Archives for June 2014

Metro Students Make Bicycle Models with High-Tech Tools

Originally posted on The Tennesseean by Jennifer Johnston

Metropolitan Nashville Public Schools has joined with the Vanderbilt Center for Nashville Studies and Peabody College to create a platform to provide detailed, reliable and recurring information about the commitment of major employers to the public school system. This is the latest installment in a series that tells the story of collaborative involvement between members of the Vanderbilt community and local public schools.


Thirteen Nashville public high school students are spending their summer mornings on the Vanderbilt campus building bicycle models using software tools developed to revolutionize the manufacturing of military vehicles.

The internship project, now in its second year, is facilitated by Brandon Knight and his brother, Justin. Program coordinators for separate projects at Vanderbilt’s Institute for Software Integrated Systems (ISIS), the siblings created a bike shop while growing up in Hartford, Connecticut. They quickly realized tools created at Vanderbilt could be used to excite teen-agers about computer modelling concepts.

Before joining the ISIS team, Brandon Knight taught science at Eagle Rock School and Professional Development Center in Estes Park, Colorado, and worked for a nonprofit on drop-out prevention. He brought that passion for education to his current job at Vanderbilt.

Under Brandon’s guidance, the interns are working in teams using modeling tools to develop new concepts, much like the engineers who developed the new suite of software as part of a large-scale effort to democratize the vehicle design process and significantly cut design time. The software, which ISIS created for the Defense Advanced Research Project Agency, is open source, meaning it is available for free.

The software tools were developed as part of the Automated Vehicle Make (AVM) project in an ambitious effort to totally revamp the way the Department of Defense supplies vehicles to the nation’s troops. Sandeep Neema and Ted Bapty, senior research scientists at ISIS, are principal investigators. Both are also research associate professors of electrical engineering and computer science at Vanderbilt.

By having the students use them to invent bike gadgets, we get valuable feedback on how designers at all levels use the tools.”“While these tools are designed to help build large, complex cyber-physical systems, they also work for smaller-scale projects,” Bapty said. “By having the students use them to invent bike gadgets, we get valuable feedback on how designers at all levels use the tools.”

AVM has an educational component that includes an undergraduate design competition, during which student participants from Vanderbilt worked in a School of Engineering lab with Tom Withrow, assistant professor of the practice of mechanical engineering. Withrow provided input for the start of the summer high school program as well.

The 13 interns hail from Hume-Fogg, Martin Luther King and Stratford high schools in Nashville. The part-time internships are unpaid this summer, but Knight said he hopes to seek possible funding sources.

The ultimate goal of the internship, now in its second year, is to encourage a growing pool of high-tech talent in Nashville that would ultimately attract industry to the area and plant the seeds for young entrepreneurs interested in start-ups.

“We need to re-capture the imagination of the best high school students early on with the excitement and beauty of engineering design,” said ISIS Director Janos Sztipanovits, E. Bronson Ingram Professor of Engineering. ”What could be a better way for this than turning them into makers, challenging them with creating new things and empowering them with engineering tools that help them to freely innovate?”

Founded in 1998 with just 10 researchers, ISIS now has a cadre of more than 180 faculty, staff, students and interns involved in more than 60 active projects. ISIS is a key national player in an effort to design the software-integrated systems that have become an integral part of human lives today – in consumer appliances, vehicles, planes, hospitals, schools, design shops, factories, space systems and energy.

Contact Brandon Knight at for more information about the internship program, including details about a planned presentation of the interns’ projects on Aug. 1.

Teachers Working Alongside Cancer Researchers

Strong relationships with local academy partners is the key to building effective business engagement in our high schools. The Academies of Nashville provide students with meaningful, hands-on learning in context through unique partnerships with local businesses, non-profit organizations, and government agencies. The Teacher Team Externship Program gives teachers an opportunity to have a real-world professional experience at a host organization to develop a project-based curriculum that gives students industry exposure and applied learning. Teachers from Stratford STEM Magnet High School had the opportunity to have an externship with their business partner, the Diatech Oncology. 

