Hugo Smith spent Thursday afternoon sticking patches of duct tape on the floor of his classroom O’Maley Middle School.
The tape wasn’t mending the floor. Those patches of duct-tape form a grid on the tiles. It’s a maze, and Smith, an eighth-grade World History teacher at O’Maley, has the map.
His eighth grade students will have to find their way through it — no diagonal steps, and no square can be stepped on twice, Smith says. The tape teaches his students how to work as a group, he says, thinking together to solve the maze and find solutions.
“I like activity, I don’t like just sitting down,” Smith said, “I know there are lots of kids like me.”
Projects like Smith’s tape maze are becoming the norm at O’Maley, which opens next Wednesday for its first year as a state-designated Innovation School. The school’s curriculum, said Principal Debra Lucey, is going to be built around that kind of instruction.
The district made O’Maley an innovation school in June. The school’s innovation plan calls for the school to have an increased focus on science, technology, engineering, and mathematics, with teachers collaborating across subject areas and creating a culture of high expectations for students.
The school will also focus on remedial education in math and create a summer school for struggling students and also for those who want to take their studies further.
While O’Maley isn’t going to change overnight – the innovation school plan covers five years – Lucey said the work teachers and staff are doing is drawing some students back to the middle school — a school that some parents have sought to avoid in the past through school choice, or, more recently, through the 2010 opening of the Gloucester Community Arts Charter School .
This year, however, 31 students are now registered as returning to the middle school, on top of the current 675 already expected. Of those returning, 21 are now coming into O’Maley from the charter school, with another 10 transferring from area private or parochial schools, including St. Ann’s and Faith Christian School.
“I’d like to think that it’sthe innovation (school) and the excitement about things that are happening at O’Maley,” Lucey said, though five students have also left the middle school for the charter school, she added.
O’Maley, Lucey explained, expanded its Birdseye Hammond engineering lab with a drafting room this year, and has the science and engineering program touching some aspect of each piece of curriculum. The school has also added courses in Spanish for each grade.
Lucey said the school’s new style of teaching simply aims to get kids interested in learning.
“Every child has something they’re excited about,” said Lucey, “we want to find that little part and go with it,”
Cheryl Olson teaches eighth-grade mathematics. Last year, she said, the eighth-grade students crafted sailing carts, sort of like dories on wheels. While students built them in science and engineering class , in math class they looked at the vectors and forces that make them work.
Project based learning, she said, gives students a problem to solve. Rather than teaching them about forces and vectors in a vacuum, they’ll learn how to calculate them in the context of the sailing project.
Middle School students, she said, are seeking academic and social skills. They want to discover, and find out who they are. The new teaching method, she added, plays off that.
“It’s trying to make it a total experience,” she said.
Steven Fletcher can be reached at 978-283-7000, x3455, or at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @StevenGDT