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In the summer of 2013, forty ICSD elementary teachers took stock of new standards in reading, writing, math, social studies, and science. This began a journey to breathe life into the subjects in a new and ambitious way. We know that the cutting edge of teaching must reflect how students learn best, not in silos, but as active constructors of their own inquiry-based, interdisciplinary experiences, and in a way that is relevant to their own lived experiences. We first worked to build understanding of the major learnings of each grade level, with an eye toward identifying and articulating a standards-based year for elementary students.
Over the last two years, this work has come to life through what we call Case Studies. This work is driven by principles that are inspired from our study of the model of Expeditionary Learning Schools. We value a focus on real-world issues and needs, and provide authentic experiences that promote engagement and deep learning of content. Science and social studies are posited at the heart of a case study, with ELA, Math, and the Arts in service of building interdisciplinary connections and understanding. Teachers construct the work to illuminate the guiding or essential questions of the field, while maintaining a relevant, local focus. The curriculum of the case study is the foundation - the cornerstone for student inquiry, creativity, innovation, critical thinking, and collaboration in the classroom.
How are Case Studies unique?
Through a case study, we explicitly value and support the many ways teachers find inspiration for the curriculum and students that they teach. We defined the enduring understandings of grade levels to help our teachers congrue (as a district) around the common story and experience of each grade level throughout the eight elementary schools. These are critical entry points, but represent only one way case studies come to life. Case studies are meant to be responsive to the local community and students' lives. It may be that the origin of the work lies in concern for understanding and protecting a local environment. The inquiry may grow from a shared experience of a rich text, or emerge from a common experience of injustice. There are many catalysts for this work.
We have defined certain expectations that are hallmarks of an ICSD case study. They include values such as interdisciplinary connections that will embrace students’ multiple intelligences, engagement in work that leads them to inquire about the big understandings of their curriculum (and their lived experience of the world around them), and inviting students to do purposeful, real world research. Through case studies, students' actions mirror those of professions - they engage in field work, and do so with experts to build understanding. They read complex and compelling anchor texts to gather evidence, build knowledge, then communicate understanding. Case study work culminates in a high-quality product, for an authentic audience, putting knowledge and skills to work beyond the classroom. When students see the real world impact of their actions and learning, they see their education as a tool for empowerment in the world.
Is it required?
Yes. We have set a goal that by the year 2017-2018, all ICSD elementary students will experience a meaningful, connected, standards-based year, built on a case study approach. As of the summer of 2016, all of our elementary staff are involved in this work! We provide ongoing professional development for teachers and teams at each of our eight elementary schools.
What about assessment?
We embrace the many and ongoing ways that assessment happens in a classroom. Embedded within the case studies are authentic, performance-based assessments that mimic the real world and build student ownership of the learning. Students should be empowered and engaged in a cycle of ongoing self-assessment, goal setting, achievement, and celebration of learning.