A curriculum of integrated studies for the 7th grade at Chinquapin Preparatory School

(To be implemented in 2011-2012)

Description of Project:
The project’s focus is instruction. We will design a yearlong curriculum for the 7th grade that would incorporate 21st century skills, integrated studies, and a focus on responsible global citizenship. Two teachers, Jan Ott and Liz Thornton, will teach all core subjects of the 7th grade: Science, Math, Skills, English, Social Studies, and Language Arts. Together, they will transform the 7th grade curriculum for 25 students next year.

  • How can student learning improve when subjects are taught together rather than separately?
  • How can we address learning in a global context?
  • How can we help our students become responsible global citizens?
  • How can teachers effectively measure deeper learning?
  • Developmentally, what skills should students in the 7th grade be taught?
  • How deep can we push the learning of 7th-graders?
  • Is it possible to create deep learning without a community?
  • What are the skill sets that middle school students need to have in order to learn best?

How are we addressing the shifts in education today?
What are the pedagogical principles we will use to guide our work?
How might this project feed into the 8th grade project?

The Problem: How can teachers use an integrated curriculum help students achieve deeper learning that is developmentally appropriate for the 7th grade? for teaching children from poverty?

What does deeper learning mean?
Students make the connections, rather than teachers making them for them.
Natural, spontaneous discoveries and inferences based on direct observations and active exploration
More lasting learning
Experiential learning has a powerful emotional attachment, allows the students to grow in their skill and understanding
Can be connected to other subjects, ability to make the learning transferable to something else
Not learned in isolation
Insight, usable elsewhere, leaps of understanding -- new thinking about underlying concepts
Becomes a part of their critical consciousness -- pain, forced to change their world view and look at the world critically, their consciousness of the world changes
Learning is uncomfortable, because it breaks down old ways of thinking.
Learning is a process, an evolution, that propels itself forward.
How do we construct knowledge and understand the world -- students understand this and become more self-conscious as learners (meta-cognitively)
Engages students' awareness of their relationship to the world.
Love of learning, joy in learning.

What do we mean by integrated curriculum?
Learning is organized around a theme or question, drawing on a variety of subjects or fields (not just the usual ones), and incorporating a broad range of skills.
Learning is not arbitrarily segmented by a schedule.
Learning is not in isolation; learning cross-pollinates.
Learning occurs in context.
Teachers coordinate and collaborate on most aspects of learning.
Teachers problem solve to address student needs and deficiencies, as well as their curiosities.
Teachers coordinate to encourage students' independent learning.

What are the essential skills we want them to learn and master in the 7th grade?
Identify these at the beginning of the year and address them in feedback throughout the year.

How can benefit from understanding the development of 7th-graders?
What can 7th-graders achieve?
What is their social, emotional, and cognitive development at this stage?

Middle School Brain Power Point Presentation

Sheryl's questions:
What does success look like?
How do you assess them?
How will differentiation come into play?
Develop a proposal for iPad pilot project for the project?

  • Lay out a timeline for developing and implementing the curriculum.
  • Do some research on how to best implement this new curriculum and report back to our wiki and blog.
  • Create a sample lesson, implement it in our classroom this year, and receive feedback from "critical friends."
  • Develop a pedagogical philosophy based on what we've learned.

  • Create an assessment for students that measures their retention of key concepts and mastery of specific skills.
  • Create a regular feedback cycle of "critical friends" to give teacherly feedback on our instruction and curriculum.
  • Start a blog to reflect on our teaching.
  • Define "global citizenship"; create an assessment for that.

Things to think about:

WPP training

Look at Nancie Atwell, In the Middle and other works

How will grades and grading work? Course equivalencies Evergreen-style?

How will we give feedback?

The Original Proposal:

A Two-year curriculum of integrated studies for the 7th grade at The Chinquapin Preparatory School
We are creating a two-year integrated curriculum covering the fall of the Roman Empire to the African Diaspora.

Intention: It is our intention to create a two-year curriculum with the expectation that we can encourage other teachers to join in the process so that eventually we have a fully coordinated curriculum here at Chinquapin Prep, whereby the students have a deliberately articulated and focused set of skills and content understanding that encompasses the Texas State standards, without adding the vast coverage of extraneous material that most adults find they never use and most students see it for what it is – busy work.

Secondary Intentions: We believe that creating an integrated curriculum keeps students more interested, and builds their own curiosity. Depth in a few areas rather than the skipping stone method of teaching is now being used in many arenas including medical school, colleges, and in business. Students learn that there really is no “bottom” to learning as they dig down to search out more about a subject. This often helps them begin to develop their own questions and research paradigms.
We also hope expand the base, so to speak, by building on our initial trial and going on to integrate other teachers, so that at least the whole middle school is involved. Ultimately, we hope to bring this forward to at least part of the upper school, to bring the sciences and maths, and some of the history and English/language arts together, into a more seamless whole.

Rationale: One of us (JO) has been teaching integrated studies for the last quarter century. She has found that students retain information better, keep over a longer period of time, not just from test to test, but from year to year and beyond. Further, when the whole of something is studied, understanding deepens and curiosity expands.
For instance, if one studies the History of the Victorian Age, it is unlikely to get anything more than a cursory understanding of the effect that Darwin’s work had at the time. If one includes a science teacher in that course, along with a poet, the students see not just how the world was set up to be ready for Darwin, but sees the work that went into his treatise, and the reaction of the whole of the world to it. When one adds in poetry that explores the ideas, and includes an evening (in costume and with an appropriate dinner) recreating the talk Darwin and Wallace give the Royal Society, students gain an understanding, not just of that event, but realizes that many of the events not studied must have the same sort of effect, if not the depth charge that was Darwin’s work. If asked to explore one of the other events of the time, and create reports, both oral and written, the whole class gets to research something of interest to them, and gains skills in research, producing documents, and giving presentations.
The time is ripe for Chinquapin to do this. We are a point in our history where other schools are in competition, and we need both a niche and a raison d’être. Creating sustainability with skills in both growing one’s own food and running a business fills both needs. It sets us apart, and gives students new and very useful skills. Also, integrated studies encourage working together in ways that the business world needs and demands. The organic farm and farm stand will solidify those skills as well. Our students will be well ahead of the curve in explaining how they work in teams. We can call on campuses that have long used integrated studies as well a working farm to create that niche here in our corner of Texas.

Status: We are in the planning early stages, figuring out our goals, the content we want to cover, and the skills we want each grade to leave with. We are looking at how we can integrate with the new organic garden program as well. We are looking for ways to find interns who would be interested, and for ways to support those interns financially such as grants and educational initiatives. We have agreements from the director and dean to go forward with planning. We are beginning a blog on the process so that others might follow our progress and give feedback and support as we move forward.

Ray: keep us in the loop about developments on your end, or when and why your decision would change
Susan: Much the same as Ray, and to support us as we move forward in development of the plan, and how to best serve the campus as we do this.
Bridget: find us some grants to pay for the interns, and some money for technological upgrades. We believe that each student will need their own laptop for research and work. It is our goal to put as much of this on-line rather than on paper as possible. To that end, we need enough working computers designated for these two classes. Right now getting a whole class to do work on current laptops is impossible. Many students are not even able to sign on during class, and end up frustrated and sour on whatever experience they are trying to have. Two working smart boards (not necessarily that brand name) would be a great addition.