Downingtown STEM Academy

Downingtown STEM Academy
"Effort Creates Intelligence"

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

"Effort Creates Intelligence"

The Downingtown STEM Academy opened this fall with 425 students in grades 9 and 10.  The inaugural class will be part of an innovative and effective methodology of teaching and learning. The STEM Academy is focused on our students and providing them with the skills to be successful at post-secondary education and beyond. STEM Academy students will be engaged in rigorous, challenging academic work that will require a mindset of growth and effort.  The instructional philosophy of the Academy is rooted in brain research and pedagogical practice of inquiry. 

The Academy is a very different high school. Students will be engaged in a project and inquiry based mode of instruction. The typical approach of lecture, note taking, recall, and multiple choice assessments is not present in the Academy. Our primary mode of delivery is students discovering their understandings through inquiry and collaboration.

Below is some information regarding the Academy philosophy from our Headmaster, George F. Fiore.
    Effort Creates Intelligence
    I am very excited for the 450 students that will enter the Academy in August of this year. The opportunities for academic, social, and personal growth are endless. The key to success in the Academy is effort. I heard a lot of feedback from parents about the slogan at the top of our acceptance letter and the STEM Academy website, "Effort Creates Intelligence." The responses from most were of intrigue and others wondering, "what does this mean?" The philosophy is steeped in brain and psychological research. This is a core belief of our school and for our students. 

    I believe there are three myths about effort that are pervasive in American culture. The first myth is that intelligence is fixed and cannot be modified. Regardless of external interventions, teaching, parental supports, opportunity, have no effect on the intelligence of a child. This mindset is not only incorrect but is dangerous to the growth of an individual. It basically sets a ceiling for growth. The second  myth about effort is that some teachers and parents say to students- "Try Harder!" The problem with this statement is very few students know what it means to try harder. Not only do we have to teach students what focused, purposeful effort "looks like," but modeling effective work habits is essential in and out of the classroom. The third myth in American culture is that if one has to work hard or spend significant time doing a particular task, they are not "smart." Being a former history teacher I cannot help but recall what drove the United States from an agricultural society to an industrial giant to a world superpower- the American work ethic. Most of our grandparents grew up hearing that if you worked hard and cared about others, you would lead a relatively successful life. Somewhere along the way that belief has faded. At the Academy, effort is the key that will unlock academic success. It is appropriate that the STEM Academy building is a 1933 Works Progress Administration project centered around the early American work ethic philosophy. We have resurrected the building and along with it the importance of effort.

    All children are born with various gifts. Some students are able to process information quickly. Some are able to throw a baseball harder than their peers. Others are able to write beautifully. In all of these areas, students are able to get better over time through practice, teaching, opportunity, and environment. 

    So, what does this mean at the Academy?

    The staff at the Academy is focused upon the process of learning rather than the product as the sole measure of student success. This is also a core tenet of the International Baccalaureate curriculum. We are not discounting achievement by no means and if we focus on the methods and means of working towards an outstanding product that reflects the effort put forth, students will achieve. This summer, the Academy staff will be reading "Mindset: The New Psychology of Success" by Carol Dweck. The book focuses on the two types of mindsets people employ in the world- those with a fixed mindset and those with a growth mindset. Dweck details the profound impact of ones' mindset upon success. I would encourage all Academy parents to read the book. Not only has it given me a wider perspective as an educator but also as a father of the two smartest children on earth :)

    Carol Dweck: Mindset Interview

    Here are some links that can give you some more background on the Effort Creates Intelligence philosophy. This is also a good time for all of us to model effort!
    1. Mindset website- try the quiz at the bottom of the page
    2. Wikipedia- summary of the book
    3. Making America Smarter- Dr. Lauren Resnick of the University of Pittsburgh. Great article on effective instruction, misuse of IQs, and misunderstanding of aptitude. PDF download.