Clay County Schools have always been schools of excellence. The teachers go above and beyond what is needed to make sure that students have a successful education. Clay County High School (CCHS) is one of four schools in the United States certified to teach Advanced Careers in Science and Technology I and II. This is a course that shows students how their education can be used in every-day life once they graduate high school. The teachers, Mr. Allen Tanner, Mr. Mason Hamrick and Mrs. Julie Greenlee, facilitate learning and do not directly instruct.
The students have to put their all into their projects in these classes as they are constant of hands on learning and student research. These classes work with topics such as medical engineering, alternate forms of electricity, earthquake resistant structures, water purification and forensic criminology. Students actually brainstorm the topic and build complex prototypes to compliment their project. Students are taught to research, plan, brainstorm, problem solve, construct, test and report their findings, just as if they were in a real life situation of inventing something to help people/society. Each project has embedded science, math, and literature components to helps students master core content areas.
Students in these classes at CCHS have been visited by high ranking officials and important names from all over the nation including representatives from WV State Board of Southern Regional Education Board (SREB). Clay County High is an SREB poster school for innovative changes and modifications to projects and they have the highest amount of enrollment for AC courses in the US. 90% of the class is completed in small teams, where students take on unique roles for each new project they encounter.
These AC courses are new courses being piloted across the US to offer students a unique look at project based learning and the course offers students the opportunity to work with other classes, such as Health and Fitness, Carpentry and Agriculture Mechanics. The classes cover a broad array of educational topics. This year, students in AC I kicked off their year by designing and making their own water filters and then running chemical tests to determine how clean their final product was. Students in AC II kicked off their year by choosing a specific injury and developing a physical rehabilitation device suited to help the patient recover based upon specific needs. At the end of each project, the students have the unique opportunity to present their research and prototypes to an authentic audience and receive feedback on their efforts.
Clay County High school is one of seven schools in the nation that offer these courses and one of four schools that offer the second level of the course. The three teachers have observed the progress the students have made so far in the course. They have answered a few questions in regards to the course which are as follows: How much have students matured throughout the course? “We are privileged to have 21 returning students who enrolled in the AC II course this year. Their growth from AC I has been nothing short of tremendous. To illustrate, we recently completed the group presentations for medical redesign project. Among the authentic audience was our principal, Mrs. Isaacs. In brief, she was in tears at the end of the first presentation compared to their first attempts last year was incredible.” Our students are maturing on several fronts, but when the principal of your school is moved by their growth in presentation skills, their advancement speaks for itself. In your opinion, how are students taking part in the AC course better prepared for post-secondary studies and/or an entry-level job in a particular field than students who have not taken the course? “Students are faced with rigorous report guidelines that demand high level efforts to ensure proper research, formatting, grammar, and content to be included in their end-project work. Additionally, students are given the chance to work as members of a functional team in which they are assigned multiple roles and are encouraged to work with new people for each project. Finally, students are honing their public speaking and presentation skills by reporting to live, authentic audiences at the close of each project. All facets of the AC course are graded with high expectations similar to those found in post-secondary education and entry level job opportunities.” What advice would you give to a school that is considering implementing this AC pathway? “For any new school wishing to implement the AC pathway there are a few tips that can foster success and can be worked on prior to ever having students. The first tip is to understand that the AC pathway demands storage space and organization. Part of the beauty of this course is the opportunity for students to work hands on with a wide variety of non-standard classroom items. Many of these items are non-consumable and will need a permanent place in your lab or classroom area. In addition, with each new prototype a designated area will need to be established for students to place their current work. Also, ensure that you create an open line of communication with your administration and with SREB in the event that more or different materials are required to complete a project. Begin working prior to the school year finding authentic audience/experts to talk with your students and offer them feedback. Finally, move forward knowing that the class is not centered on the idea of teacher-driven instruction. The curriculum is set up to allow students to ask their own questions and seek their own answers even if the final product/prototype is a failure. Failure in this class does not mean the students have not succeeded. The idea behind such a revolutionary course offers the mindset that failing is not a negative mark, but instead a way to move forward with future solutions.
Be on the lookout in future editions for more information on new projects the students/teachers of AC I and II will be doing.