Intel salutes six ‘Schools of Distinction’

As winners of this year’s Schools of Distinction Awards, the six schools chosen by Intel Corp. for their exemplary math and science instruction have one characteristic in common: They all integrate real-world experiences into the curriculum.

The awards ceremony was held at a restaurant in the nation’s capital Sept. 9. Members of national ed-tech organizations, such as the Consortium for School Networking (CoSN) and the International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE), as well as members of the media and the awards’ sponsors, ate beef tenderloin sandwiches and listened to the impressive accomplishments of the six winners.

"Intel Schools of Distinction are places where students, teachers, and the entire community live and breathe educational excellence," said Intel Chairman Craig Barrett. "Coupling that focus with 21st-century skills–communication, collaboration, and critical thinking–fosters the innovation we need far more of in the U.S."

Barrett has been a strong advocate for teaching 21st-century skills as part of the curriculum–and the day after he announced Intel’s awards, a new report offered even more evidence to support such a practice (see "Report: Retool instruction, or U.S. will fail"). The Schools of Distinction Awards highlight innovative schools that have achieved success in doing just that.

The awards are given in two categories: math and science. Within each category, there is one elementary, on middle, and one high school winner.

Schools that received math recognition were Sojourner School in Milwaukee, Ore.; DeLay Middle School in Lewisville, Texas; and Sabino High School in Tucson, Ariz.

Schools that received science recognition were Laguna Elementary School in Scottsdale, Ariz.; Key Peninsula Middle School in Lakebay, Wash.; and Townsend Harris High School in Flushing, N.Y.

As the rain from an overcast day poured down around the glass walls of the restaurant, the faces of the winners couldn’t have been brighter as they received their larger-than-life checks of $10,000 from the Intel Foundation and an award package that includes curriculum materials, professional development resources, hardware, and software valued at more than $160,000.

Award sponsors included Dell, DyKnow, eInstruction, Futurekids, Scantron, SMART Technologies, and Spectrum K12.

"We never interrupt the school day with announcements," said Jayne Germany, instructional technologist for DeLay Middle School, "but the moment we found out we won, we were on the intercom celebrating!"

DeLay students have improved their math performance by about 30 percent in the last three years.

One program, called "Gimme 5," has educators spend the first five days of school team-building with their students to help them learn school procedures and philosophy through relay races, poster-making, and other activities.

"We are a family, and we pull together to get the job done. Our No. 1 priority is student success–and that starts with the students knowing we believe in them and knowing they can be anything they want to be," said Germany.

She said her school’s goal for this year is incorporating more opportunities to get out of the classroom and experience life outside through global learning opportunities, such as virtual field trips.

Key Peninsula Middle School (KPMS) also says that incorporating real-life experiences is a key to students receiving a 21st-century education.

KPMS, a NASA Explorer School whose state science achievement scores have improved from 26.1 percent to 41.5 percent over the past four years, says that having an open mind helps bring in great speakers and eager vendors.

Because it’s a NASA Explorer School, students can connect with science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) professionals from across the country. Students have listened to presentations from astronauts, as well as test pilots and many technology experts.

Students as early as the sixth and seventh grade can choose to take science-based electives, such as a Mission Specialist class that offers challenges in designing and building lunar plant growth chambers, designing and modifying rockets, robotics, and building Mars habitats. The school was recently awarded observation time on the Spitzer Space Telescope.

KPMS also is the only school in the district to have three teachers who are National Board Teachers in Early Adolescence Science.

Jill Johnson, a KPMS school board member and education lobbyist for the National School Boards Association on behalf of the 9,000 students and 14 other schools in her district, said, "There is something magical about this city and the opportunities to support and lobby for our schools. I know this visit will tug on my heart strings a bit more. I have bragging rights now. I represent KPMS, an Intel Schools of Distinction Winner. This is awesome!"

As each school’s representatives beamed under the thunderous applause and shouts of praise from the audience, Intel made sure to tell each group they deserved their time in the educational spotlight.

"We’re planning on investing in professional development to increase the use of technology instruction, providing students with more resources for STEM [education], and supporting extended learning opportunities beyond the school day," said Kathleen S. Root, principal at Laguna Elementary School.

