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Inquiry approach aims to inspire
Liberty Middle launches new program
Team WEB 1
Liberty Middle teacher Sarah Loftus leads students in a writing exercise Saturday during a preview of the iTeam program. - photo by Autumn Vetter

Some Liberty Middle School students got a hands-on introduction to a new program during an open house Saturday.

A blindfolded student guessed that he had been sticking his hand in a bowl filled with oats — something he had helped bake with at home a few days earlier.

Teacher Alyssa Emert didn’t say if the answer was correct, but she praised the method he used to reach a conclusion.

“You connected the experience to real life,” Emert said. “That’s what iTeam’s all about.”

Liberty will pilot the iTeam program this year with some seventh-graders who opted to participate in the inquiry-based learning style.

The teaching method puts students at the helm of questioning and making connections, said iTeam social studies teacher Misty Williams.

“It’s not just finding the answer but finding out why it’s the answer, and learning for them to question themselves,” Williams said. “Even if we give them an answer, they should be thinking, ‘How did she get to that answer?’”

A brochure from the school defines it as “a student-centered and teacher-guided instructional approach that engages students in investigating real world questions that they choose within a broad thematic framework.”

Emert, the iTeam math teacher, said each discipline taught will work together on themed concepts so the students can connect ideas from one class to another.

The teachers will “loop” with the students, so they’ll all move to teach these groups in eighth grade next year, Emert said.

“[The parents] are excited,” she said. “They’re like this is cool, this is new. We want our kids to be able to think. And that’s the thing — to be able to think individually.”

Students said the new learning approach stirred them to sign up for the iTeam.

The real world applications in the lessons grabbed Selia Elliott’s attention.

“Last year, when we were learning, I felt like, ‘Why are we learning this? How are we going to use this in the world?’” Elliott said.

The five teachers each took two of the 10 words expressing the ideas of the program for the open house to introduce students and parents to the ideals of the school year.

Emert touted “courage” and “integrity” in giving students the opportunity to stick their hands in an unknown substance blindfolded and asking them not to reveal the secrets to another group.

Science teacher Chris Cummo gave students a difficult team logic problem to emphasize “self-discipline” and “cooperation.”

He said the same problem is given to people interviewing for top positions at Microsoft, and Bill Gates won’t interview candidates who can’t figure it out.

Liberty Principal Connie Stovall said the five teachers and two assistants prepared for about 750 hours during the summer to launch the program.

The “I” in the title stands for “inquiry-based,” as well as “inspire,” which Stovall hopes the new program will do.

“We can inspire other students and teachers to try new methods,” she said.