STUDENTS APPLY LEARNING IN MAKERSPACE
Fifth-grade science teacher Jamie Long sometimes wonders if students really grasp what she’s teaching in the classroom.
But when her students get excited about using a vocabulary word such as “undulation,” to correctly describe a model’s use of elevations, Long’s doubts are quieted.
Even better is that students are gleaning knowledge from her lessons and applying it to a real-life project. This school year, fifth-grade students from Village Tech Schools have partnered with the Tri-City Animal Shelter and Adoption Center to design and conduct research on a plan for Cedar Hill’s first dog park.
Once a week, fifth-graders gather in the Forge, the school’s 6,500-square-foot makerspace, to work on their project.
Long’s group of students is focused on the environmental aspects of building a park while other groups are working on a website, infographics about dogs, and constructing a physical model of the students’ vision.
“It’s just so inspiring every year to see what the kids do and bring it into the real world.” -Jamie Long
“It’s just so inspiring every year to see what the kids do and bring it into the real world,” Long said.
It’s not just Long’s students. Connecting students to the world around them is part of Village Tech’s educational mission. One of the ways it achieves this is through community-based projects.
“We want students to learn that they belong [and] to have a sense that they are a part of something important, a part of something bigger,” Village Tech CEO and Superintendent David Williams said.
Other Village Tech challenges include creating art installations aimed to raise awareness about endangered animals for the Dallas Zoo and designing an obstacle course for the Cedar Hill Police Department K9 Unit. All students will present their projects Saturday during the exhibition of learning event, “Forge On: The Forge Awakens.”
CULTIVATING AN ENVIRONMENT CONDUCIVE TO INNOVATION
Williams founded the Cedar Hill-based charter school in 2013 with a group of other educators to offer an environment centered on character, challenge, and community. This year, the school has 730 students in grades Pre-Kindergarten through 10th grade, and 450 more students on a waitlist.
Creating an innovative educational experience lies in cultivating an environment conducive to originality, Williams said.
“[It’s about] building systems and structures where teachers can be professionals and creative and apply their best to their work. And students, in turn, have the same opportunity,” he said.
The Forge makerspace is key to carrying out that vision, Williams said. An $800,000 startup grant from the federal government in 2013 enabled the school to purchase furniture, high-tech machinery, and computers to make the space a reality.
In addition to its classroom teachers, Village Tech also employs teachers such as Patricia Murphy, who work exclusively in the Forge.
Murphy, who specializes in art, serves as a resource and guide for students throughout their projects.
As a couple of students chiseled excess glue off the dog park model during a recent Forge session, Murphy kneaded a sawdust and green paint mixture to “bring it up a level artistically.”
“We aren’t just in here making pretty things. [But making sure] the kids are in here applying what they are learning, which is the goal of Forge.” -Patricia Murphy
“We aren’t just in here making pretty things,” Murphy said. “[But making sure] the kids are in here applying what they are learning, which is the goal of Forge.”
Tammy Miller, shelter manager for Tri-City Animal Shelter, said having the students help on the dog park plan has been invaluable.
Right now, the park hasn’t been presented to the city councils in Cedar Hill, DeSoto, and Duncanville. When the time comes for an official decision, she believes the students’ work will help make the park a reality.
“I think that when the [councils] can see the passion and the efforts that these children have put into the project, that they will have a hard time not thinking that this is the way to go,” Miller said.
IF YOU GO
Forge On: The Forge Awakens
When: beginning at 9:30 a.m. Saturday
Where: third- through 10th-grade campus, 1010 E. Parkerville Road in Cedar Hill and Pre-Kindergarten through second-grade campus, 535 S. Clark Road in Cedar Hill
More Info: villagetechschools.org
Photos by Michael Samples
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