Students at Gilbert Elementary are place- and project-based STEM learners and researchers. At each grade level, students are involved in ongoing authentic STEM research. The research takes place throughout the school year rather than an isolated event. Students are getting real-world experiences using problem solving and critical thinking skills. They work collaboratively on various projects and learn to communicate their findings. At Gilbert, students create real solutions to real problems, learning all they can along the way.
Our STEM journey began with a desire to find ways to better engage students, the need to increase performance in all academic areas, and a look to the future for our students. Our principal, Matt Harris, brought the idea of aquaponics to the table. The result was our SPLASH lab. SPLASH is an acronym which means Student Project-based Learning in Aquaculture and Sustainable Hydroponics.
We worked with HatPonics to design and install functioning hydroponics and aquaponics systems on our campus. Students were involved in every aspect of the process from planning to building to operating. Today, we have a fully sustainable agriculture system in place growing a variety of herbs and vegetables. We also are raising goldfish, golden tilapia, and a blue channel catfish hybrid. Mr. Ray McWhorter, our Kaleidoscope (Gifted) teacher, guides students in the daily maintenance, data collection, and cultivation of the plants in the SPLASH Lab.
Meriam-Webster defines synergy as the increased effectiveness that results when two or more people work together. Perhaps no other word more aptly describes what continues to develop at our school. The more closely we worked with our grade level colleagues, the better our instruction, unit planning, and activities are for our students. This mirrors our central hope for students at Gilbert Elementary: the more ideas they entertain, the more peers they engage with, and the more values and solutions they defend, the more critical and thoughtful leaders they will gradually become, for our school, for our community, and for our world.
The world is the true classroom. The most rewarding and important type of learning is through experience, seeing something with our own eyes. ~Jack Hanna
Gilbert Elementary School has two forest kindergarten classrooms. Students spend at least two hours each day in the forest behind our school building. Each class has its own site in the woods where students learn from nature. There are many benefits of Forest Kindergarten. Basically, students are given the opportunity to have self-initiated play time in the woods. Students are learning to use their imaginations, to be creative, to discover, and to explore.
In forest kindergarten, students will be outdoors in all types of weather, in all seasons, and exposed to the natural world that they are so deprived of today. They go the the same site each day so they are able to see the changes in one natural space during all weather and in each season. Students are developing a love and an empathy for the natural world. Teachers are available to facilitate learning and to elaborate on things that the children discover and create. Teachers also make sure that students are playing safely while allowing them to take reasonable risks. Teachers help students assess the activity to see if it is safe. The adult supervision in the forest is meant to assist rather than lead.
Students are doing different things during their time outdoors. They play in the dirt and mud, search for bugs, and go on adventures. Students also climb in trees which improves the childs strength, balance, and self awareness. Building shelters and other large structures from branches, with the help of other children and adults, requires goal definition, planning, engineering, teamwork, and perseverance. Students play games using the natural resources available in the forest and their imaginations. This helps children to explore their own thoughts without the guidance of a toy designer or a teacher telling them how to play. Sometimes students may not want to play in a group and would rather be alone. Exploring or reflecting alone aids self-awareness and character development.
Students have math lessons outdoors where they count objects or look for mathematical patterns in nature. Students become scientist as they record their discoveries in their journals each day. At this time in the year, they are able to sit for about 10 minutes each day in the pine forest writing in their journals. This is a quiet time of reflection and we have seen their drawing and writing skills improve greatly.
Gilbert Elementary has integrated a heavy dose of STEM into kindergarten, which in turn created forest kindergarten in our public school. In this environment, children are able to explore, create, and discover the things that they are interested in. This directly causes students to become involved in student-led discoveries and adventures. This leads to a multi-sensory environment with nature being the teacher and the children’s imagination being the driving force. Kindergarteners at Gilbert Elementary School are definitely learning from Nature !
Kindergarten Project ~ Poultry
Kindergarteners are our resident chicken experts. Their grade level project is breed restoration. They researched to see which breeds were lower in numbers over the past few years and worked with local farmers to obtain eggs for hatching. They have successfully hatched a number of eggs over the past two years including the Silkies and Dominique breeds. The young chicks were sold to Gilbert families and farmers in our community. We currently have eggs in the incubator located in our SPLASH lab. We are anxiously awaiting their hatching day.
