Walking into Innovation Academy at first glance may look and sound like any other traditional middle school. But, after visiting the classrooms (complete with the latest technology) and speaking to the faculty, it is truly a one-of-a-kind classroom setting.
The Innovation Academy is currently holding open enrollment for the spring semester. Any student in the sixth through eighth grades is encouraged to enroll, along with current students.
“I want the public to know this a unique, project-based and problem-based learning environment,” said IA principal Sandy Watkins. “The students do not have textbooks, but they have iPads and MacBook Air laptops. We have the latest equipment used in business industries, such as science labs and Inspire- calculators.
“Everything we do here follows the state standards and is hands-on because we truly believe if the students are engaged in their learning, there will be a deeper knowledge retained over a period of time. We feel strongly that students, who learn facts or memorize facts for a test, do not retain the information. Through our project-based curriculum, knowledge is connected. The STEM curricular units provide a connected knowledge at our school.”
It is evident when visiting the classrooms that all the subject areas are connected. When speaking to students in the classrooms, as they are explaining their projects, all of them mention the different subjects they are incorporating into the hands-on projects. Communications skills are also a focus as the students are expected to collect evidence and present their information. The students are actively engaged in the entire learning process and the classes are student-centered, instead of the traditional teacher-centered environment.
“The curriculum is broken up into 10 STEM curricular units and those units help us demonstrate that connection of the four content areas. Each unit takes 10 days to teach. In the beginning, the students are learning the content information using their iPads and the teachers are using their MacBook Airs to display on the Apple TV monitors,” said Watkins. “Our teachers have created the curriculum themselves, so they are not teaching someone else’s work.”
A common question concerning the school is the absence of textbooks in the classroom.
“We use iTunesU courses and the students apply that information found there, such as a book on their iPads. Then, there is a project assigned to a small group of students and, like the work place, we teach our students to work together,” Watkins explained.
The student projects are graded using rubrics. The teachers are using formative assessments by consistently monitoring the projects and student participation. As Watkins pointed out, the rubrics are posted on their website, along with all parent information. They are a paperless school and parents are kept informed by checking the website, through email and attending informational sessions.
“We teach our students to help each other and work with another student struggling. We want them be to encouragers to each other. I truly believe that if we teach our students to do that today, then, when they are adult members of society, they will help others,” said Watkins.
Students are expected to present their projects and use a variety of multi-media tools for digital presentation, such as Prezi, iMovies and iBooks Author. Watkins commented that many times when STEM professionals come in to listen to the student presentations they comment on the professionalism and maturity of their communication skills.
In November, Innovation Academy received the honor of becoming an “Apple Distinguished School,” an honor given to outstanding schools and programs that are centers of innovation, leadership and educational excellence, and that demonstrate Apple’s vision of exemplary learning environments.
The school is for any student and not just high achievers, as Watkins said that is sometimes a misconception. Students are required to fulfill one hour of homework each night, Monday through Thursday, and are held accountable for the time of required homework.
Parents are welcome to visit the school for a tour of the classrooms and to ask questions about the STEM curriculum. Prospective students are also encouraged to visit and shadow a current student for a day to experience the hands-on learning.