Kelly Walsh High School
PASCO Solutions Turn Kelly Walsh Into Model for Science Learning
When students graduate from Kelly Walsh High School in Casper, Wyoming, they are prepared for a future in which math and science skills are highly prized. Their teachers make sure of it. Over the past six years the school has introduced one-to-one computing and integrated 21st century science equipment into every classroom, a move that physics teacher Chad Sharpe said turned the school into a model for science and hands-on learning.
Before joining the faculty at Kelly Walsh, Sharpe was taking his own college physics courses. At 33 years old, he had accumulated life experiences that went beyond those of a typical college student. He was acutely aware of the skills necessary to be successful in a 21st century workforce.
“I worked as a plumber at one point and I couldn’t believe the technology and
problem solving skills that were required to make plumbing systems work,” he said. “The technology was not the only difficulty either. Reading directions and plans required skills that are typically not taught in college and high school science classes. Science and technology is used in many fields today and is an integral part of daily life. If we don’t prepare students, they are not going to be employable in an increasingly competitive world that requires them to be technologically literate.”
If we don’t prepare students, they are not going to be employable in an increasingly competitive world that requires them to be technologically literate.
Sharpe said he and the other science teachers are constructivists, meaning they practice hands-on, minds-on science learning. Classes are heavy with labs that emphasize the skills students need to solve problems in class and develop job-ready skills such as critical thinking, analysis of data, professional presentation, collaboration and peer review, and using technology efficiently and effectively. Data collection and measurement by hand, for example, are things of the past. Every student has a laptop and every classroom is equipped with DataStudio. Two carts of Xplorer GLX are available for field experiments such as testing the water quality along the Platte River. PASPORT sensors are available for every science discipline, which includes earth science, physics, chemistry, biology, and anatomy/physiology.
Sharpe said the technology is accurate and saves time. “It used to take 90 minutes to measure acceleration due to gravity using a video camera, a scaled white board, and a falling projectile,” he said. “Now we use photogates and collect data in five minutes. I use DataStudio
to design labs that don’t require my participation, just the initial time required to set up a well-planned lab that reinforces learning. The kids do everything while I monitor their understanding and give them real time feedback as they learn. My goal is to get them to think and experiment for themselves without doing a cookie cutter lab that only requires them to follow
This approach has made a big difference. “It’s changed how the teachers
engage the kids, and how we present information,” said Sharpe. “The buy-in for the kids is that they are doing the work, not us. They don’t have to spend time on rote memory tasks, and no one has to listen to us pontificate. It’s all about them. I’ve have had many conversations with kids who said science was not as engaging to them before technology, when it was cookie cutter labs or worksheets and lectures. It’s nice to sit back and watch kids turn into scientists.”
Last year Kelly Walsh students scored 14 percent higher on the science portion of the state standardized test, Proficiency Assessments for Wyoming
Students (PAWS). Sharpe expects the same or better this year because now all the teachers are using the technology. His own experience in the classroom, however, adds greater perspective. “The number of ‘Aha’ moments I see coming out of kids is phenomenal,” he said. “Students are more engaged in the process. Labs are open ended so the kids have control of their experiment and are responsible for answering peer and teacher questions about their results. Technology is contagious. The kids
talk about it. They want it.”
Sharpe is proud of his school’s investment in technology, and he calls his colleagues “phenomenal teachers who are turning out students that know how to think and solve problems, not just regurgitate information. We prepare them very well to do math and science.”