Danielle Haweny, third grader at Parkside Elementary School in Coral Springs, knows more about insects than most children her age.
Danielle and other students in Sheree Schulson’s combined second- and third-grade class go much beyond the textbook in their quest for knowledge, thanks to Compass, a project-based learning model that is being used in select kindergarten to third-grade classes in the school. The program, conceived and created by Schulson and fellow teacher Randy Bitton, is in its third year.
The learning model, one of about 20 innovative programs in the school district, is also used in Abigail Polacek’s kindergarten class, Kathryn McCullough’s second-grade class and Ellie Adams’ first-grade class. Students in Teresa Mozitis’ third-grade class benefit from the program, as well. The school is planning to expand the program next year.
“We had different groups learning about different insects,” Danielle said. “We had a firefly. Another group had a ladybug. It was a lot of fun.”
Danielle and her classmates weren’t the only ones delving into the wondrous world of insects. Learning along with them were students in Bitton’s combined kindergarten and first grade.
At a recent event at the school that showcased the best of Compass, students from the two classes showed off their knowledge of bees with a giant bee hive, all made of recycled materials. Adding to the impact were bee diagrams, as well as audio files, which contained reports prepared by students that were recorded on to a QR code.
The other eye-catching works at the event included a coral reef display by Polacek’s students, boots by students in McCullough’s class with students decorating a boot to represent people from various countries, and a comprehensive report on birds.
“We started off with insects in general,” said Schulson. “Every child in our class wrote a fractured fairy tale based on Cinderella. The insect and the country they studied had to be a part of the book. It was a very interesting project; the students loved it.”
“We tied math, science, social studies, reading and speaking into the project,” Bitton said. “What we teach fits into the curriculum, but we try to make it as interesting as possible for the kids. The focus is on helping them acquire real-world skills and become problem solvers. Nobody works in isolation these days. You need to learn how to work with others.”
“We have a lot of project-based activity going on in our school,” said Laneia Hall, school principal. “Compass takes it to the next level. The approach to teaching is unique. It grabs the students’ attention and keeps them interested.”
The program is tailored in such a way that it meets each child’s individual needs. “We think everyone is gifted, that every student is knowledgeable,” Bitton said. “It is about getting the best out of every child. The upper-level students draw in the other students so that they feel they are contributing. Everyone gets a chance to participate.”
Polacek’s class follows the regular kindergarten curriculum in the morning before switching to the Compass program in the afternoon. “The projects that we do make the program different; it is a lot of problem solving,” she said. “The program helps the students become independent learners; I don’t hear ‘I can’t do it’ that much.”
Students in Mozitis’ class work with Polacek’s students as part of the program. “It does have a positive impact on the learning capabilities of our students,” said Polacek. “It is fun to see them figure out things on their own.”
Parents and community partners play a key role in the success of the program, Bitton said. “Many of our parents, especially Christine Beck, Jennie Ugalde, Nilsa Springer and Nicole Senyak, donated a lot of time to make the project happen. We have great community partners, as well.”
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