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Weston’s AIM program hits the target

The Academic Innovation and Measurement (AIM) Project is in the home stretch and things are on the mark, according to Weston Assistant Schools Superintendent Kenneth Craw.

AIM is a three-year pilot development and assessment program for grades K-12 that was funded in part by the schools, a grant from the Weston Education Foundation, and donations from the PTOs.

The program is now in its third and final year of implementation, and Dr. Craw said most Weston teachers have been trained in the AIM approach and the program is running well.

The major expense for running AIM has been utilizing participants from the Teachers College of Columbia University to do program assessments. They provided an objective perspective to ensure the program’s validity and reliability.

This will be Columbia’s last year in Weston. Dr. Craw said there has been enough training done in the schools so assessments can now be done in-house.

Under AIM, students study the same subjects they always did. The difference is how students work through problems in order to get to an answer.

Instead of standard multiple choice, right or wrong tests, students tackle problems more creatively.

To better prepare students for the 21st Century, AIM has five basic skills it tests for: critical thinking, creative thinking, collaboration, communication, and global perspectives.

Students are directed to apply their thinking to real-life problems; engage in creative thinking to solve problems; discuss, present, and defend their work, work effectively as part of a team; and develop global awareness.

Utilizing AIM techniques, Dr. Craw said the goal is for Weston public schools to set higher standards of learning than those prescribed by the Connecticut State Department of Education.

Smooth transition

Barbara George, a seventh grade social studies teacher at Weston Middle School, said it has been a smooth transition for her to re-design her course units to be more in line with AIM.

For example, one of the units she teaches is about declining world population. In the past, students would have been taught traditionally through books. With AIM, the course is taught differently.

To start the unit off, Ms. George first assessed the class’s basic understanding of the issue.

Students were then asked to answer an essential question: How do changes in population affect people and places around the world?

Students analyzed and interpreted population pyramids and graphs to examine population trends and evaluate a variety of solutions to population issues.

Finally, the students were asked to tackle a local population issue — the declining enrollment of Weston public schools. They were asked to develop solutions, if any, to Weston’s demographic needs.

Instead of just studying numbers and facts in books, the students watched a video from Superintendent Colleen Palmer giving her perspective about declining enrollment. First Selectman Gayle Weinstein also gave the class her perspective.

The students were asked what they thought about the declining enrollment, what recommendations they would make, and defend their decisions. “This approach allowed students to work on an issue that was near to them, and encouraged them to analyze and synthesize information,” Ms. George said.

Instead of focusing on straightforward right or wrong answers, with AIM, answers are based on more creative and critical thinking.

“I am seeing good results from the kids with AIM. They are getting more of the skills they’ll need to move forward. We need critical thinkers in a more mobilized world,” Ms. George said.

Fresh look

Because of AIM, Dr. Craw said has noticed teachers taking a fresh look at their teaching units and how to present them. “It changes the way we look at a student’s work. We want students to learn how to approach a problem,” he said.

With AIM, students are asked to apply what they know to a new problem in a real world context. “We’re seeing increased engagement where the kids are excited about what they’re learning,” Dr. Craw said.

A fifth grade class had an interesting AIM experience, skyping with a class in Canada, giving the students a unique opportunity to look at another culture. “Collaboration is not just face to face in the classroom. Students can collaborate across the world through electronic means,” Dr. Craw said.

In the long run, Dr. Craw said the AIM approach will help students thrive in a world that keeps changing. “We’re looking to push the envelope in a way that is supportive so students will have the skills they need,” he said.

Because AIM is a new initiative, Weston is ahead of the curve in its implementation, Dr. Craw said. Other school districts grappling with the same challenges as Weston are now looking to the district for inspiration. “A representative from another district recently contacted us and asked to visit Weston to see AIM in action. That’s very positive,” Dr. Craw said.

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