As you read more about the Springhurst curriculum, you will notice we often use the term "supradisciplinary". While the word may be unusual, the approach to learning is quite natural. The prefix supra means "over", thus a supradisciplinary curriculum is one that is designed over and inclusive of the traditional disciplines a seamless curriculum. As learners, each time we receive a new piece of information, our mind finds a way to fit it into our mental picture of the world. We call this a model of reality because none of us physically carries the world around in our head. A supradisciplinary curriculum is intended to help students make some sense of information, organize it, and relate it to other knowledge as they build their own model of reality.
The term supradisciplinary was coined by educator Marion Brady. The following is an excerpt from an article he wrote entitled General Education.
I'm not opposed to the traditional disciplines. I consider them essential, and would extend the list of those made available to students. But I don't believe that any combination of specialized studies can provide even a minimally acceptable general education. Students need disciplined study of various bits and pieces of random aspects of reality, yes, but they also need to see how those pieces (and other pieces not part of present curricula) fit together to form the whole of their experience.
As the above paragraphs suggest, we feel that the academic disciplines which were originally created to help people explore and understand the world have unfortunately become ends unto themselves. Moreover, developments in many of these fields are showing a shift toward a more systemic view of our world. Springhurst is unique in that it brings this understanding to the classroom.
The pressing question for parents is, of course, what can this do for my child? Without meeting your child it is impossible -- and inappropriate -- to specify exactly what they will learn at Springhurst. We do, however, have certain general goals for our students. Among these are:
Developing children's skills in the cognitive, affective, and physical areas that will enable them to achieve their goals.
Fostering their creativity and providing an atmosphere in which it may flourish.
Constructing with them a view of the world that is evolutionary, where learning is an ongoing, lifelong process.
Gifted and creative children, no less than anyone else, need certain skills that our society values. Reading and mathematical reasoning are tools that we should all be able to use. Many students who come to Springhurst may be precocious in these areas. Our goal is to help all of our students continue to construct their knowledge in reading and math, using their individual perspectives as a starting point.
The Washington State Commission on Student Learning has made a great effort in producing their Essential Academic Learning Requirements (EALR's). While these EALR's do not reflect a true, systemic view of the world, they do encompass many useful skills and understandings. The Springhurst community uses the EALR's as one element within assessment.
The creativity that children bring to Springhurst is encouraged and facilitated in all of their endeavors, particularly in the projects they develop individually with their teacher. Creativity may take many forms, from drawing to writing, from music to mechanical invention. Our goal is to have an environment where creativity is valued and students -- and teachers -- find reward in the creative process.
Ironically, although performance-based criteria is being used in the conceptualization of many new curricular efforts, most schools still use some type of quantitative assessment (i.e. letter grades). The majority of the assessment done at Springhurst is qualitative and performance-based. The assessment comes from three sources: the student, the teachers, and the parents. One reason that this is possible is that each student is assessed on their own development and learning. Student, parent, and teacher meet to discuss the interests and needs of the student. Goals are set based on the current level of understanding and direction in which each of the parties wish to see the student grow. To assess the progress of the student, their portfolio may include demonstrations of understanding like essays, sample problems, bibliographies, videos. In addition, the teacher and student write statements about the results of the goal-setting and set the next goals. In this way, assessment at Springhurst is noncompetitive and the rewards for performance are primarily intrinsic. The only time students will be comparatively assessed is on normed standardized testing and when using state or district benchmarks. This is so we can see how our students are performing compared to age peers in other school, not to compare students within the classroom.
Springhurst will has a strong arts program. The school's Director, Seth!, has formal education in the visual arts (a BFA from the University of Illinois) and lesser training in the performing arts. Our program involves students learning to respond and make judgements about visual forms (art criticism), developing an understanding of the role of art and artists in cultures and societies (art history), understanding how people make and justify judgements about artwork (aesthetics), as well as creating their own art (art production).
Springhurst will employ a music specialist to assist in the implementation of a music curriculum that is similar to the visual arts curriculum. To a large extent, these will be integrated curricula. The music curriculum will include music performance, history of music within many cultures, music appreciation and criticism, and aesthetics.
An important aspect of the Springhurst curriculum is developing an understanding of relationships between events and concepts. One method of doing this is called system dynamics. Developed over the past few decades at MIT, system dynamics has been used in many aspects of business and government and is now found in several forward-thinking schools.
Like the supradisciplinary curriculum, system dynamics is a method for studying the world around us. Specifically, it deals with understanding how systems change over time by looking at internal feedback loops within the structure of the system. MIT has developed a foundation program for helping schools like Springhurst implement system dynamics in the classroom. From their literature: "Education is an important area of application for system dynamics. Together with learner-centered learning, the learner to becomes actively involved. The wide range of applications for system dynamics makes it an excellent tool for integrating the material of many subjects."
In addition to English, Springhurst students also study French or Spanish. There are several reasons for doing this. The structure of English becomes more explicit as we learn another language. Understanding another language also helps us connect to others, and more fully appreciate the human experience of using symbols and sounds to communicate our ideas.
Any curriculum that is designed outside of the learner and their teacher is a thing; a thing that happens to a student not with them. One cannot say what a student will gain or not gain from a thing-curriculum. At Springhurst, we conceive of curriculum as an event. It takes place over time and there is a degree of unpredictability. With this as our guide we can then ask ourselves what is it that we would like to see happen along the way. Each student is different and they will each come away from this event with something different, because it is theirs. If we are truly successful, this event will become an ongoing part of their lives and it the event, the curriculum will continue without us.
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