Our Curriculum & Instruction
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STEAM is not a curriculum per se, but an approach or a framework for our curriculum. Similar to and incorporating elements of Project Based Learning (PBL), STEAM utilizes the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills (TEKS) as well as traditional text and other resources that are available to other public schools in Texas. The difference is in the approach. Where a traditional approach is to view content areas in discreet units separate unto themselves (think Math class, Science class, Reading, etc.), STEAM brings content areas together creating a synthesis where young minds not only learn, but discover that they are able to question aspects of what they are learning and explore and identify answers and solutions to their own inquiries.
Traditional classrooms typically have rows of desks with students learning math, or science or reading, etc. Our learning environments have students working in collaborative groups at tables; no rows of desks at our campus. Additionally, we incorporate math into science in the same class. We also incorporate Social Studies into Reading and Writing into one learning area. In Learning Lab students work individually on their own laptops to hone skills in Reading and Math.
While we have a one to one computing ratio, it is not the technology that makes the difference. The difference is an environment where students learn by creating solutions and products through cross content synthesis of ideas and facts. That is authentic learning and that is learning that sticks.
Learning that sticks is often hands on. Staff created a “Paper Making” lesson that was so compelling, we are bringing it back for a return engagement. Paper is ubiquitous for students. Its one of those things that they have worked with since Kindergarten or before, but never have they had the opportunity to make it. From the components that make up the slurry to forming sheets and making decorative pieces, this hands on experience was one that will stick.
Another authentic learning experience that we do involves exploration and invention. NCS invested in littleBits,® a creative, experimental invention kit that encourages (not just allow) students to play, explore and invent things that have embedded circuits and processing chips. Students can follow a couple of preplanned projects, but the power of learning is unleashed in releasing the kids to imagine things they can build and then bring those ideas to fruition. Its engaging, its creative and its learning at a deep level.
Taking littleBits® a step further is coding. Depending on what the students build, they can program it to move, turn, even navigate an obstacle course. Currently, we are laying the basics of coding by using some tech that is available through Code.org. Students are able to write basic code by jumping into any of a multitude of options that range from a Star Wars format to Frozen to MineCraft and many more. The kids are excited about it and they’re learning real 21st century skills. Remember, this is elementary school students that we’re talking about.
We have numerous other examples that we could share from creating a unit around the Solar Eclipse to a unit that was developed around the broken branch of one of our campus Pecan trees. The beauty of a small public charter with a STEAM framework is that we continuously and effectively engage our students in authentic learning experiences.