Ocean City Primary School implements weekly ‘Power Hour’

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OCEAN CITY – Last year, while preparing for standardized testing, third-graders at Ocean City Primary School participated in what is called a “Power Hour” and its success led to the expansion of the educational concept to a weekly format that will include second-graders, too.

At a Wednesday, Aug. 28 meeting of the Ocean City Board of Education, school district curriculum directors Mikenzie Helphenstine and Curt Nath explained the concept.

“It’s all project-based,” she said.

Each Monday, students will work in small groups, rotating through different teachers and different classmates. Students will be appropriately placed by academic levels to work on projects based on learning assignments.

“All of the students will be working on the same thematic unit during the course of each trimester,” Helphenstine said.

For second-graders, themes include dinosaurs, communities and animals. Third-graders will focus on the weather, merchants, including monetary values and how to make change at a cash register; and animals and their environment.

The Power Hour is anything but boring, Nath said.

“It’s not going to be an hour of ‘This is a stegosaurus,’” he said. “It’s going to be imaginative, artistic and creative.”

Power Hour, he said, will allow teachers to increase their focus on each student’s unique set of strengths, challenges, interests and learning styles. Weaknesses and strengths, he said, will become obvious and teachers will be able to help each student learn to achieve.

“All teachers and students will be working on particular skills that are related to the Common Core Curriculum Standards and the New Jersey Core Content Standards within the theme of the trimester,” Helphenstine said.  

The concept is thinking outside the box in a big way, Helphenstine said.

“It’s a different way, with different views from a different teacher. It will refresh learning for the students,” she said.

Title I teachers and inclusion teachers will be able to assist students with any accommodations and maximize learning. Learning will be on a one-on-one basis, and have a broader impact, she said.

“It’s much easier to manage a small group,” she said.

Nath said the concept tests the conventional learning process.

“There is a belief that there is only one way to present information,” he said. “This mixes it up.”

Nath said a student could be a brilliant mathematician, but the talent might be hidden. He said looking at a math problem in a different way may flush out all kinds of hidden skills and talents. 

Last year, Power Hour was strictly utilized for testing preparation, but it didn’t take long for teachers to realize that the concept could benefit the students exponentially.

“We saw they were engaged, and when students are engaged it leads to learning,” Helphenstine said.

The test prep was akin to a pep rally before the New Jersey ASK test, and it was “something different and exciting,” she said.

“The students didn’t understand what they were getting out of it,” said Helphenstine, adding that the teachers did. “We sort of tricked them into it. They discovered that learning can be fun.”

Helphenstine said Power Hour brought increased academic achievement and engagement.

“This allows for K-12 alignment with the intermediate school’s enrichment program,” she said, adding that it also continues the districtwide theme and emphasis of making a personalized connection with the students.

The staff, she said, was able to create more individualized learning plans for each student.

Helphenstine saw the numerous up sides of Power Hour first hand.

“Power Hour helps each student actively engage in the learning process, build necessary skills, achieve success in all subject areas and come to understand that their own learning styles in ways that strengthen their learning skills and abilities for life,” she said.

“We are always looking for ways to make things better and better,” she said.  “We want to keep the kids engaged. They were excited by the test prep, we hope this continues.”


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