Archived Story

Inquiry-based learning at I.J. Holton Intermediate

Published 4:28pm Saturday, May 25, 2013

By Jean McDermott

I.J. Holton principal

Austin Public Schools is opening a new school in August 2013 that will house all fifth- and sixth-grade public school students from the Austin area.

Teaching and learning in the new intermediate school will have a STEAM focus — science, technology, engineering, arts and mathematics.

Inquiry-based, hands-on learning, supported by real life applications with local community partners, is the foundation of all programming at I.J. Holton Intermediate School, not only in the core classes of social studies, reading, math and science, but also the specialty classes of music, art, computer keyboarding, computer literacy, personal wellness and design lab.

The arts, as a creative discipline, include visual and media arts, music, theater, dance and literary arts. At I.J. Holton, students will have opportunities to participate in general music, band, choir and orchestra, as well as the visual arts and media arts. Artists and engineers use a similar design process in their work.

The arts teach children that problems can have more than one solution, that questions can have more than one answer. The arts celebrate multiple perspectives.

There are many ways to see and interpret the world. The arts teach children that in complex forms of problem solving purposes are seldom fixed, but change with circumstance and opportunity.

Learning in the arts requires the ability and a willingness to surrender to the unanticipated possibilities of the work as it unfolds. The arts teach students to think through and within a material. All art forms employ some means through which images become real. Art, like engineering, is concerned with finding answers to problems and seeking solutions using the design process.

Students in fifth- and sixth- grade will participate in a nine-week design lab course each year. The curriculum for this course is part of the Project Lead the Way program, which begins at the intermediate/middle school level and can be developed through high school.

The PLTW Gateway To Technology (GTT) program features a project-based curriculum designed to challenge and engage the natural curiosity and imagination of intermediate/middle school students. They envision, design and test their ideas with the same advanced modeling software used by companies like Lockheed Martin, Intel and Sprint.

They study mechanical and computer control systems; think robotics and animation.

The knowledge students gain and the skills they build from GTT create a strong foundation for further STEM learning in middle school, high school and beyond.

Fifth-grade students will have a nine-week course in design and modeling. In this unit, students begin to recognize the value of an engineering notebook to document and capture their ideas.

They are introduced to and use the design process to solve problems and understand the influence creative and innovative design has on our lives. Students use industry standard 3D modeling software to create a virtual image of their designs and produce a portfolio to showcase their creative solutions. Sixth-grade students will have a nine-week course in automation and robotics. Students trace the history, development and influence of automation and robotics.

They learn about mechanical systems, energy transfer, machine automation and computer control systems. Students use a robust robotics platform to design, build and program a solution to solve an existing problem.

Completion of the new building is scheduled for mid-July. In late July or early August, two weeks are scheduled to move curriculum materials from the elementary and middle schools to Holton and new furniture will be delivered and installed.

Teachers will be back in the building in late August and students arrive on Tuesday, Sept. 3. Many construction crews and educational staff are working diligently to be ready for our inaugural class of fifth- and sixth-grade students. A ribbon cutting and community open house is scheduled from 1 to 4 p.m. on Saturday, Sept. 28.

To learn more about the new I.J. Holton Intermediate school, log on to

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