Pilot research program introduced at Darlington Middle School

Pilot research program introduced at Darlington Middle School
Posted on 10/10/2019
Research Courtyard ribbon cuttingDARLINGTON, S.C. – Darlington Middle School (DMS) will help launch a hands-on, science-focused Research Courtyard pilot, thanks to a $5,000 grant from Duke Energy and the collaboration and support of the Pee Dee Public Education Collaborative, Clemson University, and other state agencies. The school is the first site to host the innovative research/teaching program that combines hands-on, problem-solving, and team-based activities into a program centered on learning by doing and reflecting.

The unique outdoor program is the brainchild of the Pee Dee Public Education Collaborative, a group of community, government agency, public school, state legislative, and industry leaders devoted to improving the quality of education in South Carolina. The new research-oriented project will be based upon the academic standards for science that are specific for each middle school grade. The projects will allow students to conduct the practices or steps of the scientific method to examine solutions to problems that are of significance to society today. Research projects are also being planned for the seventh and eighth-grade students to begin in 2020.

“I am very encouraged by the level of collaboration that has gone into planning this program by state agencies such as Clemson University, SC DHEC, and SC Department of Commerce,” notes Representative Robert Williams, South Carolina House of Representatives. “I would also like to acknowledge the support and input from our local industries such as Duke Energy, as well as from our local community organizations. Most of all, I very much appreciate the willingness of the Darlington Middle School to host this pilot project.”

Through the pilot program, Darlington Middle School sixth grade students will grow plants in raised plant beds using different research treatments. The program will provide teachers with the necessary instructional resources to help them successfully conduct the project with their students. In addition to the resources, every DMS science teacher will be assisted by a high school student in the SC Agricultural Education Program from the Darlington County Institute of Technology (DCIT). The DCIT students, in return, will be advised/mentored by a Darlington County Clemson Extension Service agent. DCIT students also constructed the raised plant beds.

“This program pulls together many diverse entities to provide both our middle and high school students with opportunities to use current science standards in real-world applications. The Research Courtyard pilot program adds relevancy to our lessons, bringing science, soft skills, and other critical subjects to life for our students,” said Dr. Tim Newman, superintendent of the Darlington County School District. “We are grateful to Duke Energy for the funding to make this agricultural laboratory a reality and for Clemson University and the Pee Dee Education Collaborative for conceiving such a unique learning partnership and allowing us to pilot the program.”

The pilot program at Darlington Middle School will be based upon the academic standards for sixth graders. The projects will allow students to conduct the practices or steps of the scientific method to examine solutions to problems that are of significance to society today. In addition to the research, students will also learn about the range of careers associated with different subject matters to aid them with future career decisions and hone their critical thinking and problem-solving skills. As a complementary program to the research projects, specialists from Clemson’s Expanded Food and Nutrition Education Program (EFNEP) will teach students about the value of a nutritious and healthy diet.

“Studies have shown that students better understand and retain the information they are taught when a problem-solving approach is used,” states Mindy Taylor, Government and Community Relations District Manager for Duke Energy. “Working together as a part of a team in their research, the students will also learn soft skills such as leadership and communication. These are skill sets needed by students for future careers. Duke Energy is very proud to support this program.”

The Research Courtyard Pilot Program will expand to all other grades and potentially other schools in the future. Clemson University 4-H, Clemson Extension Service, Clemson EFNEP, S2TEM, and Agricultural Education Programs will provide guidance to the teachers and students. In return, the middle school science teachers will provide suggestions for project improvement throughout the school year.

“Making the Research Courtyard Program affordable and logistically structured to include every student in the middle school are very important considerations,” notes Jim Frederick, program coordinator, and Clemson professor. “The Teacher’s Guide is being developed that details each step of the research projects so the program can be readily adopted by other school districts in the future. Although focused on improving academic performance, we feel the students will also enjoy the experience of collecting data in an outdoor environment.”

The Research Courtyard project offers middle school teachers a new method for improving student academic performance in the Pee Dee. By working together, the Pee Dee Public Education Collaborative is working to provide the resources and expertise needed to improve student education in the Pee Dee region.