Maria Pope, South Middle School
Carl Knox Staff Development Grant
One of the first things you notice when you walk into Maria Pope’s sixth-grade classroom at South Middle School is the lack of a teacher's desk. The social studies teacher doesn’t have that piece of furniture to sit behind during class time. She is out among her students as they learn about ancient civilizations.
Pope received a Carl Knox Development Grant through the Lawrence Schools Foundation last spring. The grants fund professional development experiences, such as summer institutes or action research, mentoring experiences or lesson study. Professional development must improve practice, curriculum and student achievement, and recipients must put professional leadership into practice by sharing what they learn with their colleagues.
Pope’s grant provided assistance for her to attend a three-day training on Project Based Learning (PBL) in Ohio last summer. PBL is an instructional strategy in which students gain knowledge and skills by working for an extended period of time to investigate and respond to a complex question, problem or challenge. The learning includes a lot of hands on and group discussion.
Pope has provided her students with the driving challenge to show how today’s laws are different or the same as ancient cultures.
“What I like to do is take current and relevant topics and connect them back to what the content is because I think the students are more engaged,” Pope said.
Pope brought the Lawrence police department in to talk about different pieces of the law and then tried to refer it back to ancient civilizations.
“It gave the students a foundation of laws,” Pope said. “Like the code of Hammurabi, where the ‘eye for an eye’ came from. They couldn’t get away with that today, but ancient Greece had a lot of government that has carried over to today, so the students were able to see those connections.”
With PBL the students are actively learning as they discuss topics in their groups, instead of memorizing a text book or sitting passively while a teacher lectures.
“It is interesting to listen to the conversations they have,” Pope said. “That is the most thrilling part of it – to listen to them actually talk about what they are learning. Some days it works great and some days it doesn’t, but overall I think the learning is deeper than what we would be getting if we were just doing a text book traditionally.
“PBL is more engaging, more interactive and the best part is that it is student based and I think that is why I like it,” Pope said. “It helped me to take my desk out of the room because I found I wanted to be with the students. I like roaming and hearing their conversations.”
One of Pope’s roles is to keep the students on track and make sure they are headed in the right direction in learning about the topic.
“The students are driving their learning,” she said. “I make the road, but they get to drive where they go. I just make sure they stay between the lines.”
Teaching through PBL has had an effect on Pope, who has taught for 20 years.
“It helped re-ignite my love for teaching,” she said. “I had never lost my love for teaching, but it rejuvenated me, stoked the fire. It is like a campfire – it was burning, but it just made it get a little hotter.”