We believe the best way to make connections between the self, the family, the immediate community, and the world at large is through the study of peoples. Meaningful learning takes place when children connect their studies to the world around them. By working on themed units of integrated study, issues become important and authentic, and students become questioners and problem solvers.
Learning by doing is essential. As educator and philosopher John Dewey emphasized, to learn from experience is to make a backward and forward connection. Doing becomes an experiment with the world, a discovery of the connection of things. Our students work in-depth on projects that develop from their own questions. In every classroom, learning units are punctuated by “culminating experiences,” in which students collaborate to synthesize and understand their learning.
Our foundation: When a teacher introduces and develops a topic with a class, the first thing they do together is create a set of questions. What do we know about the Hopi Indians? The ancient Chinese? Immigration? What do we want to know? Through this discussion a teacher can assess students’ knowledge and develop a guide for deeper investigation. This process ensures we address topics in a developmentally appropriate way for each group.
With the foundation set, a teacher then facilitates further exploration through a variety of integrated experiences—research, art, block building, cooking, science, reading, math, drama, music, woodworking. The goal goes beyond acquiring facts to a deeper knowledge and connection with a topic.
Culmination: As studies develop, teachers assess and reassess the learning of the group and individuals, coordinating the path of the group with other areas of the curriculum and children’s interests.
Finally, we determine whether the children have addressed the original questions to their satisfaction. Teachers listen and watch for successful connections as well as misconceptions and gaps in learning. Once that assessment is completed, the children are eager to share what they’ve learned with the school community through a “culmination.”
Culminations can take many forms: a class book, a play, a museum, a recreation. They may be large events that include parents or small experiences for just the class. Children planning their culmination experience draw from the information gained in their own studies as well as strategies picked up from other culminations at Westland.
During culmination, the group celebrates their collaborative effort and cumulative learning and also cements that learning by sharing it. With these new experts sharing their information, the group learns far more by this accumulated knowledge than they would if everyone learned the same things at the same time.