Buford opens new science labs & other school news

Students at Buford Middle School are now learning about science, technology, engineering, and math in 4 state-of-the-art labs that feature 3D printing capabilities. The ribbon-cutting ceremony last week kicked off the Buford Engineering Design Academy, a $1.4 million, 9,600-square-foot renovation at Buford.

It also tagged Buford as the first public school in Virginia to become part of the Commonwealth Engineering Design Academies (CEDA)—a laboratory school that is a partnership between the University of Virginia, Charlottesville City Schools, and Albemarle County Public Schools.

Last summer, Buford students and faculty worked with UVA’s Curry School of Education and School of Engineering to design curriculum for the program. The new classrooms, which feature video-conferencing technology, will allow UVA education and engineering professors to participate in and observe instruction. Teachers using the new labs will meet with Curry and Engineering school faculty regularly to fine-tune operations.

In the coming years, CEDA will expand to include Charlottesville High School, as well as Albemarle County’s Jack Jouett Middle School and Albemarle High School.

Charlottesville-based VMDO Architects designed the new-look labs that feature indirect and solar lighting, giant touch-screen monitors, and moveable lab tables designed to promote student collaboration.

Director of Sustainable Design Steve Davis said the project pushes back against older classroom designs that resemble factories.

“Now when you talk to teachers and educators you hear a lot more emphasis on…collaborative learning, hands-on learning,” Davis said. “What it means is that the spaces and furnishings we need to support that radical change in how we teach and educate have to change.”

Both school divisions are talking about enhancing learning spaces. But during a learning spaces conversation at a September Albemarle County School Board meeting, Board Member Pam Moynihan urged her colleagues not to lose sight of the teacher’s role in student learning.

“Technology is great, a contemporary learning environment is great, but the teacher and that person-to-person individual communication is still what is going to engage that student the best,” Moynihan said. 

Christopher Hulleman, Professor at the Curry School of Education at the University of Virginia, said that designing collaborative work spaces can work well because of the students’ social natures, but that doing so requires teachers to know their students’ personalities.

However Libbey Kitten, Science Coordinator for Charlottesville City Schools, feels that focusing too much on collaboration can skew the fact that it’s been a part of education for years.

“We’ve always had to communicate and we’ve always had to collaborate and perform critical thinking,” Kitten said, noting that students now have multiple ways to receive direct instruction. “The piece that’s different is technology.”

While Kitten doesn’t think schools can replace face-to-face interaction with technology, she thinks Charlottesville’s blended model will benefit the students.

“I think if we put it in front of the kids and watch them,” Kitten said, “we’ll learn from that.”

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Charlottesville, Albemarle teachers pen digital mapping book

Two local teachers have written a book that will help educators teach history using digital mapping technology. Albemarle High School teacher Chris Bunin and Walker Upper-Elementary School teacher Christine Esposito have co-authored Jamestown to Appomattox Court House: Using GIS to Teach US History.

The workbook, which offers teachers 30-45 minute activities that incorporate digital mapping into middle school U.S. History classes, is the result of a 2006 Teaching American History grant from the U.S. Department of Education.

“One goal is getting critical workforce skills in the hands of students well before they need them,” Bunin said. “GIS is one of the leading areas of need in industry, and history is where students are looking at the most maps, so we need to get them looking at digital maps.”

Topics covered in the book include maps of the Constitutional Convention, the Election of 1860, and the United States’ first Census, in 1790.

The book, which is being published by Dallas-based Carte Diem Press, is due out in January 2014.