Maryville Middle School
A nationally recognized Blue Ribbon School with special honors in technology, Maryville Middle School is located in Maryville, Tennessee--about 25 miles south of Knoxville--and serves approximately 1,030 students. Maryville middle-schoolers are accustomed to active learning, as technologically enhanced project-based learning is the norm.
All the standard subjects are taught at Maryville. The way they are taught, however, is anything but standard. Students learn by working in teams and utilizing technology to carry out problem-based inquiries. They seek answers to "real world" questions: "How do I buy my first car?" "How does HIV affect me?" "How nutritious are school lunches?" STARS--Students Thinking, Analyzing, Researching and Solving--is a problem-solving paradigm that helps students pursue answers to such questions over an entire school year.
Technology is integrated throughout STARS. Students begin by identifying the problem to be solved. Then a hypothesis is formed and tested by experimentation. Students conduct library and Internet research, as well as interviews with community members, to assemble information. Then they analyze the data and derive conclusions. Subsequently, students construct a multimedia presentation that is shared with parents and other community members during an open house held each spring. Teachers act as coaches and facilitators throughout the process, providing direct instruction when necessary. Students learn to narrow topics, divide responsibility among team members, gather and summarize information, and use software effectively.
The school is equipped with more than 300 networked computers, most of which are housed in labs. Each student spends at least one 50-minute period every other day in a computer lab; some, especially those described as "lower performing students," spend as much as three or four class periods a day in the computer labs. Students are taught word processing, spreadsheets, databases, desktop publishing, animation, and multimedia authoring in addition to computer-based instructional programs. These skills are demonstrated through STARS projects. Students use technology to communicate findings clearly and in a visually stimulating format.
The interdisciplinary nature of the program encourages students to cross subject boundaries. Individual and team interests guide the project development. The quest for information focuses on solving the problem, no matter where it leads the researcher. As a result, teachers work in teams to smooth and sustain this work across subjects. They plan cooperatively, encourage students to make natural connections, monitor and adjust requirements and timetables, and consult regularly with students individually or as teams. Principal Joel Giffin says, "We would individualize instruction even if we didn't have the computers, [but] technology allows us to do a better job."
The school's professional development program emphasizes successful use of instructional technology. Teachers explore technology as a tool for learning and acquire the skills they need to support students. Training is often provided by in-house staff members and focuses on such topics as using academic support software, searching the Internet, and utilizing electronic grade books. Maryville teachers do not act as disseminators of knowledge, nor do they test outcomes using only paper-and-pencil assessment tools. Be that as it may, their integrated approach prepares Maryville Middle School students to perform well on the Tennessee Comprehensive Assessment Program (TCAP), which consists of the Terra Nova standardized test and Tennessee Writing Assessment. Maryville is ranked high among Tennessee schools for improvement in student performance on the Tennessee Value Added Assessment System.
Maryville Middle School's integration of technology has taken project-based learning to a new level!