An educational program "incubator" is comparable to a business incubator in that it is a start-up program that may be implemented on a larger scale if it is deemed successful. "Success" may be measured by a number of parameters: the participating students' standardized test scores, end of course exam scores, ACT/SAT scores, number of students meeting college acceptance criteria, and/or the general perception of the program within the school district/community. A more subjective measure of success, but no less important, is the sustained interest of students (with a focus on young women) in the sciences throughout their primary/middle/and high school years. It is this subjective measure of success that led to the development of this particular "incubator" model's concepts and strategies.
The "incubator" model that I present is not from the perspective of a life-long educator, but from the perspective of a career scientist, an application specialist, an operations manager, and a middle school/high school science teacher for only the past seven (7) years. I readily admit that I am not an expert on pedagogy. However, I believe I have mastered thinking out-of-the-box and applying those revelations to systems that may require a different approach to achieve mandated outcomes. I do not believe the system of education in Kentucky is broken, far from it; there are many great minds and passionate, dedicated people in all levels of Kentucky's educational system. Nevertheless, I do believe that any company/industry/system that does not embrace an investment in research and development is destined to stagnate. As we have seen with the United States' status in math & science education in comparison to say that of Finland's, I believe an evaluation of alternative concepts is in order.
This three (3) year incubator targets a student population from 8th grade through 10th grade - providing accelerated online curriculum, college affiliated dual-credit coursework, water quality and biodiversity fieldwork, science-themed monthly public presentations, and student mentoring at local elementary schools. Students would have the option at the end of year three (3) to start taking college courses full-time in year four (4), having earned enough credits to graduate from high school. The other options available to students in Kentucky would be attending the Gatton Academy at Western Kentucky University, or returning to their home school and take AP level coursework plus electives (ideal for athletes with 2 years of eligibility remaining).
Student Selection Reasoning: The eighth grade student population selection is based on the following reasoning: in Kentucky, an eighth grade student's science exposure is minimal at best. Since science is not tested in Kentucky's middle schools at the eighth grade level, some middle schools do not offer science classes in order to double up on social studies which is tested in eighth grade. By incorporating these students into an incubator, it provides greater continuity for science students and a focus on retaining young women's enthusiasm for the sciences.
The initial funding required for this incubator model is dependent upon the availability of resources: classroom access, classroom amenities (calculators, chairs, computer workstations, lab workstations, SMART Boards or tablets, tables, white boards), curriculum, laboratory supplies, teacher salaries, and transportation. If existing teachers are used to staff the model and a location for the program already exists then initial start-up cost may be 50-75K dollars. Annual costs, if just for resupply of used equipment and materials, are approximately 25k-40k per year.
Full-time teaching positions: This incubator uses a POD concept. The POD concept is a middle school team model using four (4) Highly Qualified designated instructors (these are the strongest in Language Arts/Math/Science/Social Studies pedagogy and content knowledge available, regardless of certification (high school/middle school)). Project SCALE-UP is designed to support ninety (90) students within a classroom, in this model a cohort, therefore each of the four (4) facilitators will mentor fifteen (15) students per session during the school day.
Location(s) for this incubator could be: an Alternative school campus, or one (or more) of the existing high schools. The selected location(s) should have sufficient space for two large classrooms with multiple electrical outlets and internet access (wireless or LAN). The classroom need to have multiple large-volume printer/scan/fax devices to support student work. One of the classrooms will be used for laboratory activities, so extra water/gas access points will be needed as well.
Transportation to and from Incubator Site: Transportation of students will be defined by the decision for the location of the incubator site. If the site selected is on the campus of the district's alternative school program(s) or a separate magnet school facility, then consider the transportation plan 1.
Transportation Plan 1: In the morning, students are taken to their home high school, where they are transferred to the incubator site in a second bus - arriving at the incubator site prior to the incubator school day starting time. In the afternoon, students will need to end their school day early, in order to catch the transfer bus back to their home high schools prior to the end of the normal high school day. Students will then take the normal bus route home from each high school. Depending on the number of high schools in the district, additional transportation costs will be the costs for running the transfers to and from each site. School day hours for the incubator site will need to be adjusted to allow transportation of students to and from their home high schools.
Incubator located within the High school locations: If the incubator site(s) are located in the existing high schools, then consider transportation plan 2.
Transportation Plan 2: Students will follow the normal transportation routes to their home high schools in the mornings and in the afternoon. There are no additional transportation costs and no changes to the hours for the incubator's school day required in this model.
i. Program Transportation Needs
Depending upon the size of the school district, and the number of students included in the program, there are a number of options for program transportation.
