Patriots Point redefining fifth-grade education

Patriots Point instructor Hannah Giddens streams a science class from the USS Yorktown to a fifth-grade class in Laurens County. (Photo/Patriots Point)Patriots Point instructor Hannah Giddens streams a science class from the USS Yorktown to a fifth-grade class in Laurens County. (Photo/Patriots Point)

By Ashley Barker
abarker@scbiznews.com
Published August 14, 2014

Patriots Point plans to spend more than $400,000 from the state to invigorate the history and science curriculum in every fifth-grade classroom in South Carolina.

For the past six years, Patriots Point’s Department of Education has been working on a blended-learning program that involved the production of two supplemental textbooks and a handful of learning stations onboard the aircraft carrier Yorktown.

In the science book, fictional characters Oscar, an oxygen atom, along with hydrogen atoms Hank and Hannah, travel to the harbor’s watershed while teaching students about weather, sea creatures and pollution. In the history book, students read about the lives of Willie, a real-life Medal of Honor recipient, and his fictional best friend Harry, who both served together in the Civil War.

While the fifth-graders read through the books, their teachers will have access to an online library of videos filmed onboard the USS Yorktown to guide them along. Each quarter, crews from Patriots Point also plan to live stream video to the classrooms so students can see various parts of the ship, including science labs and the Medal of Honor Museum.

“We are bound by the state standards and what they tell us what we can teach, but we are not bound by the tools and the technology. We’re not bound by how the content is delivered,” said Keith Grybowski, director of education at Patriots Point. “The content is there. We just believe if you put it into a story, kids are going to get it. They’re going to like it, and they’re going to understand it.”

All aboard

Students break codes within a learning station at Patriots Point through its new blended-learning program. (Photo/Patriots Point)

Students break codes within a learning station at Patriots Point through its new blended-learning program. (Photo/Patriots Point)

Some of the classes — those that receive grants or travel funding from their counties — will visit Patriots Point to experience six stations that take them through historical scenarios and science experiments, adding leadership and math skills to the educational mix.

One station takes the students back to the Doolittle Raid on April 18, 1942. On their “mission,” students have 12 minutes, which is counting down on a big red clock, to get planes off the aircraft carrier before Japanese bombers arrive and sink the ship.

Groups of students input data related to location, the amount of fuel that will be needed for each plane and codes that must be unscrambled so the planes can land at bases.

“A lot comes down to the teamwork and how fast they realize who in the group is a mathematician, who can break a code, who can do a chart,” Grybowski said. “It’s just fascinating. They pick up quickly if, say, Joey knows how to do math.”

Every fifth-grader in Charleston County has participated in the mission, and the team at Patriots Point was able to look back at that data to show teachers how fast the groups found the right or wrong answers.

“The schools that did the best are the schools that read our books before they came. We know that there is something there,” Grybowski said. “If you have a perception that, let’s say, a school that is 99% on free and reduced lunch is going to do worse than a school that isn’t, it is not true.”

The teachers have been shocked so far, according to Cindy Clark, a programs coordinator at Patriots Point. She said the students who don’t typically work well together have taken on new leadership positions in the classrooms after going through the program.

“We had one school that has a very large fifth grade, so they came over three different days. The first group told the second two the answers so they could try to beat their times,” Clark said. “That age group is very competitive but they want everyone to do well.”

Prepping for expansion

Fifth-graders in a Laurens County classroom participate in a streamed class from Patriots Point’s outside lab. (Photo/Patriots Point)Fifth-graders in a Laurens County classroom participate in a streamed class from Patriots Point’s outside lab. (Photo/Patriots Point)
In early August, teachers from across the state attended a two-day professional development conference at Patriots Point. There, they were introduced to the program and, if they chose to implement it, were given textbooks for each of their students.

The goal this year is to implement the program in at least one school in each of the state’s 46 counties, according to Grybowski.

“Because of the transportation expenses, we had to figure out a way to make Patriots Point relevant to all South Carolina students,” he said. “If you can’t come to us, we’ll come to you.”

By next year, the program is expected to be available to every school in the state with help from S.C. ETV.

Grybowski said he’s working with the public educational broadcasting network on a partnership to help take the teacher training to Columbia next year.

“It’s not set in stone yet. But Columbia is a perfect location. It’s a two-hour drive no matter where you are,” he said. The idea is for teachers in the Upstate to have easier access to the professional development opportunities.

Grybowski also hopes ETV can help add more “bells and whistles” to the electronic version of the books, which will be available to Berkeley and Charleston County students this year. The PDF versions will eventually include links to videos and images from the U.S. Library of Congress.

“There’s nothing like putting it all together by looking at the plane and realizing what the real problem was by standing up there on the deck,” Grybowski said. “There’s nothing like coming down here and watching the tides come in and out and looking at all of our animals.”

Down the road, the team also wants to expand the history book backward, going from the Civil War era back to the age of pirates.

Reach staff writer Ashley Barker at 843-849-3144 or @AshleyNBarker on Twitter.

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