Forest Kindergarten, has taken this learning experience a little further by hatching the fertile eggs in an incubator in our classroom inside the building. When have successfully hatched 13 chicks so far. Students are able to see the progress by candling the eggs and seeing the baby growing inside the shell. We have also been lucky enough to actually witness the chicks hatching from their eggs.
Currently, we have three Dominique hens and one rooster. The chicken coop (above) was inspired by the winning entry in a design competition for students in which they built model coops. It recently had some upgrades to reinforce the coops fencing. The upgrades were necessary as we lost three chickens to a predator, who we suspect was a red fox. Kindergartners feed and care for the chickens daily. They have posed and tested many ideas including chickens' preferences for food, color, and toys.
1st Grade Project
First grade has two projects. We are identifying and labeling trees to help us become a Level 1 arboretum. We are working jointly with the Tennessee Aquarium on a pollinator garden. They will tag monarchs next fall.
2nd Grade Project
Second graders at Gilbert Elementary School are researching with schools across different regions of the state of Georgia to collect data on Georgia Native Plants. Each school will be planting 16 species of plants native to our state. Throughout the year, students will collect data on such factors as weather patterns, to include rainfall amounts, low and high temperatures each day, and cloud conditions. Students will also determine the components of the local soil to determine variations across regions.
As the students collect data, they will also track growth patterns of the plant so they may determine if the flowers/plants thrive as well all over the state, or if they prefer one region's characteristics and weather patterns over another. At the end of the school year, all the data will be reviewed so that students can conclude if their hypothesis about the growth patterns of these plants across the state was correct or incorrect.
3rd Grade Project
Third graders are the resident organic gardeners. We are responsible for the maintenance of our school's raised garden, composting program, and worm farm. Although we do our best to keep things all nature, our garden cannot be certified as organic, as the beds were built with treated lumber.
Through a program with Bonnie Plants, every third grader receives a cabbage plant in the spring. Third graders researched the best growing materials and conditions for cabbage plants. This research led them to establishing a composting program and a worm garden. We also looked at giving back to our garden. We've planted for about four years without replenishing the nutrients in our soil. We worked with Norman Edwards from Walker County's UGA Extension Office. He came out to the school and tested our soil. We discovered we were low in nitrogen and phosphates. Students researched natural or organic ways to add these nutrients. Our solutions were to collect coffee grounds and plant a winter cover crop of clover. We called our local McDonalds and asked for their help with our project. We took a large garbage bin to the restaurant. They would collect their used coffee grounds for us and call when the bin was full. We worked the grounds into the soil throughout our garden beds. In late November, we planted the clover.
The following spring we planted our cabbage and other crops. As we tended our plants, we noticed that the leaves began to have holes in them and small black dots everywhere. The black dots turned out to be the eggs of numerous varieties of insects. This discovery led us to a new facet of our gardening, how to organically rid ourselves of pests.
Currently, we are tending our fall crops of broccoli, kale, collard greens, Brussels sprouts, and lettuce. According to our research and data collection, plants should be ready for harvest by the last week of November or first of December. Our most recent soil probe proves that our steps to correct the nutrient levels in our soil have worked. We are a little high on pH and are researching ways to remedy the situation. Once our crops are harvested, we will winterize our garden to prepare for next spring's growing season. In the spring, we'll do another planting and put our researched solutions for controlling pests into place. We'll designate treated and untreated areas in the garden
4th Grade Project
We are currently classifying trees, tracking population, and managing food webs in our research plots. We use food, water, and shelter to help attract different species of organisms into our plots. We made predictions of what we assumed we would find, and we use trail cameras for confirmation of our results. We analyze how our choices impact the food webs. We currently have four research plots. Three of the plots are 1/10 of an acre dedicated to the animal management, and last plot is reserved for tree identification. We are currently classifying the trees in this .25 acres to help us estimate the entire populations of trees in our forest.