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Upon arriving at Diatech Oncology, a Canadian company new to the United States that offers “the test that tailors your cancer treatment,”  we were greeted by our primary host, Patti Ward.  We were taken to their conference room and provided an introduction to the key players and an overview of the company.  Our team was provided a tour of the facilities and given an overview of laboratory safety procedures.  We were also given an in depth idea of what the company does with cancer cells from its training director, Muhammed. On day two we spent more time in the lab with greater introductions to the technology utilized and the chemicals, incubators, and areas where work is completed.

On our final day we examined how their robot mixes the treatment medications with the cells and then how they view that data through their computers.  We further went through the process of how they examine samples from the time they arrive through all testing and data collection.  The three days were and incredibly interesting and amazing experience for our team.  The information involving the research on cancer cells will be expanded into our PBL units involving the ethics involved with cell research through the study of the 1950’s case of Henrietta Lacks.

Becoming IT Professionals

Strong relationships with local academy partners is the key to building effective business engagement in our high schools. The Academies of Nashville provide students with meaningful, hands-on learning in context through unique partnerships with local businesses, non-profit organizations, and government agencies. The Teacher Team Externship Program gives teachers an opportunity to have a real-world professional experience at a host organization to develop a project-based curriculum that gives students industry exposure and applied learning. Teachers from Stratford STEM Magnet High School had the opportunity to have an externship with their business partner, the Nashville Software School. 


Six Stratford STEM Magnet High School teachers from the Academy of National Safety and Security Technologies computer gaming pathway participated in teacher externship at Nashville Software School where they met with IT professionals from around Nashville.

After talking with numerous business partners, we concluded that 21st century skills are what set students up for success in the interview process. We began backwards planning with these goals in mind:

  • Allow for self-reflection and self-awareness so that students are confident in their ability to sell themselves as competent, capable, and collaborative professionals
  • Give practical experience in real-world situations
  • Provide an opportunity to practice presenting projects during the first semester to prepare for higher-stakes competitions in the second semester (e.g. PBL Expo)
  • Incorporate business partners and community to provide advice and provide authenticity to the roleplaying process

Our Driving Question is “How can we leverage student outcomes with Career and Technical Education work for college and career preparation.” Our Culminating Activity is going to be a mock job fair where students will use a portfolio of class work and projects to interview with “employers” (role-played by business partners, community members, and parents) and graded on a presentation rubric. We are tentatively set for Thursday, December 4th, so that students can demonstrate their work from throughout the first semester.

Students will assemble projects (formative assessments) from the first quarter and develop more projects from the second quarter in order to develop an e-portfolio of sample work to demonstrate collaboration, creativity, critical thinking, and communication. Students will develop a resume and cover letter in order to explain how their experience and artifacts demonstrate each of the 4 Cs of 21st-century skills.

Snail Eggs, Blood Splatter, and ISR: A Typical Summer Day

Strong relationships with local academy partners is the key to building effective business engagement in our high schools. The Academies of Nashville provide students with meaningful, hands-on learning in context through unique partnerships with local businesses, non-profit organizations, and government agencies. The Teacher Team Externship Program gives teachers an opportunity to have a real-world professional experience at a host organization to develop a project-based curriculum that gives students industry exposure and applied learning. Teachers from Stratford STEM Magnet High School had the opportunity to have an externship with their business partner, the Vanderbilt Center for Science Outreach. 

