, and freshman science teacher Eric Varney saw that with the BRVC curriculum and exercises, MHS high-school students would be able to learn and master concepts required by the MLRs and align vocational skills-building with academic rigor.

A Chain Reaction of Recognition and Understanding The instructors piloted two integrated projects in 2005-2006. In the first, students enrolled in both Maskarinetz's chemistry classes and Harris's animation classes and took part in a cross-discipline exercise from the Autodesk Design Academy solution.

Students began work by producing a chemical reaction in Maskarinetz's chemistry lab. They learned about the components of the reaction and how they interact. Once they understood the elements and process, students went to Harris's computer lab to create graphical representations of each stage in the chain of events, using Autodesk VIZ software. Then they animated the series to show how each of the elements divided and recombined over the course of the reaction.

"It was impressive to watch the kids get so much out of the exercise," says Maskarinetz." The act of recreating their observations in the lab using professional tools helps students to get a better grasp on the scientific method, as well as the abstract concepts they've heard in lectures."

In the second, Cyr asked physics classes to design a catapult that met specific criteria. Once the students had studied concepts such as mass, force, acceleration, and distance, they teamed up to design catapults. They then tested physical prototypes, which showed teams the strengths and limitations of their designs so that they could go back to their computers and revise their designs to improve the catapults' performance.

According to Cyr, his students found using professional tools inspiring." The catapult exercise gave them a feel for what professional designers and engineers do and the tools that professionals use, and that gives so much more meaning and purpose to their studies. …

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