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ATEMS Performs for Locust Early Childhood Center

ATEMS Perform Play

April 2, 2014

Last year and again this year, Nathan Monroe's AP English Literature and Composition students at Abilene's Academy of Technology, Engineering, Math, and Science (ATEMS) wrote scripts and performed in short plays for preschool students at Locust Early Childhood Center in Abilene.

Christine Krause, Counselor/Mental Health Coordinator at Locust, originally asked Mr. Monroe if some of his older students could provide a positive role model experience for the Locust students. In response, Mr. Monroe asked his students to write a short play for the preschoolers and then decide how they would deliver it. Students were in charge of costumes and sets, dialog, and even, in some instances, puppets.

ATEMS principal John Martinez provides training for his teachers and expects them all to use project-based learning (PBL) in their classrooms. In Texas, PBL is defined as "an inquiry-based instructional approach in a real-world context, in which students generate the pathways and products that meet defined, standards-based outcomes." Mr. Monroe was initially opposed to the idea of PBL, but, over the last three years as he's incorporated it into his lessons "by trial and error," he feels that he does a good job with his students and that "they learn more with PBL than they did when I used traditional teaching methods." He says that it's a lot of work on the front end, but once the PBL starts, students take over and begin teaching each other.

One thing he's learned while teaching with PBL, Mr. Monroe said, is to "let students discover the answers to their own questions." He said students can be uncomfortable making their own decisions, but he always encourages them to dig for answers. When students asked how to write the play, he said, "What do you think will work best?" When students asked if they could use puppets, Mr. Monroe said, "Will that be the best way to deliver your message?" PBL allows and encourages students to take charge of their own learning.

"The [Locust] students were very interested in the plays," Mrs. Krause said. "They like the older kids to be around, and it's important for them to see what they may be doing in high school." The high school students, she said, "learned how to collaborate," and, she continued, "PBL is awesome and prepares ATEMS students for college."

Next year ATEMS and Locust plan to incorporate math classes into the visits. Teachers will encourage Locust fathers to participate and help their children build structures as they learn how to use math skills. Congratulations to ATEMS and Locust on this mutually beneficial collaboration.

Contributed by Debra Nash, Associate Director, Texas Tech T-STEM Center, Lubbock, TX