Indiana educators visit Hamilton County Schools to see VW eLab innovation in action
Posted on 03/09/2020
Photo: Alyssa McGhee, a ninth-grade student at STEM School Chattanooga, shares her STEM learning experience with the Indiana visitors.Hamilton County Schools continues to shine as a beacon of innovative education across the country. This week, more than 40 leaders from 10 school districts in central Indiana visited to get a first-hand experience in the digital fabrication and STEM ecosystems in Hamilton County Schools. The HCS Office of Innovation and School Choice, in partnership with the Public Education Foundation (PEF), coordinated and hosted the visit, which showcased a variety of innovative practices in the VW eLabs at Dalewood Middle School, Soddy Daisy Middle School, Hixson Middle School, and STEM School Chattanooga on Tuesday, March 3.

Visiting educators and school leaders are part of the Ready Schools initiative led by Regional Opportunity Initiatives, Inc. (ROI) out of the Indiana Uplands, an 11-county region of southwest central Indiana. The Ready Schools initiative is a framework that supports regional school districts in aligning K-12 curricular and programmatic offerings to educational and workforce needs. As part of a year-long planning grant, ROI organizes a series of site visits across the country to expose regional school districts in Indiana to promising practices in innovative educational models. After an initial visit in 2019, ROI officials placed Hamilton County Schools on the rotation as a permanent fixture on their list of places to visit.

"The model Hamilton County Schools has developed to integrate STEM practices through Fab Labs aligns well with the regional workforce needs of the Indiana Uplands region," noted Michi McClaine, vice president of Talent Development. This exemplary model provides welcome exposure and awareness as our region works to prepare students for success in the modern workforce."

The day-long visit began with a student-led tour of the VW eLab at Dalewood Middle School. Students showcased their championship electric race car, 3D printers, Arduino controlled urban windmills, and highly successful student-run business, Dalewood Developers. From there, the guests traveled to Soddy Daisy Middle School, where eLab students and teachers shared work from their collaboration with STEM School Chattanooga. During the visit, students from Soddy Daisy Middle reacted to feedback from STEM School seniors regarding virtual reality prototypes the middle school students had created as solutions to challenges observed by the students in downtown Chattanooga. The project, launched through Teacherpreneur in the fall, will conclude with Soddy Daisy and STEM School students collaborating to bring unique solutions to the table for consideration. Theories the student will propose will include applying Fun Theory to reduce litter along the River Walk.

Next, the group visited Hixson Middle School, where teachers and administrators shared their unique implementation model to ensure every student has an opportunity to engage in digital fabrication as a part of the school's focus on helping students develop a STEM mindset. The visit concluded at STEM School Chattanooga where student ambassadors led an extensive tour of the school, highlighting how the school effectively equips students to develop "process skills" like critical thinking, innovation, and collaboration. Students learn these skills through strategically designed units that consistently place the learner in real-life situations where they own their learning.

"The visit by our friends from Indiana is another great example of how leaders from across the country are taking note of innovation in our schools," said Jill Levine, chief of Innovation and Choice for Hamilton County Schools. "The thriving partnerships in the Tennessee Valley are supporting Hamilton County Schools as we emerge as a national leader in innovative educational practices."

Photo: Alyssa McGhee, a ninth-grade student at STEM School Chattanooga, shares her STEM learning experience with the Indiana visitors.

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