History, science, literacy and more on board the USS Yorktown

08/21/2013
Experiential Learning
By KEITH GRYBOWSKI

The Institute of History, Science and Technology is proud to announce the fall release of the newest edition of the “Oscar I am; Harry I Was” reading series. This original two-part work will be separated into two individual books. These literacy-infused textbooks are written to “spark” students’ interest in history and science while motivating them to read for fun.

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Since stories are the center of human consciousness, Patriots Point has developed the program based on stories that engage students in a fun and factual way. Students and adults alike love to hear stories, and tend to remember those that touch or connect to their lives. The use of stories also help students master core academics while becoming adept problem solvers, innovative thinkers, and effective young citizens of the world.

The History/Literacy portion of the book is based on the life, history and genealogical study of the fictional character, “Harry” Smith. He fought in the Civil War alongside the youngest recipient of the Medal of Honor and best buddy, “Willie” Johnston. Their “truly historic” stories follow the pacing guides as they travel across America from the Civil War to present times. The adventures of “Harry and Willie” are written to prompt students to think and discuss the changing times of long ago, as well as how those periods are still affecting events in 2013. True history is more than just the “facts.”

The science/literacy component focuses on the adventures of a molecular atom of oxygen, “Oscar,” as he travels through South Carolina’s watershed. He encounters various biotic and abiotic friends. Together they experience concepts such as force and motion, ecosystems, land formations and properties of matter. As students follow the follies of Oscar and his friends, they can actually map out their progress with maps contained in each chapter.

Teachers’ input on the creation of this new edition illustrates that they believe it will be engaging for the readers and an asset to history and science classrooms as well.

Students not only use their sense of sight in reading about history and science, but they feel it, smell it, touch it — and even hear its sounds. A true love of history and science is NOT attained by just sitting in a classroom: Oscar and Harry take students beyond the traditional classroom.

The HISTORY of “Oscar I AM; Harry I WAS?!”

In 2011, Keith Grybowski, the Institute’s director and head of the education department, began to develop a new way to teach history and science. Initially the staff created a combined science and history text book that students would read at the beginning of the school year.

Through the adventures of the two main characters, the students were exposed to real life experiences that touched on the entire fifth grade history and science South Carolina state standards. The staff worked to create a more innovative, interactive, hands-on approach for students as they experienced not only the “awe” of the “Fighting Lady” — the USS Yorktown — but the unique history she represents. The goal was to engage students in the process of learning through both formal and informal educational tools, thus creating an environment in which students were not just viewing facts or artifacts, but were experiencing history and science “up close and personal” using all their senses.

The Patriots Point Institute of History, Science and Technology’s educational programs, based on the Aircraft Carrier USS Yorktown and its estuarine environment, is specifically designed to engage students in the appreciation of history and science while deepening their content knowledge. Since its implementation, thousands of students have been part of this dynamic “informal learning beyond the classroom.”

The fifth grade program continues to be built around three history and three science stations located throughout the ship’s many educational classrooms. These instructor guided programs continue to amaze students and teachers as they explore all the people, places and scientific spaces available for learning.

Prior to the release of the newest edition of the book, students and teachers, were provided with pre-arrival letters written by “Harry Smith” to his family as he viewed history up to WWII and beyond. The letters covered the entire fifth grade year’s social studies standards embedded with the English Language Arts standards (Literacy). Teachers were encouraged to use the letters to have class discussions prior to their visit or even afterwards.

Teachers that participated in the 2012-13 program consistently reported that students retained information learned through the “Oscar I am; Harry I Was” curriculum longer, and evidenced a greater enthusiasm for discussing critical components of the history and science curriculum.

A Jeopardy game format was implemented in Patriots Point’s 2013 pre- and post-computerized program testing system. The tests were given to 2,000 of the 3,000 Charleston County students who participated. Evaluation surveys were obtained from 90 percent of the participating teachers. To measure student comprehension, students were tested on each of the program’s curricula. The questions were developed prior to the start of the school year as a teacher exercise during the institutes’ Teacher Re-certification course. The questions were presented to all the students in the daily programs using the big screen in the ship’s theater. Students entered their answers using hand held computerized SMART classroom response devises or clickers. The results were available for teachers to review their students’ responses at the end of each question session. Results were recorded by Patriots Point staff for entry in the program’s testing database.

Analysis of the data shows that students participating in the fifth grade history and science program performed significantly better on the post-assessment than on the pre-assessment tests. All scores were averaged together. Classes that participated in the literacy component prior to attending the on-site program, scored 90 percent higher on all curriculum questions.

The institute’s simple mission is to create an educational experience that teaches core history, math and science objectives through an immersive theme-based lab environment, featuring inspirational stories and engaging innovative and interactive activities. All of our programs are academically and age appropriate and fully aligned to current state standards.

We continue to be focused on building and tweaking our various educational programs, working to increase the academic rigor and seamless integration of the materials with classroom curricula and expand ways to aid teachers in their professional development.

For the upcoming year, Patriots Point IHST will continue to expand day programs to provide options for overnight programs. Since more than 50 percent of Patriots Point students visit from two or more hours away, teachers are excited at this additional opportunity to extend their time and educational experiences. Through scholarships and grants we are also seeking ways to give every student in our state that once in a lifetime visit to the USS Yorktown.

Please join us where education and inspiration go hand-in-hand from teacher training programs, partnerships with cutting edge technology companies or the development of learning activities that go beyond the formal curricular content. The program’s staff, along with customized text books, and class location, is designed to engage students’ interest through the study and appreciation of history and science while at the same time developing social skills needed for today’s global society.

So, whether you are an educator or student, please know that you are cleared at Patriots Point for some unforgettable learning.

Keith Grybowski is a graduate of the New York Maritime Academy and Quinnipiac School of Law. As a recovering attorney, he has been involved in developing interactive educational programs for 15 years. In 2002, Grybowski was a founding member of the development team that created the Patriots Point Institute of History and Science. He assumed the role of Institute Director in 2010. Cindy Clark, Education Specialist, and Hannah Giddens, Science Coordinator, also contributed to this article.
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