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Flowery Branch charter school focuses on science, math, technology
Lynn Farr, a teacher at Martin Technology Academy of Math and Science, gives her third-grade students a lesson in gravity during her “What’s the Matter?” class that teaches youngsters about matter.

Charting new territory

Many schools in the Hall County and Gainesville systems have charters, allowing them more flexibility. They may be exempt from some rules and policies, and in exchange must meet certain objectives specified in their charter. Today, The Times continues a weekly series on new local charter schools with a look at Martin Technology Academy of Math and Science.

Other stories in the series:

Wauka Mountain Multiple Intelligences Academy

McEver Arts Academy

Chestatee Academy of Inquiry and Talent Development: Coming Nov. 9


As students step into most elementary schools, it’s time to power down by putting away the iPods and other handheld devices.

But not at Martin Technology Academy of Math and Science.

The Flowery Branch charter school, established in June, is using technology to prepare students for 21st century jobs.

Devices such as iPods, laptops and video cameras are used in the curriculum. The school has a stash of 40 iPods and 20 laptops that are circulated among classrooms, Martin technology coach Courtney Carver said. Oftentimes, the children have already used the equipment at home.

“You have to get over that hurdle that they know more than you do sometimes,” Carver said.

Principal Tamara Etterling said the academy aims to offer hands-on learning.

Many lessons are immersed in math, science and technology, and each grade level has its own theme. For example, third-graders are labeled “archeologists” and practice a fossil dig during the school year; second-graders are known as “biologists.”

Despite the academy’s name, students don’t need to feel committed to becoming a scientist one day, Etterling said.

“We want to create problem solvers,” Etterling said. “Students are using their own curiosities to explore and create.”

Once a week, children take a specialty class based on a math or science standard, such as “What’s the Matter?,” a class on volume and measurement.

On Thursday, Marla Griffin, a substitute teacher for Heather Riley, taught part of a disappearing unit, showing students the effects of Clorox and other cleaning agents on cloth.

Third-grader Josiah Sanchez said the class sparked his curiosity.

“I like it because I like observing things and seeing what happens next,” he said.

The school uses what is known as inquiry-based learning, Etterling said. In this method, children bring their own questions to learning, investigate to satisfy their own answers and design ways to try out their ideas.

One way they’re doing that this year is by communicating with “pen pals” in Hawaii. Only they’re not using pens and paper, they’re blogging and e-mailing and may have a vide conference later in the year.

“Imagine what they could see from video across the world,” Carver said of the effort.

Teachers in areas such as physical education and art also find creative ways to embrace the math and science focus.

Art teacher Kay Cowherd said the school is still held to state art standards, but she uses about half of her lesson time to reinforce topics learned in other classes.

When her students study star patterns for example, she will help them create pinhole constellations, she said.

“It gives them more opportunities to understand the material,” she said.

Etterling said the school is accountable for state guidelines, and subjects such as social studies and reading are still emphasized.

Etterling said a long-term hope is to teach students skills they can use later in life, possibly on the job. She adds that the nation is falling further behind in the math and science fields.

“We hope to get some of the children interested in the sciences as a career some day,” she said.