Sigsbee Charter School has received a $500,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Defense Education Activity for students grades 3 to 8 in Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) through a Problem-Based Learning curriculum.
Problem-based learning is a teaching method in which complex real-world problems are used as the vehicle to promote student learning of concepts and principles as opposed to direct presentation of facts and concepts
Sigsbee Charter School serves military-dependent students from all five branches of the Armed Forces alongside students from the local civilian population and has established innovative partnerships with eight local military installations and environmental agencies. This federal grant will address challenges including diminished participation in STEM courses during the Past two years, issues with the sustainability and transferability of curriculum, and a decline in students’ mental wellness since the COVID-19 pandemic, charter school principal Elisa Jannes said
To increase student’s self-efficacy in STEM, Sigsbee educators will create a Problem-based learning curriculum that is transferable and sustainable, as well as implement problem-based learning tasks that deepen community and military partnerships with the school. Local Sigsbee partners include Reef Relief, Mote Marine Laboratory, The College of the Florida Keys and the local military installations, Jannes said.
“With the DoDEA grant, we will be able to strengthen our partnerships with these military installations and foster students’ passion for pursuing a military career in STEM,” said Lisa Fox, STEM coach at the Sigsbee School. “For instance, we hope to work with the Coast Guard and teach students about marine engineering.”
Mote Marine Laboratory taught sixth-grade students about coral reefs and how the reef structure buffers the shores against waves from hurricanes and tropical storms. Students build coral reefs to simulate how they can withstand strong waves. Similarly, in lower grades, students learn about the impacts of hurricanes and create structures to prevent flooding damage to homes.
During the next five years, the DoDEA will closely monitor the planning and implementation of this grant as Sigsbee Charter School works to increase students’ self-efficacy in STEM and create a sustainable STEM curriculum centered around Problem-Based Learning, according to Jannes.
DoDEA’s Education Partnership and Resources Division strives to ensure all military-connected kindergarten through 12th grade students have access to quality educational opportunities through engagement in partnerships with school districts and professional organizations. The division provides school personnel and stakeholders with evidence-based resources and supports to increase understanding and awareness related to the unique challenges faced by military-connected students and families.
Sigsbee Charter School was founded in 2010 as a public charter school and currently serves about 550 students. The Department of Defense Education Activity is a field activity of the Office of the Secretary of Defense. DoDEA’s mission is to plan, direct, coordinate, and manage the education programs for eligible dependents of U.S. military personnel and civilian personnel of the Department of Defense. The DoDEA has congressional authority to provide resources to public schools to support the continuity of education for military-connected students through a competitive grant program. DoDEA’s vision of “Excellence in education for every student, every day, everywhere” is realized through this partnership with public school districts.
Sigsbee Charter School has been awarded $1.5 million from three DoDEA grant awards since 2010. From 2010 to 2015, DoDEA gave $540,000 to Sigsbee’s Keys to Success: Service for Learning. From 2015 to 2020, DoDEA gave the school’s Project USA: Understand, Support and Achieve $500,000. And from now until 2025, DoDEA is funding the school’s What’s The Problem project with $500,000, Jannes said.
The grants aim to close achievement gaps between military-connected students and their classmates in Mathematics and Science and to increase engagement in STEM for all students. Project strategies use STEM-based field experiences that capitalize on the ecology of the local environment to increase engagement, Jannes said.
Community involvement is a critical component in all DoDEA grant projects. Local environmental agencies such as Reef Relief, Mote Marine Laboratory, and the Key West Botanical Gardens partner with the school to provide field-based experiences and onsite visits. Active duty service members from local installations such as Naval Air Station Key West, the United States Coast Guard Sector Key West and the Joint Interagency Task Force South collaborate with the school on the school curriculum. The Key West Military Affairs Committee adopted Sigsbee Charter School into its bylaws to formalize a support network between the military installations, Jannes said.
An example of problem-based learning at Sigsbee include students in the seventh grade studying the impact humans have on the coral reef. Educators from Reef Relief provide on-campus instruction to students and extend their learning through snorkeling trips at local beaches. The students apply their learning by taking water samples and examining sea life. They then travel to the Dry Tortugas and participate in a comparative study. Students are fully immersed in learning about relevant environmental problems, Jannes said
“We need to capitalize on our incredible landscape as a tool for learning. All students thrive when they are engaged in active learning that is meaningful and relevant,” Jannes said. “Through problem-based learning, students are able to see how their learning can change the world.”