Please join me for “Talks with Troy”. Have a cup of coffee and engage in informal conversation about Ashford School or educational in general at 7:45 a.m. on the following days: October 6th, December 1st, February 9th, and April 7th.
My goals for the 2016-2017 school year:
Develop an interdisciplinary wellness plan that promotes overall community health including nutrition, fitness, mental health, and appreciation of human diversity.
Closely monitor and assess the work within our organizational structures including committees and professional development.
Continue to develop a climate of shared leadership among the staff.
A Word From Principal Troy Hopkins:
WOLF (We Optimize Learning For) All
Ashford School is a place where children receive a high quality, personalized education in a safe environment. We strive to optimize learning for each student by analyzing performance and adjusting instruction accordingly. Our students develop a strong sense of belonging in our learning community as active learners who develop and use their strengths to contribute to the learning of all. Since our students feel much ownership in their learning, they are eager to come to school every day.
A major focus this year is teaching students in an interdisciplinary way utilizing the concept of STEAM (Science Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Mathematics). This approach is enabling us to make learning relevant and applicable to the real world while preparing students to be excellent thinkers and problem solvers. As part of our STEAM initiative, we recently added a new technology center consisting of a robotics lab and a computer lab. Our faculty will continue to develop lessons according to STEAM and we are one of just a few schools in Connecticut that is leading the way.
Our staff is focused on connected with and inspiring students. In fact, this is one of the most important qualities that we look for in new staff members. Over the past four years, we brought on board several new faculty members. This year alone, we have four new teachers. Many of our veteran staff, parents, and students were involved in their selection. I am sure that you will be pleased when you have the chance to interact with our staff.
We are always open to hear from our families and community members. Please do not hesitate to come to a PTO meeting, email, or schedule a meeting to discuss the future direction of Ashford School.
The STEAM Machine
at Ashford School
Motivation for learning is embedded into learning experiences at Ashford School. Research and experience tells us that people have increased motivation levels when they have control over what they are doing, are aware of the progress they are making, and understand the reasons of their efforts. Daniel Pink, author of DRIVE, names these factors autonomy, mastery, and purpose. When teachers plan their instruction to include these factors, student motivation for learning increases.
Students sometimes ask, “Why do we have to learn this?” The answer is obvious when teachers teach in interdisciplinary ways while connecting the lesson to real issues. We strive to consistently do that, but go even further. We have a STEAM Machine. Actually, we are the “machine”! STEAM stands for Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Mathematics. The Arts include visual, musical, and movement arts, as well as the liberal arts, such as literature, writing, languages, and social studies.
Here is our simplified definition. STEAM is how we empower students to use all of their learning to think about the world, solve problems and show what they know.
Through collaboration among staff, we are creating processes (how our STEAM Machine functions) that will provide opportunities for students to make choices about their purposeful learning, develop 21st century skills, and create projects (the product of our STEAM machine). The lasting products of our STEAM Machine are motivated students equipped with essential skills and knowledge to tackle future challenges with confidence.
Building the Machine
The steps of the design process, commonly used in engineering, can be applied to many different subjects including the creation on our STEAM Machine. Starting with a clear goal or problem that we want to solve, we are able to design our machine in order to best accomplish the goal or solve the problem. Here is the goal: Students create projects in which they have choice, see purpose, make connections, and develop transferrable skills and confidence. As you might realize, our machine must be thoughtfully designed.
Parts of the machine
- STEAM planning template – What is the curriculum for each subject at each grade level?
Example of a STEAM Planning Template for 2nd Trimester
|Sci.||ELA||Social St.||Span.||Health & Fitness||Art||Math||Music||Communication|
Teachers examine the different content areas and determine a theme that would fit well with the existing curriculum. At times, decisions are made to reorder curriculum in certain subjects to better fit the theme. In addition, curriculum support materials are selected in all subjects to align to the theme. For example, a different novel may be used then what was previously planned to study characters and stories elements.
Different teachers play different roles.
All faculty are encouraged to share ideas and resources with each other in supporting student learning under the identified theme. However, faculty members do play more specific roles (parts) in our STEAM Machine.
Homeroom teachers, who spend more time with their students, determine the theme for the trimester with input from specials teachers, special educators, and intervention teachers. Homeroom teachers provide frequent references to the theme, STEAM theme-based instruction, and guidance for students as they complete their projects. These teachers also facilitate a grade-level STEAM event at the end of the trimester.
Specials teachers are involved in planning and implementing the theme-based trimester with various grade levels. However, the role is mostly consultative to both teachers and students. Specials teachers are constantly aware of the topics of learning in the classes so that they can help students make interdisciplinary connections. In addition, specials teachers facilitate STEAM events that center around their specific areas, but include the integration of skills and knowledge from other disciplines. Generally, there are a fewer number of STEAM lessons in specials classes than in classrooms where students spend more time.
Special Educators and Intervention Teachers are involved heavily in supporting their students in developing the skills needed to complete and communicate their projects. This involves collaboration with teachers to provide personalized learning for each student, including what is learned, how it is learned, and how the student demonstrates learning.
School psychologists and speech pathologists are involved in helping students develop skills needed to complete and communicate their projects. These specific skills include autonomy, perseverance, collaboration, and motivation to learn. They are also involved in STEAM events that are related to overall wellness.
The students take ownership of their learning but making choices about specific content, how they will learn, and how they will show their learning.
Students plan their work and monitor their progress as appropriate to the grade level. Older students fill out a STEAM Project Planning Template and update it throughout the trimester. They also keep a journal to track their progress.
Students use technology and/or the arts to communicate their learning.
Students seek out assistance from students, staff members, and/or community members.
Students display, perform, or present their project during a STEAM event.
Vital to the success of our STEAM initiative is time. How is time planned by teachers? What are students doing with their time during the trimester?
Early in the semester, the STEAM theme is introduced to students at each grade level, however students spend a large portion of their time learning the essential content and skills of their specific classes. Teachers make frequent reference to the STEAM theme as fitting to the lesson. As the semester progresses, students spend more and more time on STEAM projects. However, subject-specific learning continues simultaneously as every essential facet of each subject may not neatly fit under the theme. Toward the end of the trimester, a STEAM Event will be held at each grade level.
Levels of theme integration:
- Referencing the theme as relevant to discipline-specific content
- Redesigning discipline-specific lessons to align directly with the theme
- Designing lessons that are completely STEAM in which students use all of their learning to think about the world, solve problems and show what they know.
It starts slowly and then picks up “STEAM”! Please see the below chart which shows an example of how a trimester is structured.
D = discipline-specific lesson with reference or direct alignment to the theme
S = STEAM lesson
(DRAFT) STEAM Project Planning Template – for grade 5-8 students
Grade Level STEAM Theme:
My Project Title:
What subjects will I use in my project?
ELA, Mathematics, Art, Music, Technology, Science, Spanish, Social Studies, PE/Health, other
What subject-specific skills and knowledge will I use in my project?
How will I develop the “21st century skills” by completing my project?
autonomy, creativity, collaboration, communication, critical thinking, cultural competency, innovation, media literacy, perseverance, self control, motivation to learn
How will I develop these skills through my work?
How does my project connect my learning to the real world?
How will I present/display my project?
How will I include the arts and/or technology to communicate my learning?