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CCE staff and partner reflections on our collaborative work to create schools where learning is engaging and rewarding, and every student is set up for success.

Critical Needs Met When the “Real World” Goes to School

Sometimes the best learning occurs when students leave the classroom to muck about in real world problem-solving. Other times, the real-world problems come to school – in the form of “big data” sets in need of analysis. Using real-world data to solve real-world problems is a key component of quality performance assessment tasks, particularly in Math and Science. CCE’s Quality Performance Assessment network of schools and the Performance Assessment in Competency Education (PACE) initiative are both supporting Souhegan’s commitment toward developing rigorous, authentic assessment tasks for students.

Two recent projects illustrate the way Souhegan High School (SHS) embeds STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics education) throughout its curriculum, while also aligning with Next Generation Science Standards.

Global Links: Terrestrial and Aquatic

Students recently hosted a Climate Change Symposium as part of their Conservation Biology or Marine Biology class. The Symposium, organized by teachers Julianne Mueller-Northcott and Melissa Chapman, proved to be a perfect match for exploring the impacts of greenhouse gases.

Using an interactive online interface that provides access to large data sets from NOAA, students reviewed data, read scientific papers, and conducted their own data investigations to gather evidence of the impact of rising CO2 on our ecosystems. “Students worked with professionally collected, complex data sets, which is so much more authentic than the small data sets students typically generate in class experiments,” said Mueller-Northcott.

“Looking at topics like sea surface temperatures, sea ice extent, and ocean acidification, students graphed and analyzed the data over time to look for patterns and draw conclusions about how these different factors are changing in the face of increased carbon levels in the atmosphere,” Mueller-Northcott explained. Indeed, students demonstrated the Next Generation Science Standards skill of using scientific geo-spatial data and online models to make predictions and draw conclusions.

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Students presented their findings at a Climate Change Symposium and also at the SHS Earth Day Forum, where Souhegan alumni Mackenzie St. Germaine from NEXTGEN Climate NH spoke to students about her experience working on climate change issues.

“It’s critical they see the link between the data and the world around us. Teachers and students have exciting tools – like big data sets and online interfaces – to apply the skills and concepts to solve real-world problems.”  

Bridging Rivers and Worlds

Despite high-tech trends, an old wooden bridge in a local conservation area is in need of replacement. Th Amherst NH Conservation Commission and Historical Society contacted Souhegan teacher Paul Schlotman to see if the Engineering program could help. As a result, students joined with the two local organizations and two Souhegan alumni to design the new 35-foot kingpost truss bridge.

The project is part of the bridge-building curriculum of both the Engineering Science and Advanced Engineering courses at Souhegan. Students are working with Souhegan alum Andrew Beliveau (’08,) to conduct the vector analysis, beam size, and cost analysis and recently met with Beliveau and two of his colleagues at their National Grid office in Massachusetts.  

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The team is also working with Shannon Sickler, (’09), who helped with the initial design. Shannon is currently an architectural designer at Incite Architecture in Boston, and is an adjunct professor at The Boston Architectural College.  “Students gain invaluable experience working alongside alumni who are as accomplished as Shannon and Andrew,” Schlotman said. The authenticity of the project and the curricular connections did not go unnoticed at National Grid. One of Beliveau’s colleagues commented, “I never had anything like this when I was in high school,” while another said, “It’s amazing your kids know so much about this stuff.” 

The real-world connection is a potent teacher. Presenting to the Conservation Commission and Historical Society draws on students’ public speaking skills, while the collaborative nature of the project builds team skills. Working with alumni teaches the value of networking, and actually building the bridge with community volunteers instills a sense of service. These life skills are, obviously, layered on top of the math, technology and engineering concepts introduced in the classroom. 

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