IMAG0356This fun and fascinating experience began at Isaac Litton Middle School where the teachers learned background information on the program “Scientist in the Classroom.”  This reiterated the importance of bringing real world scientists into the classroom enabling teachers to make the classroom experience more applicable to the real world while at the same time enabling real world scientists to learn skills assisting them in becoming better teachers of their craft.  After this meeting, the teachers met a group of students from Hillsboro High School at Richland Creek to participate in environmental sampling.  Although we weren’t all dressed for outdoor activities, everyone made the best of it; Kathy L. was an expert discoverer of snail eggs.   In addition, the students from Hillsboro were very impressive.  The moment they arrived at the creek, they went to work; it was very clear that these students knew what to do, how to do it, and the importance of documentation.  When we left the creek, the teachers then met at Vanderbilt for an across campus walk in the blazing heat, but it was well worth it.  We had the opportunity to spend a couple of hours with instructors and students from the School of Science and Math at Vanderbilt, and this was fantastic.  As students were working on the finishing details of their projects, the teachers were able to ask questions to provide them an opportunity to practice their presentations which were the next day.  Many appreciated this opportunity because they have been working on these projects for months.  Our favorite project was the autonomous robot that sprayed Luminal and detected chemiluminescence.  We finished this day with a discussion panel with Vanderbilt professors and leaders of Interdisciplinary Science and Research, where we discussed trends in science education and how it has changed over time.

IMAG0358The second day was equally exciting as we practiced engaging students in science with “hands on” activities.  Our first activity was making a rocket out of a straw.  Some of us were eager and quick with ideas of how to start while others of us needed the use of NASA and Google.  We then demonstrated the success or failure of our rockets by projecting them at a 45 degree angle through the air.  Next, we participated in various blood splatter activities which included blood splatter with a fan, blood splatter from various heights, blood splatter while walking, and then blood transfer.  The highlight of this activity was the unplanned blood splatter in stabbing. In all of the activities, we documented the size, shape, and characteristics of the blood splatter. Finally, we ended the day with a lesson on human behavior.  We began this activity by choosing between sets of two people who we would like to live beside.  We were given pictures of the person, his/her hobbies, and his/her occupation.  It took about three sets for us to figure out all of the people were famous serial killers.  This was a great day that gave the teachers who aren’t in the Interdisciplinary Science and Research, or ISR, classes an opportunity to really understand ISR, which provided a great foundation for our next day.

The third and fourth day of our externship were spent brainstorming, discussing, and planning the best ways to incorporate a new ISR lesson with a focus on the freshman class.  We began by looking at all of the lesson units for all of the ISR classes, and we decided to offer something unlike the others already available.  We chose a lesson on agricultural science with a focus on growing food for the community.  The students will have an opportunity to plant seeds, grow them, document changes during growth, create graphs, create marketing and business plans, and ultimately sell their produce at Stratford STEM Magnet High School.  This externship was a great experience, and the students at Stratford STEM Magnet are going to love this unit!!

Students from McGavock Vie for National “JA Company of the Year”

Local group of teen entrepreneurs to join 14 other teams in Washington, D.C., in June

Five Junior Achievement (JA) of Middle Tennessee students have been selected to compete for the title of “JA Company of the Year” at the Junior Achievement National Student Leadership Summit in Washington, D.C. The students will spend three days, June 16-18, in the nation’s capital, networking and competing with more than 100 other students from across the United States. Travel was sponsored by the Tennessee Valley Authority and Bradley Arant Boult Cummings.

The local students represent McGavock High School and comprise McBeanie & Co., one of only 15 teen teams invited to compete at the event as part of their participation in JA Company Program®. McGavock High School teacher Melinda Brown and community volunteer Jerome Terrell of TVA will accompany the students at the competition.

In JA Company Program, students start and run a real business enterprise under the guidance of a volunteer from the local business community. They devise and market a product or service and sell stock in their company. McBeanie & Co. sold beanie stocking caps to fellow students and teachers. Their product sold out in just two weeks and the students donated nearly $200 of their profits to the Nashville Rescue Mission. McBeanie & Co. President Klara Zenelaku was a Senior at McGavock last year. This was her second year in the JA Company Program and she plans to study entrepreneurship at Belmont University beginning this fall because of her experiences with Junior Achievement. She said, “I have always been interested in business but I did not know a lot about it. I got to experience different jobs and help my team this year. The program showed me that I really want to be a CEO someday and be my own boss.”

