Our school is helping all students develop the world class skills and life and career characteristics of the South Carolina Profile of the Graduate by meeting individual students' needs. The needs might be academic, social, emotional, physical, or a combination of them. We do our best to meet them all. Personalized learning, Project Based Learning, Whatever It Takes differentiated learning time, Response To Intervention, fifteen clubs, counseling, social work, and collaboration in the community with Neighborhood Outreach Connection, the Hilton Head Symphony Orchestra, The First Tee, Palmetto Running Company, Backpack Buddies, Bluffton Lions Club, and other groups, all assist us in helping our students perform at the highest levels possible in as many areas of their lives as possible. Our arts programs are very strong, offering many opportunities for students to show their creativity and to perform. We are a technologically advanced school, with Lego and Sphero robotics, a MakerBot 3D printer, and one-to-one laptops for upper grades and 1:1 iPads for the younger grades. Beyond that, our Media Center 2.0 is a flexible maker space that boasts three ClearTouch screens, a 13,000 title digital library, and three Promethean ActivTables to engage students' imagination.
To improve upon everything that already made Red Cedar Elementary an amazing school, we sought a way to better engage and motivate every learner. That is why we began our journey towards implementing a project-based learning curriculum in June of 2014. Our focus was on motivating students by connecting learning to real-world scenarios and experiences. Throughout the past four school years, we’ve been improving upon the model through continuous professional development. Our project-based model marries nicely with STEM as they both focus on real-world connections, problem-solving, and integration. Our PBL journey had also introduced us to the 21st Century Skills which are now an embedded part of our culture. Our students and teachers focus on being good collaborators, communicators, critical thinkers and creators through every day’s instruction. Our work in understanding and implementing STEM has only made our project based learning units stronger.
At the beginning of the 2017-18 school year, the faculty worked together to brainstorm the “why” behind our work with PBL and STEM. They worked together in teams and then as a whole staff to create the following statement:
Students will explore the real-world, through hands-on experiences that are relevant and meaningful to 21st century learners resulting in outcomes that matter.
Project Based Learning units motivate our students best when they involve a challenge are the give students the most freedom in how they solve that challenge. For example, fifth grade students were challenged to create a mini-roller coaster to entice our administrators to install a full-size version on our playground. In teams of 4-5, kids worked to create and were given the choice or cart, choice of track and choice of design both functional as well as stylistic. Students sought to answer the driving question: How can changing the variables of an object affect the rate and motion of that object?
We’ve been and will continue to work hard to facilitate the best possible learning experiences for all of our students. As we continue to seek to improve, we will be working to embed more student voice and choice into every unit from Pre-k through 5th grade.
Our staff is committed to our motto of doing “whatever it takes” to ensure student success. When we determined, as a staff, that the best way to go about it was through a project-based learning curriculum that highlights the core tenets of STEM, we were all in. We quickly realized that a curriculum focused on high-quality units that engage students and utilize teachers as facilitators, would require more time to plan and improve them as teams. We further improved our already existing common planning time in a couple of ways. First, we used some of our Title One funds to hire an additional staff member to both support learning during parts of the day as well as help with lunch/recess duties during others. This allowed us to recreate the master schedule to allow grade levels teams extended, uninterrupted time to work together. Secondly, we scheduled four ½ day planning sessions throughout the year, giving teachers release time to work with the instructional coach and administrators to plan and improves upon our interdisciplinary units.
Building upon the planned curriculum, we also work to embed the culture of a STEM school into everything we do. We value wonders. We celebrate good questions. We seek to improve on what we do and we are transparent about that work with our students helping them to see that type of work as a part of our everyday lives. We value multiple tries and showed that when we reworked our grading policy to include a relearn/redo policy.
As our principal has always finished each morning’s announcements, we seek to “ask good questions, make good decisions, leave things better than the way you found them, especially people’s hearts, and please show respect.”