Meeting the challenge – IB middle school program encourages problem-solving

Eighth-graders Drake Smith and Bao-Chen Nugyen of MacArthur Middle School put together a puzzle that matches the development of mammal embryos. (Photo by Lisa R. Rhodes)


Exploring the concept of change and how it relates to Darwin’s theory of evolution was the topic of an eighth-grade science class at MacArthur Middle School before in December.

Students worked in pairs to complete a puzzle that matched different mammal embryos with their correct stage of development.

“Apes, chickens, cows, pigs and humans all look very similar in the first and second trimesters and the first few weeks of development,” said Drake Smith, 14. “They all have gill slits to help them breathe inside the womb where there is water.”

These academic challenges are the hallmark of the International Baccalaureate Middle Years Programme at MacArthur. All of the school’s 1,100 students are enrolled in the program, which is offered in the Meade school feeder system.

Critical Thinking

The International Baccalaureate is a nonprofit educational foundation offering four programs of international education that develop the intellectual, personal, emotional and social skills needed to live, learn and work in a rapidly globalizing word, according to the organization’s website.

“All IB programs encourage critical thinking and questioning, global awareness and perspective, problem-based learning and meaningful action,” said Mary Austin, IB coordinator for the Anne Arundel County Public Schools.

“The IB was originally designed to be ‘portable education’ that allowed students who traveled from country to country to pursue a consistent education program. For these reasons, IB is a natural fit for military children.”

The IB Primary Years Programme is offered at Manor View Elementary. The IB Middle Years Programme is offered at MacArthur Middle School. A continuation of the IB Middle Years Programme and the IB Diploma Programme are offered at Meade High School.

Manor View students are automatically enrolled in MacArthur. Students who live outside of the Meade feeder system may apply to the IB program at MacArthur, which is a magnet program.

Seventy class seats are set aside for these students, who must apply in fifth grade.

To qualify, students may not have a D or E on their report card and no more than two Cs. In some instances, letters of recommendation may be required.

Students are selected by a blind lottery.

“We teach the same standards at MacArthur as the rest of the county middle schools. The difference comes in our approach,” said Heather Giustiniani, the school’s IB coordinator for the past four years. “We focus on inquiry-based and concept-based instruction.”

The IB Middle Years Programme comprises eight subject groups: language acquisition, language and literature, individuals and societies, sciences, math, arts, physical and health education, and technology design and consumer science.

As in the IB programs throughout the Meade feeder system, the Anne Arundel County Public Schools’ Common Core Standards are followed.

However, in the IB Middle Years Programme, teachers also focus on the development of Approaches to Learning Skills, which includes the development of skills in the areas of: thinking, social, communication, self-management and research.

“Using these skills, students grow in what they can authentically demonstrate what they can do,” Giustiniani said.

Last month, students in the science class discussed how similar organisms have traits that are a reflection of the genes an organism carries, said their teacher Micah Bond.

“My students gained an understanding of homologous structures and homologous genes through this activity,” Bond said.

He said the students asked such questions as, “Are there any other similar developments in organisms besides when they are embryos?” and “Why did the human embryos have gill slits?”

Innovation and Progress

Brittany Jester’s sixth-grade class explored the concept of systems through the statement of inquiry — the “innovation of systems enables us to function more efficiently.”

Students began the unit of inquiry with a sewing project to learn the drawbacks of sewing by hand in terms of efficiency. Students then learned about the invention of the lock-stitching sewing machine and how it transformed the sewing process by using not one, but two threads.

Students used sewing machines to learn how to wind a bobbin, which enabled them to compare the two different systems of sewing.

Sixth-grader Jayden Johnson-Boakye said that by using the sewing machine, she learned that all systems are a process.

Jester said that through the project, “students discover very quickly that hand sewing is much more labor-intensive and time-consuming than machine sewing, therefore making the connection to our statement of inquiry.

“The innovation of sewing systems has enabled humans to function more efficiently,” Jester said. “Everyday fabric items such as the clothes and shoes they wear, the blankets that keep them warm can be constructed much faster, more easily and more cheaply than if they had to be hand-sewn.

“I hope that my students gained an appreciation for how progress, innovation and industrialization has streamlined many aspects of our everyday lives.”

Jayden said she likes the IB program because she is able to work in groups with classmates and that her teachers “come up with games so we can understand in a better way while we’re having fun.”

The curriculum also requires students to complete a service learning project. Last year, each grade completed its project in the spring. Students in the seventh-grade team had to complete an inquiry into the water crisis in Flint, Mich. The project culminated with students creating public service announcements about the crisis.

Austin said the IB program helps to instill in students an interest in an increasingly global society.

“An understanding and appreciation of the fact that other people, with their differences, can also be right and [have] a desire to take an active role for positive growth and meaningful change in their local and global communities,” she said.

By Lisa R. Rhodes, Staff Writer

Sixth-grader Jayden Johnson-Boakye uses a sewing machine to learn how innovations have enabled people to function more efficiently. (Photo by Lisa R. Rhodes)
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