“All of the proposals showed ambition and creativity,” said Academic Dean David Powell. “The winners did a particularly good job of planning the projects, and included a measurable plan for bringing what they learned back to the rest of the faculty at Darlington.”
Pieroni and Smith aim to develop an interactive, ever-changing, virtual e-textbook for seventh-grade life science and eighth-grade physical science – a project they have dubbed the “DarSEI Program” (Darlington Science E-Textbook Initiative). The bulk of the award funds will be designated toward professional growth opportunities, such as 21st Century skills workshops and webinars, and researching other like-minded programs in the independent school arena that will help Pieroni and Smith fine-tune their project.
“Even though this grant is funding the initiative for two years, this will be a continual work in progress long after the fellowship funding is over,” Smith said. “This kind of virtual text changes with the needs of students over time. The potential to develop/incorporate new themes and opportunities for interdisciplinary collaboration is endless. It’s all about connections and relevance.
“This evolving virtual textbook will not only give students the opportunity to interact, but to contribute to the building of information with original pictures, student-created video and more,” he continued. “This is a cutting-edge opportunity to integrate 21st Century technology into our curriculum plan, and it complements our 1-to-1 MacBook program wonderfully.”
According to their proposal, creating a digital, multimedia, interactive e-textbook spurs creative and innovative teaching practices by using technology to deliver science content in a variety of ways by providing interactive resources for students and focusing on science topics/concepts/situations in real-time. Instead of a static text, an e-text format allows teachers to embed video and virtual simulations, add links to current articles and feature blogs, personalize the data, and engage students in real-world applications.
“The philosophy that science is not historical facts to be learned, but experiences in which to be engaged, coupled with the knowledge that students must be taught skills essential to tomorrow’s workplace (i.e. critical thinking, collaboration, and communication), requires teachers to reach beyond the pre-packaged programs that traditional textbooks provide,” Pieroni said. “What excites me is the recognition that teachers are the facilitators of the classroom environment, not a recipient or delivery person of outside knowledge. As an active member of our classroom, we can adjust our content and challenge our students based on the students in our classroom at the time. With traditional textbooks, content is static and artificial. With an e-text, content can be fine tuned based on current events, interests and ability levels.”
Pieroni added that this endeavor has truly been an experience in learning with passion, and that she and Smith were thrilled to find out that their proposal had been selected.
“Randy and I immediately exchanged a high five, but in reality, it validated the hope for our students and for the direction of the Middle School, Darlington and education,” she said. “Any time a person loves what he or she is doing, whether a student or teacher, and sees the direct relationship to his or her own life, the process becomes part of the education. Working together to create an environment of exploration is what we hope to model for our students. The collaboration has been tremendous. In just developing the proposal, Randy and I spent hours researching, exploring resources and sharing ideas. What we can create, especially in this digital age, is fascinating, and everything we discover opens new doors and gets our mind working in new ways.”
A huge proponent of project-based learning, Powell said he is thrilled to see this level of innovation born from the Wood Faculty Professional Development Endowment.
“This approach to information exemplifies the kind of project-based learning that is invigorating our classrooms,” Powell said. “This project not only helps Middle School science, but also serves as a template for other teachers to collaborate in developing dynamic teaching materials.”
In response to the Second Century Campaign’s effort to increase endowment for faculty support, Trustee Leonard Wood challenged the Darlington Community to get on board by offering to provide a 1:1 match of every gift to this area of the campaign up to $500,000. His call was answered as 37 donors funded half of The Carla and Leonard Wood Faculty Professional Development Endowment, allowing Darlington to claim the remainder of the matching gift from the Wood family.
“The Carla and Leonard Wood Faculty Professional Development Endowment is allowing us to build a culture of continual professional development among our faculty,” Powell said. “Teachers tend to be learners, but the intense routine of the teaching year makes it difficult for us to plan for our own growth. Therefore, we sometimes lean on what we already know from year to year. Time set aside for travel and study, and money set aside for tuition, materials and other resources, will allow teachers to explore the newest research in their fields and adopt the best practices of innovative programs.”