published Tuesday, November 26th, 2013

Pam’s Points: Lessons in learning and history

Two students from Calvin Donaldson Environmental Science Academy make adjustments to their vehicle at a robotics tournament sponsored by TVA’s Partners in Education program on Signal Mountain.
Two students from Calvin Donaldson Environmental Science Academy make adjustments to their vehicle at a robotics tournament sponsored by TVA’s Partners in Education program on Signal Mountain.
Photo by Maura Friedman /Chattanooga Times Free Press.

Learning the fun way

Isn’t it amazing and gratifying to see what raised education standards and fun with a purpose can do?

In recent weeks, Hamilton County and Tennessee have gotten great news about school improvements: Tennessee made the largest gains of any state on the newest National Assessment of Educational Progress.

That’s due, of course, to hard work by teachers and students — but also to new teaching programs called TN Core (the Tennessee adaptation of Common Core) and STEM initiatives to boost student interest and understanding of science, technology, engineering and math.

In Hamilton County, a big part of STEM improvement can probably be traced to a booming after-school robotics program that looks like child’s play but is much, much more. Seeded with a $100,000 a year investment by the employees of Tennessee Valley Authority, students join robotics study groups that meet with a teacher/robotics coach once a week.

There, they use Lego kits and software programs to build robots that accomplish game board tasks for competitive scoring and a chance to compete at regional, state, national and international levels.

The robotics program is extremely popular here, and has grown in 10 years from a start in one Hamilton County school to about 30 elementary and middle schools. This year, the local competition is so fierce that a new local qualifier round was necessary.

So on Saturday, hundreds of students set their devices to work on game boards and mats and then tried to guide them to pick up toy people from a hurricane zone, or clear earthquake debris from a runway so a toy relief plane can land.

The only thing more fun than participating and watching was the learning.

Kudos, teachers! Thanks, TVA workers!

Scottsboro Boys finally get pardons

It only took 80 years, but Alabama’s parole board finally righted a wrong.

Of course the three men who were pardoned this week are dead, but the news of a new ending for the infamous “Scottsboro Boys” rape case is better late than never, according to Sheila Washington, founder of the Scottsboro Boys Museum in DeKalb County, about 60 miles southwest of Chattanooga.

Washington said the pardons for Charles Weems, Andy Wright and Haywood Patterson “give the history books a new ending, ‘not guilty.’”

The Scottsboro Boys case came to symbolize racial injustice in the South in the 1930s. Nine black males were falsely accused of raping two white women on a train in Northeast Alabama in 1931. They were convicted by all-white juries and all but the youngest was sentenced to death. Five of the convictions — those against Olen Montgomery, Ozie Powell, Willie Roberson, Eugene Williams and Roy Wright — were overturned in 1937 after one of the alleged victims recanted her story. Their appeals resulted in landmark Supreme Court rulings that criminal defendants are entitled to effective counsel and that blacks can’t be systematically excluded from criminal juries.

One defendant, Clarence Norris, received a pardon before he died in 1976. At the time, he was the only defendant thought to be living. The other three were not pardoned then because the law did not permit posthumous pardons. Republican state Sen. Arthur Orr, of Decatur, decided it was time to make amends, so he drafted legislation to permit posthumous pardons. The Legislature passed the bill in April.

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