Standard 1.2. Students work independently and collaboratively in an inquiry-based learning environment that encourages finding creative solutions to authentic and complex problems.

A vital part of the Fulton Science Academy Private School program is assisting students in acquiring and fully developing skills to utilize the knowledge and academic standards that they have been taught. One facet of this part of FSAPS’s academic program is learning to work both independently and collaboratively to find answers to complex questions and/or solutions to identified problems through research, data collection, observation, and problem solving. This, also, encompasses instilling the skills and/or qualities of self-motivation, communication, collaboration, time management, responsibility, passion, and creativity.

Our students spend a large part of every school day acquiring knowledge and academic skills through classroom instruction, but then they utilize that knowledge through class projects, competitions, academic teams, and clubs. Students are required to complete four application of knowledge assignments per semester; these may or may not be small group/team related. Also, our school-wide Science Fair allows our students to independently demonstrate their ability to develop an interest in a given area of science, pose thoughtful questions, find solutions to complex problems, hone research skills, and continue developing communication skills both through written reports and presentation tools. Student creativity is not only demonstrated in how they communicate their work to others, but in the process that they develop to prove or disprove their theories.

Document Based Questions or DBQs, are another key real-world critical thinking activity that our social studies students engage in.  DBQs present students with open-ended questions alongside primary and secondary sources that students analyze in order to form their own reasoned answers to the posed question.  This requires students to cite information from the sources provided (and others which students may locate) and make an informed opinion and argument.  While there are no “wrong” answers, it is important that the ideas presented are well-supported with documented evidence and explained fully. 

An example of students finding creative solutions to authentic and complex problems was when our AP Human Geography students examined the issues of urban redevelopment and learned about the specific challenges faced in our local Fulton County community.  Students were then challenged to create a plan for redeveloping Holcomb Bridge Road and they built a model to illustrate their ideas. Also, in math, teachers often use 3-Act Tasks and Georgia Frameworks Tasks as part of their classroom instruction, both of which encourage open-ended inquiry.  

FSAPS, also, determined that students needed a pathway to develop their talents and pursue self-directed interests, while acquiring the 21st century skills they would need to be truly successful. After a great deal of research, discussion, and planning, the STEAM Enrichment Program was created. This program is an adaptation of Professor Joseph Renzulli’s School-wide Enrichment Model. 

As part of this program, all students in the sixth through high school grades are provided a dedicated forty minute period four days per week to work on a team developed STEAM project. Teachers act only as guiding facilitators, while the projects themselves are determined and produced by the students. The teams are student-determined and may include students from multiple grades with a shared area of interest, passion, talent, or goal. The only STEAM enrichment project requirements are that they must fall within a STEAM education category, have a social impact, address a real world problem or issue, and that the project must culminate in a main product and two side products of poster and video that can be shared and/or demonstrated in a public manner.

Products produced as part of the project might include, but are not limited to, books, plays, science demonstrations, artwork, a model, oral presentations, videos, robots, inventions, apps, etc. At the end of each semester, students present their projects at the FSAPS STEAM Expo. However, students may also enter their projects in other competitions or showcases, such as GT Inventure Challenge and Atlanta Makers Faire. The STEAM Enrichment Program grades are reflected on student report cards and  averaged into their GPA.

One unique side of STEAM enrichment groups is that they are established by the self-selected group members based on the interests of the students on a given team. Additionally, the groups are allowed to include students of different ages and grades on their teams. This allows them to improve their leadership skills and work within a more diverse group, as well. 

This project based program is designed to help our students develop life and career skills, such as conflict resolution and project management skills while incorporating the 4 C’s of 21st Century Skills: creativity, critical thinking, collaboration, and communication. Additionally, through the process of creating their STEAM projects students further develop their presentation, writing, organization, and time-management abilities. Finally, requiring that all projects have a social impact compels our students to address authentic and complex problems that impact society as a whole.

The STEAM Enrichment Program has been highly successful in engaging students, reinforcing knowledge, identifying areas of interest, helping students find hidden talents, and has provided a pathway for students to learn necessary intrinsic skills and abilities to help them reach their full potential.

In addition, we have found that creating numerous extra-curricular STEM activities enhances a student’s love of learning and reinforces their academic lessons in a more meaningful way for better retention. Over 80% of our students participate on at least one STEM academic team. This allows our students the opportunity to fully develop the ability to collaborate and become comfortable with team dynamics. We understand that working well with others is one of the most important things that our students can learn during their tenure at our school and we consider it a priority that they develop this skill. Science Olympiad is an especially popular academic team in that we have two elementary teams, three middle school teams, and one high school team participating in all events. Other STEM academic team opportunities for inquiry-based collaboration include Future City, Robotics, Tech Fair, Science Olympiad, Math Olympiad, and Destination Imagination.

Also, each year, many of our students may choose to enter other competitions such as TAG ED Web Challenge, Georgia Tech Inventure Challenge, and MathGeniuses. FSAPS also actively seeks out community based competitions such as Fulton County’s Water Tower Project for our students, while offering them support and guidance in solving real-life complex problems.

FSAPS’s class projects, STEAM enrichment program, and extra-curricular opportunities are all part of a circular approach to learning. Teach the academic standards and skills, acquire the knowledge, practice the skills, utilize the skills in a meaningful way through an enjoyable activity, develop areas of interest, find a passion for a given focus area of that interest, and instill a need within that student to know more, which completes the circle.