Grant will pay for new devices, focus on science, tech careers

Brown County Junior High School has been awarded $75,000 to spend on Chromebooks for students and a schoolwide curriculum expected to more clearly connect various subjects.

The school district was notified in March that it had received a $75,000 Digital Learning Grant from the Indiana Department of Education — the maximum amount given.

The money will be used to help implement a STEM interdisciplinary focus for learning in the building, Principal Brian Garman said.

Seventh- and eighth-graders also will get Chromebooks starting second semester next school year, similar to what high school students have now, said district Director of Student Learning Debbie Harman.

The junior high is working toward becoming a state-certified STEM middle school, a designation that only eight middle schools in Indiana have.

STEM is focused on science, technology, engineering and mathematics. However, a STEM curriculum is also interdisciplinary, meaning all subjects, including language arts and social studies, would still be taught and interwoven.

“Maybe they read ‘Code Orange’ in language arts. It’s all about epidemics. They’re talking about viruses, germs and bacteria in science. You tie it in like that,” Principal Brian Garman said.

The curriculum they’re buying, called Defined STEM, will help accelerate that process, he said.

“The depth of learning and understanding really comes from when you make connections between all of these different disciplines. They are all interrelated, so we want kids to be able to make those connections between language arts and science or social studies and science and math and all of those things,” Garman said.

Garman said that the school recently completed the first phase of the certification process with the IDOE.

A site visit is required before a school can be certified, and Garman said that probably won’t happen until after Christmas next year. He said it’s not uncommon for schools to apply a couple of times before they get certification.

The junior high will continue to implement the STEM focus regardless of certification, he said.

“Eventually we will get certified. If you continue to develop this program, at some point you’re going to meet all of the criteria,” Garman said.

“The hope is two or three years down the road, we could have a really, really good interdisciplinary program here with STEM as the foundation of that.”

Devices

Technology use in the classroom is another important component in STEM certification. That could include graphing on a computer in math class or using Google classroom in a language arts class to complete a writing assignment.

“They essentially want to see technology used in all of your subject areas in some way shape or form and used quite a lot,” Garman said.

Harman said the goal is to give all junior high school students Chromebooks — which are small, touchscreen laptop computers — by January 2018.

During the first semester of next school year, students, teachers and parents will do training similar to what the high school did before those students received tablets this school year. They will learn Canvas, the classroom work organization system the high school uses.

Brown County High School Principal Shane Killinger said giving take-home computers to his students has “gone great.”

“The tech department is so easy to work with, and any sort of problem they have been extremely quick to fix,” he said.

Harman said seventh- and eighth-graders may not get exactly the same kind of devices the high-schoolers have. She said Director of Technology David Phelps has found Chromebooks that are “more rugged, considering the kids are just a little bit younger.”

The district is planning for all Brown County Schools students from kindergarten on up to have devices within the next couple years.

Intermediate school students won’t get their own devices until the 2018-19 school year at the earliest. Harman said it’s possible that elementary and intermediate students could receive theirs at the same time; “it depends on other opportunities that come by.”

Why change?

Harman said by implementing an integrated STEM curriculum, the junior high is “introducing kids to careers. They’re really trying to give education a purpose,” she said.

“They see grades seven and eight as kind of a prime time for kids to be really thinking about what the world has to offer in terms of kinds of jobs. At the same time, they’re trying to make the lessons that we have at school all tie together.”

A STEM certification would be something the school corporation could promote to potential students, but that wasn’t the main reason behind pursuing it, Garman said.

“The motivation is to have a better instructional model for our kids,” he said. That’s what we’re focused on, so if there’s some other benefits that come along, that’s great.

“It never hurts to promote your school corporation to be in a group that’s not very large, and we might get some attention statewide.”

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Suzannah Couch grew up in Brown County, reading the Brown County Democrat. A 2013 Franklin College graduate, she covers business, cops/courts, education and arts/entertainment.