Vincent science teacher uses hands-on learning

Published 12:38 pm Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Patrice Marbry’s eighth grade science class works to build a roller coaster. (Contributed)


VINCENT – Eighth graders at Vincent Middle High School are doing more than just learning physical science in Patrice Marbry’s class.

They’re applying what they learn in class through hands-on experimenting and real world application. They’re also learning those essential soft skills that help will help make them successful in the workplace some day, according to a release from VMHS.

“Our system is making a concerted effort to reemphasize these ‘soft skills’ with our students. Surveys from business and industry leaders show that candidates with skills in teamwork, communication and problem solving excel in the workplace,” Principal Joel Dixon said. “It’s what’s right for kids.”

As Alabama shifts from the old AYP school accountability model to Dr. Tommy Bice’s new Plan 20/20, schools will be evaluated, in part, on the percentages of students who are college and career ready, the release stated.

“The new standards ask schools to teach the same materials at a much deeper level of knowledge. It’s less about simple comprehension and more about one’s ability to analyze and apply the concepts they’ve learned,” Dixon said.

Marbry, eighth grade science teacher, created her semester benchmark to test whether the students could take what they’ve learned, work together, test their hypothesis and correctly analyze their findings.

This semester, Marbry’s students focused on concepts dealing with energy and motion. The topics covered included kinetic and potential energy conversions; the affects of momentum and friction on an object’s motion; and applying Newton’s Laws of Motion to the different concepts.

Along with their class discussions, students experimented with calculating force, speed, acceleration, and momentum. The students were given the task of constructing a miniature roller coaster, and testing out their science theories and knowledge of energy and motion.

“It’s a much more realistic way to see what students really understand. Knowledge is of little value unless you can do something with it,” Marbry said.

These eighth graders have the added benefit of learning those soft skills that fit into all avenues of life.

“When we began testing, one of my groups noticed there was a mistake in the construction of their roller coaster,” Marbry said. “When they came to me, I reminded them that team work and problems solving were a focal point this year. Rather than me giving them the solution, they developed a solution among themselves. In just a few minutes, they were back at work, and they’d learned more than just science.”

Dixon commended Marbry’s method.

“This was exactly what schools should be doing,” said Dixon. “Too often students learn information long enough to take a test and retain little in the long term.”

At VMHS, each department focuses on particular soft skills like critical thinking, problem solving, creativity, teamwork, time management, self-motivation and leadership, the release stated.

“I find myself discussing all of these with my students regularly,” Marbry said. “I’m not really doing anything extra; I’m just being intentional about pointing it out when appropriate.”