What We Teach and How We Teach
The development of curriculum and the teaching practices at ANCS are guided by the Common Principles of the Coalition of Essential Schools that place students at the center of their learning in a hands-on way, actively engaged in exploring questions and coached by their teachers towards the demonstration of mastery of higher-order concepts and skills. The curriculum at ANCS does not rely on textbooks; rather, it is driven by rich and interesting projects and learning experiences that help students to show understanding and develop meaningful skills. Teachers work collaboratively in developing the curriculum to reflect both the Georgia Performance Standards for each grade level and the standards of national discipline-specific organizations, and they use the Understanding by Design process as a planning framework. In addition, experiences that take students away from the school on field trips to support their learning occur on a regular basis.
In addition to embracing the Common Principles of the Coalition of Essential Schools, ANCS teaching and learning in grades K-5 is infused with elements of constructivism, a theoretical model stemming from the areas of philosophy, philosophy of science, psychology, anthropology, and sociology. According to Black and Ammon (1992), constructivism in the educational area is “more concerned with understandings achieved through relevant experience than with accumulated facts received from others.” Thus, students learn by doing. Instructional activities are relevant and varied, encouraging active participation as teachers serve primarily as facilitators and conduct questioning sessions to elicit student responses and probe for deeper understanding.
The overarching themes for grades K –2 are CARING AND SHARING. Throughout these years, students experience firsthand the plants and animals of their world. The overarching theme for grades 3 – 5 is EXPLORATIONS. Once students have begun to build basic understandings and relationships with their world, they can then participate in more detailed and in-depth explorations of it.
In addition to the themes described above, each grade level has year-long theme which serves as an organizing concept for the skills and knowledge expected for each year. The curriculum in grades K-5 uses basic scientific concepts as its focus. Both the Georgia Performance Standards and national professional standards were considered and are maintained in the creation of the curriculum maps. Listed below are the themes (with thematic content summaries) for each grade level in K-5:
Kindergarten – Me, My Role and Responsibility
- Place (backyard, home, state)
1st Grade – A Year in Our Backyard
- American Traditions
2nd Grade – Exploring the Changes in Our World
- Cultural and Historical Change
- Changes in the Natural World
- Adapting and Creating Changes
3rd Grade – Connections: How Do We Connect our Background Knowledge to our New Learning?
- Earth, Physical, and Life Science
4th Grade – How Do Populations Survive and Adapt To Change?
- Solar System
- Physical Features of the United States
- Populations Through History – How do underlying concepts (geography, politics, flora/fauna, economic, technology, culture, etc.) affect populations?
- Historical Periods – Native Americans, Colonization, Beginning of a Nation, Inventions, Westward Expansion, Civil War, Outer Space
5th Grade – Truth: How Does the Evidence We Gather Impact Various Perspectives of the Truth?
- Systems – What are the underlying components of all systems?
- Responsibility – What is our responsibility to self, community, society and the world?
- What are the issues that arise from different perspectives throughout history?
In grades K-5, a comprehensive language and literacy framework that serves as a conceptual tool for organizing instruction is utilized. To offer authentic reading and writing experiences for students, literacy standards are organized using a balanced literacy framework. While there has been much academic debate in recent years regarding two theories of how best to teach children to read and write—heavy phonics and word study or, contrarily, a “whole” language approach focusing solely on the developmental nature of the reading process—ANCS implements elements of both methods: careful attention to words and word study combined with natural experiences with print and oral language. This balanced approach includes the following components: reading aloud, shared reading, guided reading, or reading workshop, shared writing, interactive writing, guided writing or writing workshop, independent writing and letter and word study.
Mathematics in grades K-5 follows a program that embodies the vision of the rigorous national standards for mathematics developed by the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics (NCTM) and the Georgia Performance Standards (GPS). Using the Everyday Math curriculum developed by the University of Chicago [link to http://everydaymath.uchicago.edu/about/], teachers create math curriculum maps that provide a scope and sequence for math instruction for the year, essential questions, and assessment measures. Learning activities emphasize the understanding of mathematical concepts through student articulated theories and strategies, focus on the myriad ways to solve problems, actively engage students through manipulative materials and games. Students develop flexibility and confidence when approaching a variety of complex problems, proficiency in using mathematical skills and tools, and fluency with facts, computation, and other areas of mathematics such as geometry, data and algebraic thinking.
