When the team designs a new integrated unit, their first priority it to create a learning environment where synergy occurs. Because of their own understanding of the value of teaming, the teachers want students to experience the benefits of an effective team process and work hard to integrate authentic tasks where teamwork is essential.
"We always seek to answer the infamous question, 'When are we ever going to use this?' We create situations in our classrooms where students are required to investigate long-term problems using a group process to accomplish what they cannot do alone." Theresa Maves
Deciding on the "what" comes first. The team begins with the district curriculum and state standards and looks for alignment of concepts between content areas. They firmly believe that curriculum should be student-generated as much as possible within the guidelines of established standards. They would rather introduce fewer concepts and explore the depth of each concept than teach more concepts with less exploration.
Introducing O'Leary Junior High . . .
O'Leary Junior High is one of two junior high schools in Twin Falls, Idaho. Enrollment in the Twin Falls School district was about 7000 students in the 1999-2000 school year. O'Leary serves approximately 900 students in grades 7-9 with staff of 40. A refugee center was located in Twin Falls a few years ago, and the school has experienced an increase in the diversity of the student body, especially English language learners.
Six years ago vandalism, high teacher turnover, high numbers of expulsions, low standardized test scores, gangs, and drug usage prompted O'Leary Jr. High staff and a new principal to look into more effective ways to educate adolescent students. Research indicated that the middle school philosophy would address many of the problems facing the school. The transition began with the adoption of the inclusion model and the formation of academic teams of teachers and students.
Six years later, teaching teams are firmly rooted in middle school philosophy, integrated teaching projects are common, the inclusion model continues, and there is no evidence of vandalism anywhere on campus. School leadership supports innovation and nourishes improvement change and growth are recurrent themes. Students play key roles in governance, and pride is evident.
O'Leary operates on an alternating eight block schedule with each block period lasting 85 minutes. Each day consists of four blocks, which rotate every other day. Since school colors are red and white, students operate on a "White Day/Red Day" schedule. Each teacher has planning time during one block period per day. Primetime is a "homeroom" time for students and teachers to watch the school's video news show, share successes or problem solve, and discuss school issues.
All teachers have one planning period each day. In spring 2000, Theresa, Meile, and Jill's team had 3rd block planning time on Red Day and 8th block planning time on White Day. They had C lunch every day.
Daily Schedule Red Days
Block 1 8:41-10:06
Block 2 10:10-11:35
Block 3 11:39-1:31 (Planning Time Red Days)
Block 4 1:35-3:00
Daily Schedule White Days
Block 5 8:41-10:06
Block 6 10:10-11:35
Block 7 11:39-1:31
Block 8 1:35-3:00 (Planning Time)
A Lunch 11:35-12:05
B Lunch 12:05-12:35
C Lunch 12:35-1:05
D Lunch 1:05-1:35
Stop by Theresa's Science Class . . .
"Knowledge of science principles is what makes life so interesting and inventive. Science concepts can energize the reading/writing process and at the same time can give math a purposeful meaning for its existence. This is the content that I knew I had to teach eventually." Theresa Maves
Theresa teaches physical science. Her science classroom reflects the activities and projects she equates with powerful learning. Learning resources and student project work materials can be seen on all surfaces and hanging from the ceiling, evidence of an active and engaging science classroom.
At O'Leary, Theresa was introduced to standards-based teaching. She became involved in the district science committee, and has been contributing to its work for the last five years. She helped develop science standards, benchmarks, and a science assessment that all 8th graders take at the end of the year.
"This has been an incredible learning experience, and even though it is our 5th year, I still think we are a few years away from having something really solid and time-tested. It just isn't quite what we are looking for, but I have learned that this journey is an evolving one." Theresa Maves
Visit Meile's Math Class. . .
"To hold students' interest, math must also be applicable. Teaming with Theresa the past five years has provided many opportunities for students to apply and transfer math skills into the world of science. The more students apply what they have learned, the more valuable the knowledge is to them and the better they are able to retain it . . ." Meile Harris
Meile's philosophy of math education includes the intentional use of language to explain and define, and focused application of math skills and concepts in science. She takes advantage of every opportunity to make connections to real world learning and other content areas, while addressing her district math curriculum and state math standards.
Several years ago, Meile spearheaded a move to a pre-algebra curriculum for all eighth grade students.
"Many people argued that not all 8th grade students would be ready for pre-algebra, but I disagreed. I believe that all students benefit from learning algebraic processing. Students need a variety of experiences that provide concrete, application-based practice to build a foundation for algebra." Meile Harris
Meile teaches two levels of 8th grade pre-algebra curriculum.
Drop in on the Language Arts Class . . .
"I have been a part of several committees for our district and our school. This includes the district language arts curriculum committee. This committee develops standards, benchmarks, and an end-of-year assessment for all 8th graders in the district.." Jill Whitesell
Jill Whitesell strives to immerse students in reading and writing. Mini-lessons are incorporated daily to address the reading process and the skills and strategies for reading literature. Students read a variety of fiction and non-fiction independently. They learn to set and achieve reading goals based on their individual reading ability.
The writing process is used daily and is complimented by lessons on composition, grammar, and the mechanics of writing to increase students' writing skills. Students are often involved in integrated units, which involve purposeful reading and writing designed to address specific content areas and tasks such as in the roller coaster project.
Jill developed language arts goals for the It's a Wild Ride project which align to the Idaho State Standards for Language Arts.