You are ready to participate in an authentic community. You share resources and experiences. Your school is self-governing through its community meetings and you pursue increasingly advanced levels of formal study in teacher-led lessons. This is what happens in Sama at MBAT House of Nature.
In the first year, there are two communities of 44 in years 5 and 6 respectively, consisting of two classes for each age group. In the following year the four classes in Years 6+7 will form one community with one meeting to cover the issues arising, plan events, organize committees and work groups, and fine people who break the rules. From this point onwards Year 5 will be one community and Years 6+7 will be another.
Learning how to live in this community is a vital part of the education. Children will learn how to run meetings, how to set up committees to get things done, how to propose laws, and how to bring people up when they break the laws. They will learn to be effective self-learners both in the school and away from it. They can use the online school for homework and distance learning. They will understand what it means to have freedom of choice of action in a democratic community.
Class identity will not be as strong as it was in the Elementary school, although children will still have their own place in the home-base; a home teacher who collects their reports and is responsible for communications with parents. Experience at Elementary level will help; new children will take time to adapt.
This post is part of a series on the curriculum. I want to explain to you how the curriculum works in Sama. It is important because Sama is in many senses the hub of the school. As I said in my last post:
This is the age at which children really start to understand how to use the community structure of the school. If they understand it and can make it work, they will have the skills, knowledge and maturity to go on to the Upper and Senior Schools and make them work, too… By contrast, if this level flops the senior school will flop around as well.
We work with the idea that the curriculum is not just what teachers teach in classrooms. The curriculum is everything that goes on in a school. And, since we are giving children freedom of choice of action, we have to be attentive to the design of the areas they spend time in when they are not in class. Freedom to wander around a barren cell is no kind of freedom. This is what we call the habitat. At this level we are especially concerned to create a habitat that works for children. You know something about our ideas for this already: this is a school set in Nature.
Pooling of resources allows us to provide ambitious activity areas. We stress that learning through activities is not the same as project-based learning. We do not impose a project model on children’s self-initiated activities. Some activities are individual, some are in groups; some last an hour, others last a year. Some are led by adults; some are led by children. We encourage children to record their activities.
Teachers use a Tracking Framework that is adapted from the performance indicators in the English National Curriculum. They can see the skills and abilities that have been used in a freely-chosen activity or project, and may photograph or copy student work for the process of building portfolios for inspection. This assessment might or might not lead on to follow up work in the formal classroom. Activities are not formally graded or assessed.
Formal lessons are available in a wide range of subjects with priority given to the core curriculum. The teachers in Sama work together to provide a broad and balanced taught curriculum to the children. They can call on other subject specialists from other areas of the school. All lessons are available on the Online platform so that children who are not in school do not fall behind or miss out. Remember we have a 40% distance learning option!
The core curriculum of Arabic, English, Mathematics and Science is given priority on the timetable and in planning. This does not mean that all of the objectives in the Tracking Mechanism of these subjects will be delivered to all children in formal classes. We see the reduced formal curriculum as the spinal column of a fuller curriculum that includes projects, activities and free play.
Teachers collaborate in the presentation of curriculum content for foundation subjects. They make use of the ample facilities of the school, combining inside and outside work, and focusing the learning, wherever possible, through “real” activities rather than religiously following a textbook. Teachers take turns to lead project cycles in collaboration with their colleagues. For example, a unit on breathing might have implications for health, biology, poetry, measurement, music, nature study, and much more.
We are serious about freedom of choice of action
We encourage teachers to bring the full resources of their personalities and experience to bear on their work. All teachers are trained and experienced professionals, but one of the attractions of working in this school is its human face. We want our teachers to be open, warm and human. We don’t want them to be curriculum delivery and assessment robots.
Children are not obliged to interrupt their project or activity work to go to classes. If a child, for example, is writing copiously by himself, he will not be compelled to interrupt that work to go to an English lesson. We are serious about freedom of choice of action. Evidently, we do not want children to miss out on whole chunks of the formal curriculum on a whim. On the other hand, we think it is essential that a child exploring a vital interest should have the freedom to do so. In practice most children will exceed the specifications in the curriculum documents because it is a well-resourced and exciting school full of learning possibilities.
Teachers may intervene if they see that a child is drifting, especially if there are deficits in key skills. Confident reading and number skills underlie access to the more exciting aspects of school life higher up the school. We do not think it is a restriction of freedom to firmly guide students to attend to formal learning when they are falling behind. We do this with compassion and understanding, using the help of the school counsellor to ascertain whether there is any underlying problem such as dyslexia.
Sky: Solar, Weather and Climate
Weather affects most everything in our environment, from the quality of our drinking water to the migratory pattern of birds. Scientists know the climate is changing and how this will impact on our environment. At the Junior school, the theme will focus on weather and climate change and learn about the weather issues in Abu Dhabi, the Gulf Region and the World.
Teachers will cooperate to create projects using a project-based learning model. This model is not applied to children’s self-initiated projects but is appropriate when there is an adult lead. The aim is to have an integrated learning experience hitting learning targets across the curriculum. The thematic approach may raise achievement in science, math, language arts, and social studies. It may also inspire children to think how their own lives might evolve later.
The US National Environmental Education Foundation says that weather and climate education promote a number of academic and life-long learning skills including
- Critical Thinking
- Problem Solving
- Observation Skills
- Scientific Methods and Processes
- Personal Responsibility Awareness
- Bringing about Change
There will be a cycle of events, festivities, performances and exhibitions throughout the school year. Children will be able to take positions of responsibility in the planning, organization and running of these events in the communities. There will also be opportunities within their communities to take meaningful roles in organizing their own study spaces, deciding on the rules they should live by and electing people to committees that they decide are necessary.
The individual child can also choose to pursue a personal path, using the considerable freedom in time and space to follow his own interests. A child who enjoys working with Mathematical problems alone will not be compelled to join group projects against his will.