Teaching for Thinking
In project-based learning, students work in teams to explore real-world problems and create presentations to share what they have learned. A growing body of academic research supports project-based learning as a way to foster deep knowledge of subject matter, increase student self-direction and motivation, and improve student research and problem-solving skills.
Why is Project-based Learning Important?
Children learn best by doing rather than memorizing. PBL is content based and student driven. Projects are large-scale assignments that take time to complete, involve multiple activities and subjects, and require complex thinking and integration of ideas. Projects involve using all aspects of "thinking operations" “ observing, comparing, interpreting, analyzing, decision-making, critiquing, summarizing, and synthesizing. Children become critical thinkers. They gather information and learn how to apply that information to problem solve, and find solutions to complex real-world problems. Projects are both relevant and student driven, so students are inspired to work harder for longer time periods. Students are well prepared for high school because they have had experience applying their knowledge to problem solving.
Teachers as Mentors and Coaches
Connections teachers act as coaches and facilitators who create structured opportunities for students to participate in decision-making, problem solving, and goal setting. Students learn to take responsibility for their own work and progress. In doing so, they gain confidence in themselves, their product, and their process as learners. While working on a project, teachers provide students with on-going, meaningful, and personalized feedback. Final products are evaluated according to a rubric: a set of criteria and standards linked to project learning objectives.
Meaningful, Challenging, Relevant Curriculum
Students and teachers solve problems using real world applications. Differentiated curriculum follows the state and district guidelines and is supplemented with field trips, guest speakers, and current events relevant to the topic of study. Curriculum incorporates multiple subjects and resources to create a rigorous, in-depth study and understanding of the material.
What is Differentiated Instruction?
Differentiated instruction is key to the Connections program. Teachers modify the curriculum to best accommodate the needs of the individual and the class as a whole, embracing the different learning styles, readiness, and intelligences that comprise the learning community. Because teachers meet students where they are developmentally and intellectually, the academic and social growth of each child is maximized.
Social Emotional Learning
Rubrics are used at each grade level to provide structure for the detailed feedback that teachers give to the students.
A Typical Day
The school day begins at 8:15 a.m. and ends 3:05 (1:45 on Wednesdays). As Connections is project-based, a wide assortment of activities can make up a typical day and no day is exactly like the next. Sample activities include hands on labs and reading based lessons in science, social studies and history simulations, targeted writing instruction for the class newspaper, differentiated math groups (after a unit pretest, students place themselves in groups that match their abilities), as well as community service projects, art and science exhibits, field trips, and class meetings.
Sixth grade Connections students have math, science, language arts, and social studies classes within the Connections Program. Other classes, PE and “wheel” electives, are taken with the entire school body. The sixth-grade students have the opportunity to participate in a four-day science camp in the Santa Cruz Mountains. Both the science teacher and social studies Connections teachers accompany the students.
Seventh and Eighth Grade
Seventh and Eighth grade Connections students take language arts and social studies classes within the Connections program. Math, science, PE and electives are taken with the entire school body.