A feature of the new Fort Dodge Middle School is organized learning communities called pods.
FDMS students will do all of their learning in these pods, which are uniform, but distinguished by grade-specific colors.
"A pod is just a small learning environment or learning community for our staff to take groups of students and bring them into certain areas of the building, in which the students will receive their core academics, in just that one pod or one area," Ed Birnbaum, FDMS principal, said. "The only time they will leave that area, to get other education, would be for exploratories or for lunch or some other activities that may take place inside the building."
On the first floor are the pods for the school's fifth- and sixth-graders.
"There are three-member teams. One teacher will teach science and social studies, and two other teachers, one math and one language arts, with sixth grade in that same pod, parallel that same set-up," Birnbaum said. "The teachers have, in that pod, access to special needs classroom, as well."
The first floor pods have seven rooms. The seventh- and eighth-grade pods on the second floor are designed differently, though.
"The second floor pods have a different number of rooms because of the different number of teams we have," Birnbaum said. "We have different numbers of teachers on each team. The fifth and sixth grade each have three-teacher teams and the seventh and eighth grade have five-member teams."
Otherwise, Birnbaum said, the pods follow the same basic principle.
"If you're walking down the hall and look in each pod you wouldn't be able to tell the difference from one pod to the other, other than the different colors they have," he said. "Once you get into the pod, they are structurally different."
The pods are also uniquely designed to meet teachers' needs.
"It will provide our teachers the opportunity to collaborate in that pod, not only with their fifth-grade teachers, but also do some vertical alignment with the sixth-grade teachers, as well," Birnbaum said. "There's a team room in each pod in which they can have those professional conversations that we understand are needed to evaluate what they're doing."
Students, Birnbaum said, also benefit from the facility's design.
"It's a good-sized building and we have a wide range of students," he said. "We're going to have students in the building who range from fifth-grade students, which you can call upper-level elementary, and eighth-grade students, which is middle school level. A big benefit is the students don't spend a lot of time moving through the building."
Because the pods are similar, the comfort of the students' learning environment continues throughout their four years at the school.
"The opportunity we will have is a fifth-grade and sixth-grade student can come into the building, recognize their area, get to feel comfortable within that area and start to explore and concentrate on their own educational needs, as opposed to a huge building," Birnbaum said.
"Research," he added, "says the more comfortable environment we can provide our students, the more learning can take place with that student."