We design innovative curriculum for deeper learning. What does this mean for students? And for teachers?
Explore challenging questions
Young children (as well as experienced philosophers) have many essential questions about the world, such as: Who am I? Who are the other people around me, and in other parts of the world? How should you treat other people? Who is the boss and why? How do I fit into the universe? Where do my emotions come from? How can I handle them? What does it mean to be alive? What is the world made up of? Why do things look and feel the way that they do? Our curriculum materials focus on essential, open-ended questions such as these articulated by Howard Gardner.
(Picture above: a caption from a book published the students of Capital City Public Charter School, entitled “An A to Z Book of Homelessness”. In this learning expedition, 8-9 year-old children explored questions such as: What does it feel like to live on the streets? What do you need to survive? Where could you get help, if you wanted to?)
Learn more independently
Most would probably agree that independence is an important (if not the most important) goal of education. Daily pressures, however, may pull teachers in the opposite direction. Sometimes it may be quicker and easier to teach children what they need to know, as opposed to allowing them to learn at their own pace, struggle, make mistakes, and learn independently. We have designed our learning materials to allow children to become more independent: whether it is in their use of resources, or in their thinking. This does not mean that the teacher’s role is diminished – it is essential for the teacher to provide adequate scaffolding to students. (See video below about students learning independently, while being supported by their teacher.)
The greatest enemy of understanding is coverage: trying to cover too many themes and moving on quickly, whether or not children have understood what they learned. This leads to common misconceptions. “Students of physics believe in forces that can be mysteriously transmitted from one substance or agent to another; students of biology think of evolution as a planful, teleological process, culminating in the perfect human being; students of algebra plug numbers into an equation with hardly a clue as to what the equation means or when (and when not) to invoke it; students of history insist on applying the simplest stereotypical models to the elucidation of events that are complex and multifaceted /…/.” (Howard Gardner and Veronica Boix-Mansilla, 1994.) We have designed our learning materials so that students can explore key questions from multiple perspectives, and teachers can regularly provide feedback and correct their misconceptions.
Solve genuine problems
Problems found in traditional textbooks are often simplistic and unreal. Our learning materials allow students to try their hand solving genuine problems that are fuzzy and dynamic, where there is no manual or worked example to guide the student. For example: How will your life look when you are in your late twenties? What steps will you need to take to accomplish your dreams? (See video below.) This is the sort of non-routine problem solving that employers value and the society at large really needs.
Work in teams
Collaboration is important for two main reasons: first, collaborative learning supports understanding; second, many problems are simply too difficult to be solved by one person, and therefore team effort is required. Plenty of education research has shown that collaborative learning – when properly facilitated by the teacher – accelerates learning for students. Team work is also critical in a growing number of jobs, where people need to work together to solve non-routine problems. We have designed our learning resources to support children working together in teams, trying to come up with solutions together, overcoming their differences along the way.
High quality work
What is high quality work? What are children truly capable of? These are fascinating questions for any educator. Our curriculum units allow children to work on something over an extended period of time, while improving the quality of what they are able to create. See an inspiring video below with an example of drafting and multiple revisions to support high quality learning.
Our curriculum materials are closely aligned with the learning standards that children are expected to master in order to make strong academic progress. We believe this is crucially important. Engagement without academic rigour may be fun, but is deep learning? Academic rigour without student engagement soon becomes boring. Both engagement and rigour are needed to support students’ long-term motivation to learn, ensure they earn good qualifications and have broad opportunities later on in life.
- Critical Thinking: Why Is It So Hard to Teach? by Daniel Willingham
- The Nature of Learning by the OECD
- Improving Mathematical Problem Solving in Grades 4 Through 8 by What Works Clearinghouse
- Putting Students on the Path to Learning by Richard E. Clark, Paul A. Kirschner, and John Sweller
- Improving Education by Rob Coe
- Understanding What Enables High Quality Professional Learning by CUREE
- Videos on the development of independence in the Montessori environment