5th Grade Project
Fifth graders are the energy experts. Our project centers on reducing our carbon footprint. Students focus on renewable energy and energy efficiency. We have a partnership with the engineers at Roper Corp. We study wind, water, solar, and biofuel. We built passive solar panels out of plywood and coke cans. We built a hydroelectric generator from a washing machine, and we will raise several crops to determine which plants produce the best biofuels. For the efficiency portion of their project, students test the watts used by various electrical appliances or devices to develop a plan to reduce the energy used in the classroom. They also analyze and track our school's month energy consumption using several reports made available by our district.
The next step for our project is that Gilbert Elementary will begin recycling one item from all the students. The 5th graders will take that item and give it a new purpose. These items will then be sold at our Maker Faire at the end of the year. Students had to research and create an item from recycled materials.
Mr. Ray McWhorter is our Kaleidoscope teacher. Kaleidoscope is our county's name for the gifted program. Mr. McWhorter and his students have many ongoing activities, projects, and responsibilities.
First and second graders are creating sets of windchimes from clay and other materials to sell at the spring Maker Faire. Their goal is to make about 15 different sets. Mr. McWhorter, an artist in his spare time, shares his love of pottery and working with clay with students. After the wind chimes are complete, the group will be creating coaster sets for the Maker Faire.
Third grade Kaleidoscope students are in the process of creating a Geocache to be placed on school property. The coordinates and description will be sent to an on-line data bank for public viewing. Students have completed research to learn the ins and outs of geocaching. Once completed, third graders will decide and begin work on their products for the Maker Faire.
Fourth grade students were in charge of building an aquaponics system for Barger Academy in Hamilton County. This system was constructed using one of the large IBC’s (intermediate bulk container). The students also wrote an operation manual to go with it. Mr. Harris is supposed to set up a time to deliver the system to the school. Students will travel to Barger Academy to set up the system and teach the folks at Barger how it works. Following the installation, fourth graders will begin work on an orienteering course on our Discovery Trails and Greenway located behind our school.
Fifth graders are building the rain catchment system for the outdoor garden. System #1 is complete and operational. System #2 is in progress with three to follow. Students in this group are also competing to be the team that represents Gilbert in Bright Spark Design Team Challenge. These students will begin on individual Maker Faire projects following completion of the rain catchment system.
STEAM Lab Art & Music
We were also pleased to have a former Gilbert Elementary student, Alex Richardson, get involved in our program. Alex is a PhD candidate in the Department of Philosophy at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville, and researches issues in social and environmental justice. He saw in our STEM initiatives an opportunity to meet students where they are, and to stress the moral and political importance of building a sustainable society and taking care of our planet. Alex has visited our campus several times in past few years, talking with students at all grade levels about basic moral reasoning skills, various ways to find value in the natural environment, and the importance of living sustainably, both individually and in their larger communities. He has designed and delivered numerous mini-lessons and discussion groups to get students interested in and talking about environmental value on their own terms, while at the same time helping students develop crucial skills like critical thinking, moral awareness, and political responsibility, as well as central skills from the Georgia Performance Standards for K-5
After School Activities
At Gilbert Elementary School, learning takes many forms and in many places. We have several after school activities to offer our students. Teacher are generous with the time they give to make these learning opportunities possible.
Vex Robotics - Gator bytes
One of our after school activities is Vex Robotics. Fourth and fifth graders were invited to tryout for the team. Once selected, student stayed after school three days per week to learn various STEM concepts. These skills are put to the test on the playing field as students learn lifelong skills in teamwork, leadership, communications, and more. Tournaments are held year-round at the regional, state, and national levels. Our team recently competed in a competition and brought home three first place trophies: Skills and Programming Challenge, Team Work, Research Project.
Lego Robotics - Gilbert Gatorbots
Another after school activity is Lego First League. Due to the age restrictions for the competitions, only our fourth and fifth graders compete. Guided by teacher coaches for the project portion of competitions, the team research a real-world problem such as food safety, recycling, energy, etc. and are challenged to develop a solution. Students also design, build, and program robots using Mindstorm technology to compete on a table-top playing field. It all adds up to tons of fun while they learn to apply science, technology, engineering, and math concepts (STEM), plus a big dose of imagination, to solve a problem. Along their discovery journey, they develop critical thinking and team-building skills, basic STEM applications, and even presentation skills, as they must present their solutions with a dash of creativity to judges. They also practice the Program’s signature Core Values