The 2021-22 Friends Innovation Award: A Conversation with Candice Belt, Principal, Walker Valley High School

Bradley Cleveland Public Education Foundation

Congratulations, Candice, on receiving the 2021-22 Friends Innovation Award from BCPEF.

Q: How will the ThinkSpace provide innovative instruction at Walker Valley High School?

A: We know that in order for students to learn, they need to create, and in this ever-changing technological world, students deserve opportunities to create solutions to real problems. In order for students to truly develop 21st century skills, they need access to technologies and resources that will expand the possibilities of what they can create.

The vision of the Walker Valley “ThinkSpace” is the culmination of these needs. The ThinkSpace is an inclusive, equitable space in the media center where all students can access resources that facilitate the completion of PBL (project-based learning) activities, specifically relating to multimedia production and presentation of student-led designs and projects. We will begin year one of implementation with the core team of grant participants who will use ThinkSpace resources. At the end of semester one, we will share what we learned with other teachers and open ThinkSpace to others.

The ThinkSpace will also provide further opportunities for cross-curricular projects. Students will have the space and resources to come together and combine the data, research, and products they worked on independently in a way that enhances reflection, analysis, and collaboration between disciplines.

Q: Of the 1500 WVHS students, who will use the ThinkSpace and when will it begin?

A: We are beginning year one of implementation with the core team of grant participants who will use ThinkSpace resources to design project-based learning (PBL) activities for their students. Most of the members of this core group will use ThinkSpace resources beginning fall semester. A few will begin implementation with classes they have during spring semester. This initial grant group comprises approximately 650 students. The grant team of teachers will conduct various projects that will showcase the flexibility and potential that the ThinkSpace holds. At the end of semester one, we will share what we learned so far with other teachers and open the ThinkSpace to others.

Certain resources will be immediately available to all 1500 students and our teachers. For example, the video and podcast editing tool will be available in the fall. We are partnering with other teachers to provide marketing and training resources to let our campus know what is available and to provide tips on using it. Because the ThinkSpace is meant to be an inclusive area for all students, we anticipate that a wide variety of classes from all grade levels and content areas will be able to use it to complete PBL activities.

Q: How will this STEM initiative build on your previous grant award, “Innovation=Integration STRONGER TOGETHER”?

A: One of our goals for the 2021-2022 school year is to achieve STEM Designation. To achieve this designation, we need to increase the number of PBLs that our students are involved in on a regular basis. This effort was strongly supported through the projects that were completed through the “Innovation=Integration STRONGER TOGETHER” grant awarded last year. Last year’s grant proposal stated: “These projects will allow students to apply the theory they have learned in the traditional classroom setting.” Our ThinkSpace builds on the momentum created by these projects by providing students with the resources to take designs and solutions they develop to the next level. The Buck Institute’s Gold Standard PBL design requires that students have the opportunity to publicly present their projects, (https://www.pblworks.org/). The presentation element of PBL requires students to incorporate 21st century skills. Our ThinkSpace will level the playing field for students, giving all students access to high quality tools to both foster innovation and to help develop 21st century skills.

Q: Tell us about your goal for Walker Valley to receive STEM designation.

A: The teachers and leadership at Walker Valley High School are focused on providing highly engaging, relevant, hands-on instruction through the use of PBLs, technology, and connected learning. As this has always been a school-wide focus, we are now documenting these activities to receive STEM Designation from the state of Tennessee. This recognition will launch our school to new heights and ensure our students are Future Ready for college and career. Highlighting these passions and processes will only ensure successes for our students as they pursue learning opportunities beyond the classroom. Our unique Academy Model invites students to explore their gifts and talents in STEM, Humanities, Medicine, and Business. Individual classroom projects, content collaborations, academy-based events, and school-wide learning days will be enhanced by projects like theThinkSpace and the STRONGER TOGETHER grant, paving the way for this state honor.

Q: This grant will enable you to purchase WeVideo for project-based learning activities. Tell us about what your teachers have planned for this.

A: We are leveraging the investment of BCPEF and the Bradley County Schools 1:1 Chromebook initiative to open a new avenue for students to creatively present their mastery of learning standards. WeVideo is a simple, flexible web-based video and podcast creation tool that works with Chromebooks. Students will create videos, marketing campaigns, commercials, podcasts, and more in order to enhance the designs and solutions they develop in response to project-based learning prompts.

Our grant participants already have specific projects in mind for our WeVideo licenses. In Math I, the video editing tool will be used as a means for students to demonstrate mastery of calculating statistical measures of center (median, median, and mode) and spread (range, interquartile range, and standard deviation) for data they collect, graph and analyze. While in an English II class, students will raise awareness for a social issue of their choice through narrative video game design. After collaboratively researching and writing about a social issue, designing their game concepts, and drafting narrative scenes, students will present these designs through multimedia trailers meant to promote their game and raise awareness for their chosen social issue. A simple video editing tool is in high demand across all content areas of our school. We look forward to seeing all the creative projects this tool will inspire across our Walker Valley High School campus.

Q: This award includes robotics, chemistry, physics and biology kits. How will these be used in the ThinkSpace?

A: One of the guiding principles of the design of the ThinkSpace was to create an equitable and inclusive space for all students to find tools to support PBLs across grade levels and content areas. We sought solutions that were flexible and authentic. Our curriculum requires a certain level of performance from any given tool. At the same time, we wanted tools that students could self-select and use independently with minimal support. As the ThinkSpace develops, it will be a place where independent students can also come to choose tools that demonstrate learning and to pursue curiosity.

In the category of robotics, we selected a robotics kit that can be programmed in multiple languages and which can be used with a variety of materials, including common items like cardboard. For initial implementation of the grant funds, in Mechatronics I, students will create a finished product that solves for a given problem by taking it from the design stage to implementation. Students will design a solution by using elements of the robotics kit and a programming language of their choice. As the ThinkSpace develops, the flexibility of the kits we selected will allow independent student users to pursue interests in programming and robotics in fulfillment of project-based learning prompts designed by their teachers across disciplines. Imagine how this translates to art, biology, business, marketing, or sociology projects in the coming years.

We are excited about the opportunity to provide chemistry, biology, and physics kits through this grant, too. Once again, we selected tools that were flexible, but which provide the ability for students to collect real and meaningful data from projects. For example, physical science students will design and construct a barrier that reduces the impact force acting on an object. Using the force sensor from the physics kit would create a situation in which students could create side-by-side comparisons between two competing designs. This sensor would be attached to a physics car and allowed to collide with each barrier design. Not only would this have real-world significance, it would also allow students to further investigate the engineering design process by modifying and retesting based on data analysis. This is another place where we can combine BCPEF support with Bradley County Schools’ 1:1 Chromebook initiative. Data collected can be uploaded to a Chromebook with which the sensor is connected. Students will see graphical data from their hands-on experiments, giving them the opportunity to synthesize that visual data into coherent conclusions about the results. This visual depiction of data can be used in biology and chemistry applications as well. The probes funded by the grant will enable those classes to conduct experiments in which they can monitor temperatures of endothermic and exothermic reactions represented on their Chromebook screens. Some of the probes provided will also serve multiple science disciplines, expanding the beneficial use of grant funds. Using the tools that available in the Thinkspace will enable teachers to change student learning strategies from “discussed” to “experienced.”

Thank you, Candice, for sharing your vision and information about the 2021-22 Friends Innovation Award and thank you to the Fitzgerald Family Foundation and the CS Foundation for funding this award and supporting the Walker Valley High School ThinkSpace.

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