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Battle teachers talk about building their programs

Wednesday, May 22, 2013 | 6:00 a.m. CDT

COLUMBIA — Katie Cox, who will head Battle High School’s language arts department, said the school's mission statement is: "Equip and empower the leaders of tomorrow in the disciplines of academic excellence and social responsibility."

The mission was created by incoming teachers and administrators at Battle as they envision building a school from the ground up. It is meant to infuse how Battle stakes its claim in the Columbia community.

Cox and other department heads are beyond the dreaming stage. They are actively shaping their niche in educating future Battle students. The Columbia Missourian talked with those department heads who had been hired as of April 12.

Social studies

Susie Adams, a social studies teacher at Jefferson Junior High School who will lead Battle's social studies department, said her team has made a point to become close-knit by meeting each other’s families and spending time together.

"I want us to be an awesome department," Adams said. "We want kids to say, ‘I want to take social studies. Those classes have great teachers.'"

Three teachers are coming from Oakland Junior High School and four from Jefferson Junior High School, so there already are good connections among them, she said. But now they need to come together as one unit.

Because the students are coming from different schools as well, Adams wants to keep one question foremost in mind: What is best for our kids?

Adams is excited about incorporating a "one-to-one initiative" — in which each student and teacher gets an iPad Mini for educational purposes — into social studies classes. She said the social studies teachers will get related training so they can get the most out of the technology.

Mathematics

Josephus Johnson, a math teacher at West Junior High School who will lead Battle's math department, said he is disappointed when he hears people say they don’t use math. But he sees an opportunity to change that by how the new math department goes about its teaching.

"We can start from the ground up and make it what we want," Johnson said.

Johnson does not want math to be an exercise in sitting at a desk doing the same problems over and over. He is looking for ways to break the mold and have students investigate new information on their own, and he wants what students learn in math classes to be relevant across other classes.

Johnson wants to also use the iPad Mini initiative to advance their learning through multimedia projects. He went to a conference in Denver in April to further his knowledge about ways to use multimedia in the classroom.

His plan is to create the Future Problem Solvers Club, which will integrate the math and science departments so students are using all of the things they learn. The club's mission is to engage students in creative problem-solving, in some cases at a global level.

Science

Marsha Tyson, a science teacher at Oakland Junior High School who will lead Battle's science department, believes the teachers coming to Battle are risk takers.

"They are stepping off into the unknown," Tyson said. "They are willing to take the leap." 

Within the science team, her goal is to implement technology in the classroom through uniformity of tools used in every science class. These tools will include programs such as LabQuest 2, a device used to collect data, and a graphical analysis application for the iPad.

Tyson said the teachers and the students will embrace using new technology together, but she acknowledged that some students have an advantage over some teachers.

"The students are going to teach us," she said. "We will learn together."

Before school starts in August, she and other science teachers will learn as much as they can at presentations and seminars throughout country, including in New Orleans, San Antonio and at home in Columbia.

Tyson wants to make the material the students are learning in the classroom applicable to their everyday life. She is going to teach courses on the laws of motion andwhat they have to do with driving a car.

Tyson also is excited about a forensics course that will be piloted at Battle next year.

Language arts

As a teacher at Oakland Junior High in English, reading and journalism, Katie Cox, who will lead Battle's language arts department, wants to incorporate what the teachers on her team have done in their schools into a new collaboration at Battle.

Cox said new academic standards, known as Common Core State Standards, will result in some changes. Classes will be more in-depth and more specific to each grade level. Cox said her department is trying to retool what they already have to fit the new standards.

The standards require students at every grade level to be proficient in certain skills by the end of the year. Cox and other language arts teachers are making sure that every text and unit of instruction they want to teach can fulfill those curriculum standards. 

She also wants to bring her language arts department to the 21st century, including using e-books as much as possible on the iPad Minis.

Electives next year will include public speaking, debate, yearbook and journalism. Cox said they are looking into having an online newspaper. 

Instrumental music

Bob Thalhuber, assistant band director at Rock Bridge High School and future band and orchestra director at Battle, already is working with students. Battle's drum line practices every Monday at Oakland Junior High School, and the color guard practices every Tuesday and Thursday at Lange Middle School.

In addition to a marching band, Battle will have two large-ensemble concert bands, one jazz band and an orchestra during the first year Battle is open. The music literature they will play is still undecided, though.

"We don’t know what we will play yet because we don’t know what specific talent we will have," Thalhuber said.

Thalhuber helped customize the band room to fit the needs of the program. A second floor was added to create more practice rooms.

Doors were put into the band room to directly access the theater.

Thalhuber is looking into getting a music application for the iPad called SmartMusic. This application will allow students to record themselves performing a song that they can then submit to a grade book electronically.

This application can also project sheet music onto the screen allowing students to follow the notes while they play, he said. The application will tell students when they hit notes correctly and incorrectly.

Vocal music

One of Jazz Rucker's favorite features of Battle High School is the theater.

"It’s a dedicated space designed to treat music the way it should be treated," said Rucker, who teaches vocal music at Lange Middle School and will lead the vocal music department at Battle.

The 750-seat theater will include an established pit, or a room under the stage that is covered by a metal grate. The grate can be painted to match the set decorations and can be danced on by the actors. This way, no stage space is lost.

Another feature of the theater will be the ability to manage the stage lights and microphones from backstage. 

Rucker will direct the fall musical, probably in October. But, like Thalhuber, he needs to see what particular talents the new students bring.

Rucker hopes to add a show choir and maybe some a cappella groups next year. He also will teach a class in musical theater production in which students will learn  singing, acting, dancing, set design, lighting and sound techniques.

Rucker is excited about getting to use a Disklavier piano. This piano can play music on its own, without a human operator. "This way we can maximize the learning in the classroom by meeting different needs at the same time," he said.

This graphic shows the logo, colors, motto and merchandise for Battle High School. Graphic by Ruisha Qian


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