Middle School students develop IDEA projects
Jacob Thomas has spent the past five months learning about bridges. In addition to his normal eighth-grade workload, the Lansing Middle School student has pursued an interest in building, reading about and studying bridge structures, all with the support and encouragement of the school.
Thomas and about 25 other middle school students are part of a program called Identifying and Developing Educational Abilities - IDEA - for students recognized as "gifted" by state guidelines.
Part of the program requires an independent study on a topic chosen by the student. Thomas chose bridges, but his classmates were interested in everything from special effects in film to Russian language.
Program goals, said facilitator Kathy Ray, are to develop advanced thinking skills, learn research methods, work on an independent study and develop students' skills effectively.
IDEA students spend one classroom period a day in Ray's gifted class, which they take instead of English class. During the class period, students read books from the Junior Great Books lists, study topics the class decides on, such as Images of Greatness and Mass Hysteria, and work on independent study projects.
"They stay excited about learning when they choose what they are learning," Ray said. She said the information they learn in the IDEA program goes deeper than what they would be learning in a typical classroom.
"We use skills in the classroom that help them to go beyond the goals we set," Ray said.
Ray is not a traditional grader; for the independent study project, students define objectives at the beginning of the year and will grade themselves based on the objectives.
Throughout the year, Ray allows students one day each week to work on their independent study projects, and the students also work on their projects at home. They plan a long-term flow chart to help them pace their studying and organize their time, something that doesn't always sink in the first time.
"They are responsible for their own learning," Ray said.
Students made presentations to their fellow IDEA students this week. They'll also be on display today. Thomas will display a three-foot suspension bridge during the conferences to model what he studied.