Option 1 - Dedicated School Buses (Eminence Independent School District Model): The model employed by the Eminence Independent School District is ideal for a Project SCALE-UP design program with cohort sizes of up to 90 students. In this model, two (2) school buses equipped with A/C and WiFi capability are dedicated to transport program students to all activities during the school day; the buses are used in normal district transportation be- fore school and after school. This concept provides flexibility in transporting program students to field work activities, on-campus college courses, and student mentoring activities, with WiFi access for coursework and research during transportation and on-site. I would be remiss if I did not acknowledge the vision of the leaders in this district; the simplicity and versatility of their program is exemplary.
Option 2 - Using School Vans (Bullitt County Model): The model employed by Bullitt County's Advanced Math and Science Program is ideal for cohort sizes of 24 or less students. School vans, in this case 8 passenger vans, where used to transport students to research sites, other schools for mentoring, and to local museums/college campuses for presentations. Use of vans requires that one or all of the instructor's undergoes driver certification every two (2) years, and there is competition for the use of the van with fall/winter/spring sports and other school groups. If all 24 students where to attend an offsite program or event, then a school bus would be required.
ii. Other Considerations
School programs, student testing and extracurricular activities: It is necessary to plan to transport students to their home schools for events such as concerts, pep rallies, and state exams. This may be as simple as transporting the students one-way, either to home school from the program site or from the home school to the program site. School buses will be required for this transportation.
Sports/Band: Students who participate in sports and/or band require special consideration. It is extremely important that these students do not feel like they must decide between participation in the program vs. participation in sports or band. Although, these students may find as they continue in the program that academic success may be inversely proportional to participation in extracurricular activities. Participation in marching band will require some creativity in scheduling, however since most high achieving students participate in band, I would address that reality early.
Online Curriculum: My teaching experience in the disciplines on math and science have left one indelible impression, printed curriculum is the weakest link in our system of education. From that point in time which it is printed and then distributed to the classrooms, it is out of date. Our foundation of knowledge changes too rapidly during the three to five year textbook selection cycle for the curriculum to ever be relevant. Online curriculum, with yearly cycles of content review is the best option we have at this point.
I readily admit I am not an expert in textbook funding, so I apologize for kuluçka makinesi any wrong assumptions in this treatise. However, I am expert at the scientific analysis of issues and implementation of solutions, so it is from this perspective that I present the following for your consideration:
Research into textbook adoption for the students in Kentucky, yielded the following information: The budget, according to the Kentucky Department of Education (KDE), for FY2015 textbooks is $21,700,00.00; the number of high school students in the public schools in KY is approximately 400,000 - this number works well in this incubator model. This yields approximately $54.25 per student for FY2015 available to purchase curriculum. Based on my experience and relationships with the online curriculum vendors (Apex Learning, Edgenuity primarily) at a volume of 400,000 licenses the $54.25 per license is very reasonable. I feel very comfortable that a contract could be negotiated without issue. Please keep in mind that online curriculum would be for ALL disciplines - not just math and science.
Flexibility for course selection is a topic that requires a mention in this discussion. I personally found that an online offering of languages (Spanish, German, French, etc.) offered without dedicated instructors to be difficult for students to master. A district may consider offering the language component to the college/university partner to facilitate; also increasing the number of languages available as well.
An additional positive for the implementation of online curriculum, an A.P. certified teacher may not be required to teach their A.P. level courses. This is very beneficial, especially during the program design stage, when addressing the needs of Gifted and Talented students.
A final point for consideration is this: as school districts invest in technology for student use (iPads, laptops, and such) is the use of online curriculum not the next logical step in the evolution of our classrooms?
Project SCALE-UP: Project SCALE-UP [1, 2], initially introduced by Dr. Robert J. Beichner (North Carolina State University) as "Student-Centered Active Learning Environment for Undergraduate Programs" and now renamed as "Student-Centered Activities for Large Enrollment Undergraduate Programs"[1, 2], is the foundational model for this incubator program. Utilizing a cafeteria-style classroom, round tables seating anywhere from 6-9 students, up to 10 tables per classroom, upwards of 90 students can be accommodated at one time. Project SCALE-UP introduces the use of tangibles, ponderables, and concept inventories in the classroom along with large classrooms (in square footage) that accommodate lab activities and classroom activities in the same physical space. Combined with the aforementioned POD teaching concept, a unique synthesis in hands-on learning plus online curriculum and facilitation by the teachers can occur, and be very successful. And, may be easily adapted to fit the facility, even within an existing space at a high school.
"Flipped Classrooms": Isn't this just a model of a "Flipped Classroom"? The short answer is "no"; an explanation is required however. The "flipped classroom" concept revolves around the implementation and use of online curriculum in a standard classroom, usually with a student population equipped with iPads or laptops. Project SCALE-UP and in-turn this incubator takes the "flipped classroom" to the next level by surrounding the students with purposeful, targeted activities that exponentially increase the rigor and inquiry-based learning opportunities.
