Teachers Beam Up New Lesson Plans


Earth to Cmdrs. Celisa Edwards and Jayne Lawson: Your mission is to motivate.

The two teachers at Madison Middle School in North Hollywood show up to work every day dressed in red and black "Star Trek" costumes in an experiment to entice low-achieving students--called "cadets" in the classroom--to get hooked on science.

Each day, commanders and cadets embark on their lessons aboard the imaginary star ship Innerpride--not to be confused with the Enterprise of classic TV show fame.

Just before takeoff of the seven science classes co-taught by Edwards and Lawson, the cadets are divided into "alien teams," complete with a pilot.

Cadets proudly recite the day's mission as their commanders stand at attention. Recently, the cadets were assigned to study the human body's nervous, circulatory and digestive systems.

The two-week assignment will conclude this week when the Starfleet Institute of the Sciences, as the class is called, hosts the United Federation of Planets Medical Conference.

At the conference, the students will present their findings in detail to their classmates, complete with colorful graphics and charts.

If the curriculum sounds spacey, the teachers point to higher test scores for their sixth-, seventh- and eighth-grade students. Many of the youngsters are from low-income families with few English skills.

In the six years since the teachers began their "Star Trek"-themed science courses at Madison, they say, students' Stanford 9 achievement test scores have jumped 30% in language arts, and 85% of the low-performing students improved by at least one letter grade.

Seventh-grader John Chakyan, who nearly failed science last year, is getting an A this year, he said.

"Other classes, you just read a book and it's boring," said the 12-year-old. "In here, we have fun and we learn a lot."

The teachers said the course has affected more than just grades and test scores. They estimate that 90% of children who had behavioral or disciplinary problems improved vastly in those areas after joining the Starfleet Institute of the Sciences.

"It's highly successful and it's tremendously engaging," said Joanna Kunes, principal of Madison Middle School. "It has also encouraged attendance."

Some say Edwards' and Lawson's teaching methods are out of this world, including the Los Angeles Educational Partnership, which recently honored them with its excellence award and $5,000.

The nonprofit organization works with educators, business leaders and communities to improve education in the region and annually recognizes eight teams of teachers in the Los Angeles Unified School District for exceptional efforts, as measured largely by test scores.

Winners are chosen by a committee of educators and community members who scrutinize applicants and visit their classes several times.

"The committee was incredibly impressed with how these teachers engaged their students," said Dianne Glinos, project director for LAEP. "Middle school students are particularly tough to engage and these kids really learned science and took it seriously."

Edwards, 34, and Lawson, 45, decided to incorporate a popular television series into their classes after a school administrator recommended thematic teaching to motivate low-performing students.

The longtime friends, who commute together from Santa Clarita, figured the long-running "Star Trek" was popular enough that most kids could relate to it.

They decorated the classroom with "Star Trek" posters and life-sized cardboard figures of its most popular characters and bought uniforms for themselves.

The teachers say they were willing to do anything to help students learn science, even if it meant dressing in goofy outfits--which their own children made fun of at first.

"We have a lot of kids at risk of dropping out," Edwards said. "It's very difficult to get them enthusiastic about science. We were willing to go to any length."

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