Starfleet Institute of the Sciences: Math and Science... Engaged

Starfleet Institute of the Sciences: Math and Science... Engaged

Stardate: 02.19.2008. The U.S.S. Innerpride is docked at Dacula Middle. On the lab deck, Dacula Middle 7th graders assigned to the Starfleet Institute of the Sciences are huddled over their digital microscopes in pairs. The 20 Pilot Cadets are examining samples of an alien life form harvested from the planet Toadstoolia. Their assignment from Commander Jayne Lawson: show macroscopic and microscopic examples of the life form.

Their responses, both scientific and dramatic, reverberate throughout the deck:

“Oooh! That’s cool!”

“Ewww! This is so gross!”

“What about when you turn it like this
on 100x power…”

Across the deck in the briefing area, Commander Celisa Edwards is leading 20 Payload Specialist Cadets through a discussion of protists and fungi.

“Producers are autotrophs and consumers are heterotrophs,” she says to the Cadets, many of them taking notes that later will be used to complete “Vulcan Visuals” for homework. Appearing from the Holodeck, Capt. Kirk, Dr. Spock, and Cmdr. Data present various quiz questions on the InterWrite viewer. At Commander Edwards’ urging, the Cadets raise their “clickers,” the name affectionately given to the E-instruction remotes, toward the main screen to “click in” their responses ahead of the 20-second timer.

After 40 minutes, the Cadet groups switch places on the deck for work with Cmdrs. Lawson and Edwards in their respective areas. The Cadets listen intently to a brief review of their homework responsibilities as Cmdr. Lawson calls in to Homework Hotline from the Bridge. Then, without prompting, every Cadet springs toward his or her locker to retrieve books and materials, turn in “clickers” and CD modules, shut down computers and digital microscopes, clean work areas, and clear keyboards of dust.

Cmdr. Lawson inspects the lab, doling out “commander points” to Cadets with spotless work areas. Cmdr. Edwards announces quiz scores from the protists and fungi discussion, alternately congratulating and encouraging the Cadets to keep up the good work. Dismissed, the Cadets file out of the main deck and headed to Connections to plunge into their studies. Just another extraordinary day at the Starfleet Institute of the Sciences, on board the U.S.S. Innerpride.

Boldly going where no classroom has gone before, Starfleet Training Officers Jayne Lawson and Celisa Edwards bring a space-age sensibility to their teaching of GCPS' science curriculum.
The result? Teaching and learning that is out of this world.

Cmdrs. Lawson and Edwards, National Board-certified teachers who came to GCPS from the Los Angeles Unified School District four years ago, have been teaching together for 14 years. The Starfleet Institute of the Sciences, an integral part of their teaching philosophy, began in L.A. and has proven to be an extremely portable concept. After completing a three-year assignment at J.P. McConnell Middle, the U.S.S. Innerpride is now docked at Dacula Middle. Commanders Lawson and Edwards are immediately recognizable by their uniforms.

“The uniforms do help with classroom management,” says Cmdr. Lawson, sporting a bold, maroon and black top and Space Federation pin familiar to Trekkies, fans of the popular science-fiction T.V. series and movies. “The Star Trek theme makes learning fun, and it does make a difference.”

The Institute’s 7th graders receive daily instruction from Cmdrs. Lawson and Edwards in language arts, social studies, science, and mathematics, and leave at 3 p.m. to attend elective “Connections” classes. Early in the year, a survey showed that 98% of students learn best when they can visualize a concept, while more than half are musically inclined. To capitalize on these learning styles, the teaching team maximizes learning with art, experiments, hands-on microscope work, and songwriting based on classroom content. The team's digital-rich learning environment engages students with computer- and web-based assignments. Ultimately, their classroom lessons and homework assignments will prepare them to make contact with the “Grammarians” and the “Mathonians” during the Criterion-Referenced Competency Tests (CRCT) in April.

Keeping a combined homeroom class of 40 students actively engaged all day, every day, is no small feat. Cmdrs. Lawson and Edwards carpool together, and their daily debriefing sessions give them the opportunity to discuss ways to make classroom lessons fly at warp speed.

“Fantasy and fun are woven into the reality of school,” says Cmdr. Lawson. “The students are like little enzymes. They soak up everything we give them. The more excited they get, the more excited we get with our planning. We really are a Starfleet family here, and our Starfleet Cadets are a cut above the rest.”

Upon moving to Dacula Middle, both teachers made it a point to visit every student’s family personally prior to the start of the school year to explain their vision, teaching philosophy, and expectations. Cmdr. Lawson says the Institute recently posted one of the best homeroom attendance rates at Dacula Middle.

“We tell our Cadets that they are professional students,” Cmdr. Edwards says. “That’s their job, and they have taken ownership of what they are learning.”

To see more scenes from the U.S.S. Innerpride,
click here. To learn more about the Starfleet Institute
of the Sciences, click here.