Suggested Curriculum Themes: As a vocal critic of too many disciplines (Astronomy, Astrobiology, Biology, Biochemistry, Chemistry, etc., etc., etc.), I continue to seek thematic units that require students to master the Liberal Arts (Language Arts +Mathematics + Sciences + Social Sciences) to successfully complete the unit. There are three (3) that I have used (I'm sure there are others), that I offer for your consideration: Astronomy (recognized as a super-science), Pond/Stream Water Quality & Biodiversity studies, and Sustainability. These three (3) thematic units may be used individually as the subject for one school year's study; incorporated into public speaking opportunities, science fair concepts, student fieldwork, and student mentoring activities.
Concept Inventories, Ponderables, and Tangibles: How to implement each in the classroom, I remember their implementation sequence in alphabetical order.
Concept Inventories , alphabetically leads the list and should lead-off the school year as a pre-assessment (an inventory) of a student's prior knowledge of common sense concepts and ideas. For example: why are there four (4) seasons? - draw the relationship between the Earth and Sun to support your answer. It is through the implementation of concept inventories and the data obtained that I chose to redesign my incubator to include 8th grade students. Do not fret, one does not need to reinvent the wheel, there are a multitude of research-based concept inventories that may be accessed on the Internet. Concept inventories are traditionally multiple-choice format.
Ponderables [1, 2], teachers may be familiar with the term bell ringers or openers, however these two "concepts" do not meet the rigor of a "ponderable". A "ponderable" is a pencil and paper thought exercise for students, no guidance for a solution is given and the rigor of the question is such that student-research is required to complete the activity. The timeframe for a "ponderable" may be 10-15 minutes, it measures a student's ability to research, conceptual knowledge, creativity, and organizational skills. I've had success in the past creating "ponderable" questions by taking "missed" questions from a concept inventory and deleting the multiple-choice answers. "Ponderables" are more subjective than objective measurements of student abilities.
Tangibles [1, 2], consider a "ponderable" that is not a pencil and paper tool but a measurement tool for a student's hands-on abilities and understanding of concepts. For example: using a single sheet of notebook paper, fashion the tallest, free-standing object possible. "Tangibles" gauge a student's creativity, and application of concepts to a hands-on activity.
Suggestions - Student Laboratory Activities: Think college-level and career-oriented activities. The implementation of online curriculum in the classroom, specifically the science disciplines, comes complete with a set of "dry lab activities". These activities are useful for the most part, however given the amount of lab time available, these were the first thing I scrapped. I am a firm believer that for students to be successful in college labs and in careers where lab proficiency is a necessity, you can never start too early. When developing start-up and operating budgets for your program, this is not the area to be conservative or short-sighted. Consider the industries in your area, possible collaborations, college/university special- ties, and latest trends in employment. My suggestion - think biotechnology (electrophoresis/PCR/DNA analysis), think instrumental chemistry (gas chromatography/polarimetry/melting point apparatus), think electronics (circuit boards/programming), and think robotics. Select lab benches and tables that give you the most flexibility and bang-for-your-buck. Consider electricity, gas, and water requirements; safety needs; and ventilation requirements. If you have funds left over, purchase a high quality reflecting telescope, a remote data transmitting weather station for the roof of the school, and lots of plasticware and consumables for the labs. Consider purchasing pre-packaged lab activities to avoid storage of large volumes of solvents and acids/bases, and they have readymade student activity outlines. Do not forget to research activities at NASA to incorporate as lab exercises as well, especially in your Astronomy unit. I am an experimentalist at heart so this is my passion.
Student Fieldwork - Collaborations and Topics: Arguably, students take-in and retain more information and master more skillsets outside the classroom than inside. I find that I can teach more, across all disciplines, in the field - especially "observation". And, if those skillsets are applied to a curriculum that captures their attention and imagination then it is a no-brainer. I can provide two examples that were a tremendous success for our program in Bullitt County; I am sure that these can be replicated elsewhere.
During year one of our program, we established a collaborative partnership with Bernheim Arboretum and Research Forest (Dr. Mark Woorms, Claude Stephens, and Andrew Berry ) in Clermont, KY. The students in our program performed biodiversity studies, GPS mapping, and water monitoring studies (pH, temperature, conductivity, BOD, fecal coliforms, flow rate analysis) on a multitude of streams and ponds throughout the forest. Student's developed databases for the information interfaced with GPS mapping software, and presented their data to parent and professional groups in our area. Students monitored the streams and ponds Fall, Winter, and Spring - it was never too cold or too wet to discourage participation.
During year three of our program, we established a collaborative partnership with the Kentucky Science Center (Andrew Spence) to allow our students to present science topic demonstrations to visitors at the Center. Our first experience with the students was "DNA Day" at the Kentucky Science Center where students from our program facilitated electrophoresis analysis of "pseudo-DNA" for 900 elementary, middle, and high school students. The student attendees inoculated their own gels, followed the migration patterns