Laguna has been recognized for its innovative use of technology within ISTE’s National Educational Technology Standards (NETS) framework.

Laguna also plans to use its grant to update its School Science Club equipment, send teacher representatives from every grade level to the Arizona Science Teachers Association conference, and acquire SMART Boards, eLearning professional development services, laptops for instructional planning, and hardware to support it all.

"Arizona ranks among the lowest per-pupil funding for education. Decisions on how to spend limited dollars, how to allocate meager resources, and how to build and sustain meaningful programs were a purposeful and deliberate process. It was a deliberate choice to use research-based strategies, to invest in the development of the whole child, and to promote learning for all stakeholders," Root said.

Representatives from Townsend Harris High School–which, over the past six years, has produced 17 Intel Science Talent Search semifinalists, seven Siemens Competition in Math, Science, and Technology semifinalists, 16 Intel International Science and Engineering Fair finalists, and numerous local awards–said recognition from the Intel Schools of Distinction Awards will enable them to gain additional sponsors for special projects.

"The Intel grant will allow us to continue converting ordinary classrooms into ‘smart’ classrooms and fund our genetics and robotics lab in spite of the current budgetary crisis. It will also help us to fund student participation in competitions and training programs that they cannot afford, since 40 percent of our students are at the poverty level," explained Susan Brustein, the school’s assistant principal of science and technology.

Sabino High School said it will use the grant to grow its set of Vernier sensors to incorporate more experiments and data collection into lessons.

Sabino–which is among the highest scoring schools in Arizona on the state mathematics test and boasts a 92-percent mastery rate for 10th graders taking the test for the first time–has earned an "Excellent School" ranking from the state for the past five years.

"We support all learners via the development of a math tutoring center, using SMART Boards, podcasting lessons, offering Advanced Placement classes, assessments through projects, the use of graphing calculators almost daily, incorporating group work in class, using sensors to measure data, and making math become real," said Valerie Payne, Sabino’s principal.

Students also look for real applications of math in the newspaper, present information using a variety of technologies–including video and PowerPoint–and design final projects on a topic they’re personally interested in.

The Intel awards weren’t complete until the Star Innovator was announced. To earn this honor, a school must have a comprehensive program incorporating innovative and effective use of technology, parent and community engagement, professional development and teamwork, and consistent achievement of high academic standards.

On top of the $10,000 Intel grant, the Star Innovator school receives another $15,000 from the Intel Foundation.

After all the schools accepted their checks and returned to their tables, next to windows that looked like glass waterfalls, U.S. Rep. Darlene Hooley, D-Ore., rose from her seat and took the stage to announce the Star Innovator: Sojourner School.

"What a great honor this is to be here today and announce that one of Oregon’s schools will be the Star Innovator," said Hooley, "and how inspiring it is to see so many sponsors of this award. Next year, I hope there are twice as many to support these great schools that are making so much progress."

Sojourner, which has a student-to-computer ratio of 3 to 1 and uses a "team-teaching" approach that results in specialized content and pedagogical knowledge in mathematics, received a standing ovation from the room of supporters.


Sojourner and school district officials celebrate being named the Star Innovator school.

"The heart of our school is its children," said Tricia George, the school’s director. "Every decision we make is with their well-being in mind. Our families stand beside us as we strive to educate the heart, mind, and body of each child. We will spend some time talking with our children about how we will spend the money. Because of Intel, we have been gifted with some wonderful technology. We will address that learning curve as a community as well!"

As the event wound down and teachers, vendors, media, and admirers located their umbrellas, images of STEM teaching success made real filled their minds, inspiring them to continue working toward 21st-century education goals.


Intel Schools of Distinction Awards

Note to readers:

Don’t forget to visit the “ Creating the 21 st Century Classroom ”resource center. Preparing today’s youth to succeed in the digital economy requires a new kind of teaching and learning. Skills such as global literacy, computer literacy, problem solving, critical thinking, creativity, and innovation have become critical in today’s increasingly interconnected workforce and society–and technology is the catalyst for bringing these changes into the classroom. Go to Creating-the-21st-century-classroom