"This is not activity-mania, there's a time you have to put it all together. It has to be a supplement to meet core content," said Watkins.
"You experience it yourself, you don't just read about what others have experienced," said fourth-grader Summer Sebastian as she dissected her mock rock.
The hands-on lesson learned in Watkins' classroom is just part of the new science and math program at McKinney. With the guidance of a regional teacher partner, Gloria Davis, McKinney students are using manipulatives to learn arithmetic as well. Rather than writing an equation on paper or reading rules from a textbook, students are using physical materials, such as colored tiles or patterned blocks, to learn equation solutions.
"They have a center where they can go and select different manipulatives to solve this problem," said Davis.
Davis said McKinney Elementary was chosen by the state to house a regional teacher partner because of their willingness to improve.
"Not all schools are ready to do this. It's actually hard to find one. They have to go through reculturing first, change the perspective of what their needs are, priorities are," said Davis. "I think children here are most fortunate because they identify children and learning at the top of their list of priorities."
In order to help the school achieve those goals, Davis has helped teachers and parents come together to further their child's educational experiences.
"Parent's get a family letter about six to nine times a year that tells them exactly what they are working on in their class and what they can do at home." said Davis. "It gives them examples of simple little activities they can do to reinforce what's happening at school."
While helping the teachers at McKinney enhance their classwork, Davis is also continuing her education. For one week in the summer and two days a month she meets with a teacher-mentor.
"We have a plan for personal growth and improvement as well as the growth and improvement of the school I'm working with," said Davis. "It's been a personal growth experience for me, because I've learned so much."
As Davis and her fellow educators grow beyond textbooks and chalk dust, their unique perspectives of classroom education can be seen in the faces of students, even when picking away at mock rocks and fish gravel.
"It involves a different way of teaching and a different way of learning," said Davis. "It's just a whole different look at education."