Art, Music, & Physical Education
In the grades K-5, each week, students receive instruction in physical education, visual arts, and music. Teachers of these classes regularly collaborate with grade level classroom teachers to create integrated lessons/units and to support classroom instruction and student learning.
Building on the experiences of grades K-5, students in grades 6-8 at ANCS continue in classes that integrate different disciplines built around essential skills and questions, but the classes begin to specialize somewhat based on content area as students prepare for the transition to high school. Following an advisory session that begins each day, students in grades 6-8 have a daily schedule that rotates through three different blocks of approximately 2 hours each: one block of Math/Science/Technology, one block of Humanities (language arts and social studies), and one block of visual, performing arts, technology, Spanish, and/or Fit for Life.
In Humanities students develop skills in reading, language arts and social studies with primary attention given to comprehending, analyzing, and producing expressive pieces in a variety of different genres (persuasive, analytical, creative, narrative, poetry) while exploring different regions of the world. In the sixth grade, the content focuses on the culture, literature, and history of the western hemisphere: the Americas, Europe, and Oceania. In the seventh grade, the content focuses on Asia, Africa, and the Middle East, while in the eighth grade the emphasis is on Georgia history in the context of the history and literature of the United States.
Performing Arts, Visual Arts, & Digital Expression
Classes in the arts are designed to provide students with skills and ideas in a variety of artistic media and an appreciation for different styles of artistic expression. Students in the sixth grade have performing arts as their artistic concentration. Performing arts classes introduce students to basic theatre concepts and immerse students in different types of acting (monologue, plays, improvisation) as well as to various aspects of stage production. In the seventh grade, students have a visual arts concentration. These classes introduce students to techniques in drawing, collage, and other forms of expression.
Eighth grade students choose between taking a yearlong class in the arts/digital expression or enrolling in a yearlong course in advanced Spanish. The eighth grade arts classes build upon the foundational skills developed in the sixth and seventh grades by giving students the opportunity to explore more sophisticated concepts and techniques. In visual arts, this includes two- and three-dimensional art making methods and mixed media. The performing arts class ranges in focus from scene study to play production. The 8th grade digital expression class focuses on elements of digital expression and use of different media.
Math, Science & Technology
The integrated math, science, and technology curriculum in grades 6-8 centers on essential skills and concepts to bridge students from the basic numeracy and emerging problem solving of elementary school to the more advanced thinking and knowledge necessary for success in high school. The content strands focus on foundations in algebra and geometry, number sense, probability, data analysis and measurement in math across all grade levels and use the JUMP math program as a guide. In science, the earth sciences (oceanography, astronomy, geology, and ecology) are the focus in sixth grade, while in seventh grade students explore content in the life sciences with an emphasis on biology. In the eighth grade, science content focuses on physical science, with strands in the nature of matter, laws of energy, matter, motion and forces, and energy transformation. Throughout their time in grades 6-8 students use technology as a tool to explore math and science with a focus on developing foundational computing skills and greater ease with different types of technology and their use.
Sixth and seventh grade students have Spanish class for one hour twice a week for the entire school year. In this class, Spanish language and grammar are taught through the context of cultural units to strengthen students’ skills in speaking, listening, writing, and reading the language with a progression from basic to more intermediate Spanish. Eighth grade students can opt either to take a yearlong course in advanced Spanish to further develop their skills and possibly earn high school credit, or they may elect to enroll in a yearlong arts or digital expression class instead.
Fit for Life
All students in grades 6-8 take part in Fit for Life classes for the entire year. In Fit for Life, students develop their physical, mental, and social-emotional wellness. The curriculum—focused on sports and interpersonal communication activities, health and adolescent development, social-emotional skills, and other mind-body connections—uses a holistic approach to empower students to take responsibility for making healthy personal decisions.
In addition to the classes described above, students in grades 6-8 at ANCS are also a part of an advisory group. The advisory group is a small group of around 12 students who meet daily under the guidance of an advisor from the ANCS faculty. The advisor serves as the primary link between school and home for the student.
The advisory program in grades 6-8 is designed to help meet the developmental and academic needs of middle school-aged students. The central purposes of the advisory program are:
- To support and be supported by an advisor and other advisory members in discussing and facing academic, social, and community issues
- To learn to understand and appreciate people who are different from us
- To participate in activities that build group spirit and cohesiveness
- To work together on common projects which benefit others through service to the community
Library Media Center
Both the elementary and middle campus contain library media centers that serve as information centers for the school community. Through collaboration with classroom teachers, a media specialist helps to provide information literacy skills instruction to students in order to promote independent learning, research, and reading. These library media centers operate on a flexible schedule that allows users access to resources and services throughout the regular school day.