As part of the JA Company of the Year competition, teen entrepreneur teams produce a commercial about their company, are interviewed by—and make a presentation to—a judging panel of business leaders, and sell their product or service in a trade fair on Capitol Hill. The trade fair will take place on Tuesday, June 17 in the Hart Senate Office Building. The event is open to the public from 2:30 p.m. – 4:30 p.m. ET; free refreshments will be served.

The JA Company of the Year, along with the winners of several other awards, will be named at a gala awards dinner at the Ronald Reagan International Trade Center’s Pavilion Room the evening of June 18. The JA Company of the Year competition is co-sponsored by FedEx, NYSE Euronext Foundation, and Microsoft.

Planning with Partners

Finn Breeland, an Enrollment Management Specialist for the School of Computing and Informatics at Lipscomb University writes about his experience as an Academy Partner and the annual summer planning retreat. 


As a supporter of the Academies of Nashville, I was invited to come and support the Stratford STEM Magnet High School Academy of National Safety and Security Technologies during their end of year planning session today.  As a representative of higher learning, I know how valuable the relationships between businesses and academies can be.  Business partners get to interact with future employees, students, and colleagues while the academy students gain valuable context from the outside world.

At the planning session today, the Stratford crew took some time to get to know us with introductions and a “speed dating” style game where we got a chance to meet all the Stratford teachers and administrators present.  After we had a chance to brainstorm and discuss ways to interact, Ms. Green walked us through the academy mission, goals, and calendar for the 2014-15 school year.

I always enjoy attending these planning sessions because there is nothing more rewarding than investing in our future.  With the work that Stratford is doing to prepare the next generation of computing technologists and security professionals, we have a chance at closing the talent gap in an industry that is critical to our infrastructure.  Watch out for Stratford, and expect big things!

Planning for a New Year

Three days into summer break and teachers from Stratford STEM were back at work today planning for the upcoming school year. The team from the National Safety and Security Technologies Academy met to build on previous successes and plan for future domination. After the necessities of calendar and budget planning, ideas were presented for a large-scale Project Based Learning Event. Try to wait patiently; this event is going to be HUGE! After lunch teachers continued their retreat with our academy partners. We got to know one another and discuss even more ways that the business partners can assist in classroom activities. Together we are looking forward to a fantastic 2014-2015 school year.

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Our Summer Vacation: Planning for Next Year!

Stratford 1The Academy of Science and Engineering (ASE) team at Stratford STEM Magnet High School with business partners, parents, and students gathered for a day of preparation for the 2014-2015 school year. We brainstormed and planned ways to unify and support classes in Biology, English, History, Math, Spanish, and the three pathways: Biotechnology, Engineering, and Science. Consequently, we have our first of four project-based-learning (PBL) lesson plans in place. Each of the disciplines will offer a measurable product for the group PBL, which focuses on careers.

Another exciting result is a unified, succinct mission statement: “The ASE will prepare our students for college or careers in biotechnology, engineering, or science.” This mission statement clarifies our position and unifies our team.

Our group also decided to provide our students with ePortfolio requirements, which will be supported in all grades (9-12). The freshman academy begins the process, teaching students how to write a resume, which is posted to their portfolio. As students progress through high school, they will build upon this humble beginning, finishing their high school years with a professional portfolio to share with potential employers or colleges. Look for more details in the near future.

Stratford 2Stratford has been blessed with business partnerships. These business men and women attended our afternoon planning where they confirmed our mission statement and 2014-2015 goals. In addition, they agreed to host field trips, job-shadowing opportunities, and internships for our students. Other topics included how to connect the business partners to all of our classes through speaker opportunities and workshops, providing unique educational opportunities designed to assist students in choosing a career path and emphasizing 21st century employment skills.

The teachers, business partners, students, and parents were able to spend time questioning each other, one-on-one, regarding the best options for mutual support of our students and improving the Academy of Science and Engineering. This allowed all parties to pursue ways to interact in a more meaningful manner with our students that are efficient and prudent, maximizing student exposure to the professional community and providing esteem and respect for the teacher, the business community and Stratford High School.

