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‘Kentucky’s Most Innovative School’ Set to Open

LEXINGTON, Ky. (8/6/13)— Next week, the University of Kentucky College of Education and Fayette County Public Schools (FCPS) will officially open the doors of the new STEAM Academy to 150 ninth graders. Described as "Kentucky's most innovative school," the academy will give students a learning experience unlike any other while engaging them with the local community.
With the help of UK faculty, STEAM (which stands for science, technology, engineering, arts and mathematics) will offer its students an innovative hybrid instructional program, focusing on mastery learning, personalized instruction, internships, and dual/college credit opportunities (many students will be taking UK 101, the university's academic orientation course). There will also be a very strong emphasis on technology in all aspects of learning, since students are preparing for not only today's careers, but careers of the future.
"For us, in the College of Education, it's a wonderful opportunity to connect pre-service teacher education to this new school," said Mary John O'Hair, dean of the college. "We want our students and faculty to learn and see in practice these next-generation learning concepts."
While many are familiar with the concept of STEM, the added "A" for the arts is relatively new and essential to STEM education, according to Tina Stevenson, director of STEAM Academy.
"The arts are very important to STEAM, because to design something means that you need to be creative," she said. "I feel like we sometimes forget about the design part of a process."
Student agency is also one of the key elements of STEAM. Students will take ownership of their learning by choosing their instructional delivery, schedule and learning style that will involve real-world problem solving in topics that are of interest to them.
"Through a traditional school process, the teacher really is the center point of a lot of classrooms today — and for the last hundred years in education," said Taylor Sullivan, a recent graduate of UK and now the science instructor at STEAM. "The research in education now is showing that when we put the focus on the students, and their interest drives what we're doing, they're able to connect and really make meaning where it was before just knowledge. It's no longer throwing knowledge at students and hoping it sticks — we're leading students to this knowledge, and their process helps them internalize it and really connect with it in a way that they can't in that traditional setting."
The idea behind the STEAM Academy first began in 2010, when 14 leaders from FCPS joined the first cohort of the College of Education's Next Generation Leadership Academy.
"These leaders came together, and they actually began to look at models outside of Kentucky, such as High Tech High, which is a charter school based in San Diego," said Linda France, director of the Next Generation Leadership Academy. "They looked at products students were creating, and as they compared these to products Kentucky students were creating, they saw a competitive edge that students outside of Kentucky would have on our graduates. So, as they visited these schools and talked to these leaders, they began to ask questions like 'what if?' and 'why not?' and out of that the vision for the STEAM Academy was born."
Laurie Henry, associate professor of literacy in the College of Education, was on the initial advisory group for STEAM. Recently, she has been working with the STEAM instructors to help with curriculum mapping and designing project-based instruction for design challenges the students will be doing.
"We're really looking at how schools can be very community-based and help students understand the community they're learning in," Henry said. "Having students go out into the community and learn more about the development projects going on, and connecting that back to the curriculum in the school is one of the big elements of this."
While the instructors will have a "draft" of the curriculum, according to Stevenson, students will be able to take on their own projects within the design challenges.
"One design challenge we're going to do will involve green energy," said Stevenson. "We want our students to go out into this neighborhood and look at some challenges that relate to this topic. For example, we are looking into designing a community garden, and surveying members of this neighborhood and finding out what vegetables they would like to have, but maybe cannot afford. We may also work with an architect to look into lighting these houses in a more energy efficient way. All of our standards will be embedded into these design challenges."
Sullivan says she has designed her classroom to not resemble a traditional one in order to enhance collaborative, community-based learning.
"It's going to be more of a group environment where we're able to do hands-on learning that's going to support the design challenges," she said. "Especially as we look at green energy, we're going to be able to really focus on what's happening in the world as well as in our local community. We're going to explore these questions while meeting national standards and connecting to their design challenge, so that they can be successful and come up with a product that the community really would want to use."
O'Hair says the STEAM Academy accelerates learning and opportunities not just for the students, but all entities involved.
"From the UK perspective, it helps us connect the theory and practice that we talk about in our classrooms to the real world. With the schools and the community, it's an opportunity for them to have the latest research and turn that research into innovation — into their daily practices and into benefits for the community. It is rare to find a university, school district and community working together in this kind of collaboration.

SurfKY News
Information provided by Jenny Wells
Video provided by UK Public Relations and Marketing

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