Technology is used as a learning tool throughout our school. Computer access and internet connectivity is available to students on a daily basis both in the library media centers, in labs, and in the classroom through both desktop, laptop, and tablet computers. In addition to computers, a complete array of other forms of technology is available for instructional purposes, such as LCD projectors, document cameras, scanners, and digital cameras.
ANCS teachers at all grade levels utilize a variety of tools to assess student academic performance including: diagnostic assessments in the first weeks of school; informal and formal assessments from class (including unit-ending performance tasks); universal screeners; APS Benchmark Assessments; student work portfolios; and standardized tests, such as the Georgia Criterion Referenced Competency Tests (CRCT) and Iowa Test of Basic Skills (ITBS).
One of the more unique features of students assessment at ANCS is the use of portfolios and exhibitions. ANCS uses student portfolios and public exhibitions of them as a way to gather a wider array of information about student learning and growth. This system of assessment is tailored appropriately to match developmental and academic performance expectations at each grade level.
In grades K-5, students maintain one portfolio of their work for presentation during a “portfolio share” at the end of the schools year, while teachers work with students to develop another that serves as a “pass along” assessment tool from grade to grade.
In grades 6-8, the use of portfolios and exhibitions widens as students must demonstrate their competency in essential skills via specific performance areas:
- Mathematical & Scientific Thinking and Problem Solving
- Artistic Expression
- Formal Presentation
- Communicating in Another Language
- Personal Wellness
- Beyond the Classroom
At the end of the school year, each student leads a public exhibition of his or her portfolio. Public exhibition of student work is intended not only to give each student a goal to reach for during the school year, it is also a way to engage the wider community in the learning process at ANCS. Public exhibition is a way to build awareness of the value of each student’s efforts and the critical thinking skills that guided the student’s work. The successful completion of the portfolio and exhibition is one of the requirements for moving from one grade level to the next in grades 6-8. Click here for more information about the middle campus portfolio and exhibition process.
Reporting of Student Progress
While teachers use data from student assessments daily, several reporting structures exist at ANCS to afford students and families frequent opportunity to reflect upon student performance information in order to grow as learners. These structures include:
- Weekly Communication Folders (grades K-5): Each week a communication folder is sent home to parents containing updates on student performance and classroom initiatives. Often additional home enrichment materials are included, as well as suggestions on how parents can collaborate with teachers in supporting their child.
- Advisor Progress Reports (grades 6-8) : At the midway point of each academic term, each student receives a progress report from his or her advisor. These reports give feedback on a student’s development of his/her habits of learning and provide current grades for each class along with comments from the student’s advisor. Additionally, advisors will send out a “warning” report between these regular reporting periods for any students in their advisories who have been flagged for academic and/or behavioral concerns.
- End of Term Reports: Three times a year, students and families in all grades receive end of term reports. The end of term report provides academic and related information on a student so that support and attention may be enhanced, maintained, or altered to help the student achieve maximum growth and learning. These reports provide a detailed picture of a student’s performance in each subject area or class by featuring a narrative that describes the student’s skills and habits relative to the standards for the course.
- Conferences: In grades K-5, a meeting of teacher and family and, where appropriate, student, takes place following the distribution of end-of-term reports in November and March to provide a place for further discussion of student progress. In grades 6-8, each student leads a conference in the fall with his or her parents/guardians and advisor to reflect upon performance so far in the school year and to set learning goals for the remainder of the year. Another conference is held in the spring to review the student’s progress towards his or her learning goals.
- Portfolio Presentations: Students at all grade levels present and reflect upon their learning though a public exhibition of their work at various points throughout the school year.
- Standardized Test Score Reports: Student assessment score reports on tests such as the CRCT and ITBS are mailed home to families following their arrival to the school. The score reports are accompanied by a cover letter that further explains the tests, a guide to interpreting the score reports, and a series of questions designed to help students reflect upon their performance.
ANCS does not use numbers, ranks, or traditional A-F grades. Rather, student academic performance is documented in relation to a student’s progress towards the standards for each performance area at each grade level using the following terminology:
Exceeding the standards
Meeting the standards
Approaching the standards
Just Beginning towards the standards
Not Yet moving towards the standards