Bailey teachers win contest for innovative lesson
Bailey teachers win contest for innovative lesson
Posted on 02/02/2016
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WEST HAVEN, Feb. 1, 2016 — Bailey Middle School teachers Matthew DiGioia and Sherry Mitchell work hard to develop unique and engaging lessons all the time to give students the best academic experience possible. But this year, one of those lessons was named among the top in the world and scored them 30 Chromebook laptops and more than 450 books for their classrooms.

The two eighth-grade teachers came in second place in education company Houghton Mifflin Harcourt’s Curious Classroom Contest for an interdisciplinary lesson plan they created (click for video about lesson) around a book called “The Martian,” and won the classroom computers and books as their prize.

On Friday morning, DiGioia and Mitchell surprised their students with the news, and HMH representatives officially presented them with the prizes in a short ceremony with Principal Anthony Cordone, Superintendent of Schools Neil C. Cavallaro and Board of Education Chairman James Morrissey.

HMH ran the contest this fall and asked teachers to submit short videos describing innovative tools or lessons that they’d created for their students. Contestants who entered videos in the competition were narrowed down to 20 finalists through a public vote, and a judging panel chose the winners.

“HMH gave teachers around the world the opportunity to showcase the great things that they do in their classrooms. It allowed us to really put forth something we knew our students would love to do—and they did enjoy doing it—and we were hoping we would win so we could also bring in that awesome technology for our students,” Mitchell, a Bailey science teacher, said during Friday’s ceremony.  “It was a great experience. We could not have done this without our kids.”

She then turned to her students, remarking, “We say all the time, are we teachers and you guys are students, or are we like a family?” “Family,” the students responded.

bailey collage

DiGioia, an English teacher, and Mitchell collaborated to create English language arts and science lessons and activities using “The Martian” to help teach students about the science behind realistic fiction. Because the book is loaded with math, science and historical data, it’s an ideal book to use across different subject area classes, DiGioia said.

Students were tasked with writing a story about what it would be like to be on Mars, and created a podcast—or audio recording—about the science behind the novel to work on their communication skills. Additional language arts activities incorporated predictions about what would happen next in the story and group work on its historical, social, political and economic themes.

The science portion of the unit gave students a chance to learn about gravity, ask questions about Mars and the book, and then research any of those topics before sharing results with the class. Students then used their research to tackle a “NASA Challenge” that was publicized by NASA this fall and asked participants to find ways Mars’ natural resources could be used in a cost-efficient manner to sustain human life.

bailey students

DiGioia and Mitchell, as well as teachers who are also on their same “team” at Bailey, will use the new Chromebooks in class for writing and editing shared documents and working on interactive educational websites, among other activities.

“HMH has provided our students with such a phenomenal opportunity by granting them more access to technology in our classrooms. Integrating technology promotes collaboration with peers, provides a more energetic atmosphere in the classroom​, and ensures students will be college- and career-ready,” DiGioia said. “We are especially interested in creating more interdisciplinary lessons that our students can work on continuously from classroom to classroom.”

He and Mitchell are still sorting through the novels, reference books and historical titles received from HMH; a set will be kept within their “team” rooms, while the rest will be used throughout the building.


The unit on “The Martian” will now be among the first resources added to the HMH Marketplace, an online program for educators to share lessons and ideas that will launch later this year.

"We really are so grateful to Houghton Mifflin Harcourt for providing us with this wonderful opportunity, and for giving all teachers a forum to show the innovative, creative and engaging lessons that they create for their students,” Mitchell said.