Inspired to innovate

Emily Brandon, statistics teacher at Strasburg High School, inspects dice as her students play Liar's Dice on Thursday. The game was part of Innovation Day at the school. Rich Cooley/Daily

STRASBURG – Imagine using a canal system to travel around town. Think of the money saved by using water-powered electricity, or the health and environmental benefits of planting a rooftop garden.

These are some of the ideas 11th and 12th grade students at Strasburg High School had while participating in a town redesign project for Thursday’s Innovation Day.

The day of games, exhibits and various lessons was part of Shenandoah County Public Schools’ role in American Education Week, which ends today. Special events this week also encouraged area businesspeople and state and local government officials to see firsthand what schools have been achieving and are planning for the future.

Innovation Day at Strasburg High encouraged students to think about education in new ways. In Earth science, they rotated through stations offering exhibits on Virginia topography or soil samples.

An experiment on how much pebbles would erode when shaken in a container of water for a few seconds produced surprising results.

Starting at 10 grams of pebbles, ninth grader Abbey Rinker whittled them down in mere seconds to 9.4 grams and then to 8.9 grams.

Emily Brandon’s probability and statistics students played Liars Dice, a game she derived from a dice game featured in the “Pirates of the Caribbean” movies, to determine the odds of rolling various number combinations.

“It’s a very competitive, very smart group,” she said. Their enthusiasm for the game lasted the entire 90-minute block.

Later that morning she planned to lead geometry students in making a clinometer from a protractor, string and a straw to measure angles on structures of the school’s football field.

“They get very into these games,” Brandon said.

For a more energy-efficient Strasburg, students in Tara Dean’s ecology class borrowed ideas from other areas as close as Woodstock and as far away as Italy.

“They’re most excited when they’re invested in the town,” Dean said. After completing the project, students may attend town meetings to discuss their ideas for structural improvements to the town.

Ideas included reducing gas emissions by instituting an electrical trolley system and using underground geothermal water lines to heat or cool homes and businesses.

Building homes and businesses closer together would reduce the need to drive around town so much, said senior Kayla Beaty, 17.

Chris Saville, a 17-year-old junior, would make the town circular, encourage more walking and bike riding, and dam off part of the Shenandoah River to create hydroelectric power.

Residents could still drive through town if they wanted to, he said. “We’re trying to make it to where you wouldn’t have to.”

Also this week, Ashby Lee Elementary School in Quicksburg unveiled its 3D printer, Sandy Hook Elementary in Strasburg held a math night, Signal Knob Middle in Strasburg welcomed its MakerSpace program with a ribbon-cutting event, and students at W.W. Robinson Elementary in Woodstock displayed projects made in their STEM units.

Members of the School Board and county Board of Supervisors also planned to attend several events. It was the first time the county participated to great extent in American Education Week, according to Superintendent Jeremy Raley.

Organized by the National Education Association, the nationwide effort was first observed in 1921.

“We’re looking forward to sharing the successes of our school division with the community,” Raley said.

In preparation for a new science unit at North Fork Middle School in Quicksburg, John Woods’ sixth grade students spent Thursday studying ways in which the division might use alternative energy methods to potentially diminish the more than $1 million spent on energy each year.

The idea for the new unit came in part from a problem-based learning seminar Woods attended last summer. He said it encourages more student participation by offering hands-on lessons geared toward answering questions instead of just teaching from the text.

“Problem-based learning produces better learning and better gains in science instruction,” he said.

At the end of the unit, which he co-wrote with Christine Richmond, science teacher at Peter Muhlenberg Middle School in Woodstock, he plans a January forum in which student “experts” can discuss what they learned and how the division might implement some of their ideas.

“We’re going to be doing some totally cool stuff,” Woods said.

Contact staff writer Josette Keelor at 540-465-5137 ext. 176, or jkeelor@nvdaily.com>