The EAST classroom is very different from the traditional one where teachers dole out information and students attempt to memorize it. In EAST, students design and self-direct their own projects. EAST teacher-facilitators must complete special training in facilitating this form of project-based learning. We thought it might be interesting to follow the progress of some EAST newbies throughout their first year of facilitating an EAST classroom. Our two volunteers, Josh Worthy of Sonora Elementary School in Springdale, Arkansas (front row, far left, kneeling) and Paula Nixon of Bald Knob (Arkansas) High School (front row, third from right), will each report in once a month or so, giving us a peek behind the scenes. Wish them luck!
A month older… a month wiser. We’re now a few weeks into the school year and Sonora Elementary’s EAST program has really taken off! As a facilitator, I’ve had my ups and downs…but I’m really pleased with the direction our program is going. I’m learning a lot and our kids are diving right in.
In a brand new school, installing an EAST classroom can be a difficult task. I have to give a HUGE thanks to Ruben Canada and Doug Gusewelle for showing our kids the ropes of our new hardware and software. Our install was the day before our first day of school, which with construction workers and painters rushing to finish up the brand new building…our two EAST techs had a couple of hurdles to jump. After running a few network cables, drilling a few holes into freshly painted walls, and using 3 rolls of duct-tape…our classroom really started to come together. By day two, we had over 650 elementary students fill the hallways and we were still loading software onto the HP workstations and iMacs. Toss in about three local television stations, two newspaper reporters, and a local school district PR representative…you could say day two was organized chaos. When everything was said and done, Ruben and Doug survived their first day of elementary school and our students had a living, breathing EAST classroom.
After a very generous barrage of local media, it was time for our EAST kids to start doing the talking with their efforts. We’ve set up a Facebook page (Sonora EAST), a Twitter account (@sonoraeast), and we’ve even designed and printed professional business cards for our kids. I struggled a bit setting up student email accounts and operating the server, but we succeeded in getting all of our EAST kids logged in and ready to produce. We submitted our first EAST After Hours Grant. The kids really have taken a lot of pride in this grant after several brainstorming sessions and multiple revisions. The kids look forward to finding out how the grant turns out in the weeks to come (fingers crossed!).
Personally, I feel really grateful for teaching in this position…I may just have the best job, ever. Our Principal, Dr. Regina Stewman, has really pressed our school motto, Innovate to Educate. It is a phrase our faculty has strongly adopted. We took a count and our school averages 1.7 students per computer in the building (That beats the two Apple II’s we had in the corner of the library when I was a kid…I miss those Oregon Trail days). When our local community members and business owners ask how our school is doing, it is “How are WE doing?” not “How is your school doing?” The community has really come alive in Sonora, the more rural side of Springdale. It’s very cool to watch people welcome EAST and our kids with open arms. Even today, our EAST students presented to our school board and district administration; I could not be more proud. One of our 4th grade students showed an Assistant Superintendent how to log on to the EAST Initiative website and she even displayed the project proposal she plans to complete this month. It just doesn’t get any better, right?
So what’s next? We’ve got a local Pancake Breakfast lined up for September 17th, EAST Night Out of course, Day 3 Installation, our Community Mapping training in Fayetteville, and the introduction of EAST to our 3rd grade kids. It looks like there is no slowing down yet!
Sonora Elementary School