Stratford 3We had a great day and are off to an excellent start on the 2014-2015 school year!

Once a Welder, Now a Teacher

Originally posted The New Teacher Project (TNTP) blog by Jennifer Heuertz.

What happens when you put high school students in classrooms led by practitioners with skills in a range of technical fields—nursing, welding, construction and more—but not much teaching experience? Can they be successful?

In Tennessee, we’re wrestling with those questions through the Occupational License New Teacher Training program, launched in 2013 in partnership with the TN Department of Education’s Division of Career and Technical Education (CTE). It’s part of Tennessee’s statewide effort to move away from the old model of vocational education, which often emphasized vocational skills at the expense of academic rigor, and embrace a new approach that exposes students to both academic and career-oriented coursework.

Why? Because while there are plenty of opportunities for well-paid careers in technical fields, those fields increasingly demand fluency in old fashioned skills like reading complex textual information, deciphering data, and communicating coherently in writing.

There are compelling reasons to give high school students access to lessons taught by experienced practitioners in career paths of their choosing: A nurse with 25 years’ experience has technical expertise that a non-practitioner won’t, and he or she will be uniquely positioned to engage and prepare students. But this non-traditional approach to high school education requires thinking outside the box of traditional teacher training, too.

The training program in Tennessee aims to bridge the gap between practitioners’ content knowledge and the best ways to convey that knowledge to high schoolers—without requiring them to leave their work to train as teachers full-time—through an intensive, five-day pre-service program. It’s not a full teacher training regimen. It’s a primer on the foundations of teacher practice. After training 175 CTE educators, we’ve learned that there a few strategies that are critical to making such a short training work:

Focus on the basics. In the pre-service training, new CTE educators focus on instructional planning, managing a classroom and assessing students. They spend time in small groups, developing curricula for the courses they’ll teach, and they practice implementing specific classroom management techniques, receiving feedback from colleagues and then implementing that feedback until they’ve mastered the skills. The CTE teachers get an introduction to the Common Core, too, and practice incorporating literacy skills into their lessons.

Learn from veterans. A key component of the training is that the lead facilitators are veteran CTE educators themselves. Many of these teachers come from the Academies of Nashville, a comprehensive, seven-year-old CTE program in Metro Nashville Public Schools that has seen great success with students. Because the cohorts of incoming CTE educators in each district tend to be small—sometimes less than ten teachers in a group—they’re able to get lots of focused time learning and receiving feedback from veteran CTE teachers.

Consider this the jumping off point. We don’t expect CTE educators to get everything they need out of five days. But the pre-service training aims to help them transition into the classroom by exposing them to the must-haves of classroom instruction. Chris Ottinger, a welder who now teaches at Byington-Solway Career and Technical Education Center in Knox County, TN, worked with adults for 15 years before he entered the classroom. He explains that the training helped him understand how to translate his welding and manufacturing craft into teachable components. Over their first three years in the classroom, CTE educators are tasked with continuing their training through a formal teacher preparation program that they can complete while teaching.


We have to be honest: With twelve different career clusters in the program, from architecture to law enforcement, this is incredibly challenging work. But we think getting highly skilled professionals into the classroom quickly, with students who stand to really benefit from their content knowledge and experience, is critically important.

Results from the Academies of Nashville suggest that when done well, robust CTE programs can have a powerful impact on student outcomes. Since the launch of the Academies in 2006, the graduation rate in Metro Nashville Public Schools has risen by 20.9 percent, surpassing the national graduation rate and graduating 18,000 more students than were projected to graduate at MNPS’ pre-Academies rate. Although we can’t attribute this gain solely to CTE, MNPS is receiving national attention for its innovative approach to connecting high school coursework and career pathways.

We’re excited to partner with Tennessee to bring passionate practitioners to CTE classrooms that need them. In the meantime, we’re learning a ton about how to best prepare these professionals for the challenging career shift to teaching. This is all part of diversifying the ways schools can serve students—with the goal of improving outcomes for all kids—and we’ll be keeping a close watch on where it leads.