With the 4th of July right around the corner, I thought it was appropriate to discuss the Pledge of Allegiance and whether it should be part of the school day. It may seem like one small decision among many, but I’d like to share our thoughts. We think it is an important decision as we prepare for our inaugural year at Ideaventions Academy.
In making the decision, we had to start at the beginning and think through what the Pledge of Allegiance means to us. We view the Pledge of Allegiance as an oath to the flag, which represents the ideals of the United States defined in the Declaration of Independence:
“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal [Equality], that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights [Rights], that among these are Life, Liberty [Liberty] and the pursuit of Happiness [Opportunity]. That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed [Democracy].”
I’m a first-generation immigrant to the United States. My father was born in Cambodia and myself and my mother in Venezuela. I emigrated from Venezuela when I was seven. When I started school in the US, I remember trying to learn the Pledge so I could recite it with the rest of my class every morning. I barely spoke English and did not understand what it meant, but I wanted to fit in, so I said it like all of the other kids in my class.
It wasn’t until 7th grade when our Humanities teacher taught a lesson on the Pledge and what it stood for that I finally understood what it stood for. Even though I wasn’t a US citizen yet, I now stood proudly and recited the Pledge, no longer out of routine, but because I felt American and believed in the ideals of this country. Finally, in college, when I was able to become a citizen of the United States, I proudly took the naturalization oath.
When I remember my cousin, as a 12-year old, telling me about what she would do to survive the rice fields of Cambodia or when I think about another cousin and her newborn daughter in a bathroom so that the tear gas from last year’s protests in Venezuela wouldn’t harm the baby, I am thankful for the peaceful life my children are able to live.
When I think of the currency exchange restrictions placed on my family that makes it impossible for them to travel outside of their country, I am thankful for the freedoms I have.
And when I think of my father’s family, who I never met because they died for being educated, I am thankful for the men and women, including Ryan’s grandfather, father and brother, who have defended my and my children’s way of life.
So, when we had to decide if, as a school, we would say the Pledge of Allegiance, it was a very easy decision to make. As a school we will stand and say the Pledge. As a school, we will also provide students with the lesson that my teacher provided me, which gave me freedom to make an informed decision on whether or not I wanted to continue to say the Pledge. Finally, whether or not to say the entire pledge, or parts of the pledge is a very personal decision each student and teacher makes for him or herself, which we respect.
I hope that you have a wonderful Independence holiday weekend!
Dr. Mariana (or Dr. M as the kids call her) is back this week to discuss our philosophy behind our biology curriculum.
"Since leaving a career in research to work at Ideaventions, friends often ask me whether I miss the bench. The truth is, there are some aspects of research that I miss very much. I miss being on my feet all day, juggling different experiments to get that crucial piece of data. I miss the camaraderie that is born of shared experimental woes and long-awaited success. I miss the moment when the data comes together into a little nugget of knowledge worth sharing with other scientists. And so I am very excited that research will be an integral component of our biology curriculum!
I feel very strongly about the importance of a true research experience in any scientific education. By its very nature, research provides a deep understanding of the scientific process. Students learn early on about the key elements of the scientific method: make an observation, formulate a hypothesis, carry out experiments, analyze results, and draw a conclusion. And yet engaging in research sheds a new light on this all-too-familiar scheme. Your initial observation may be due to experimental error, yet in pursuing this observation you may make a fascinating discovery. Your experiments may yield a surprising result, leading you down a novel research avenue. Your hypothesis may be proven wrong, taking you back to square one after months of effort. Scientific research is rarely a straight line from point A to point B (as many biology laboratory courses would have you believe), instead taking many twists and turns to reach an unexpected destination.
Beyond key concepts and techniques, engaging in research teaches a unique skill set that will prove valuable regardless of career path. This skill set includes academic rigor, critical thinking, high ethical standards, and communication skills. Most importantly, research teaches perseverance and resilience. You may have heard that research is ninety percent failure - I can attest to the validity of that statement. The brilliant experiment you spent a week designing will most likely fail to give any conclusive results. If by any chance your experiment does work as expected, the initial promising result will be irreproducible. Both scenarios lead to months of optimization and troubleshooting, all in search of that elusive eureka moment every scientist lives for.
Finally, becoming an active member of a research community reveals that science is a profoundly human endeavor. The rivalries! The backstabbing! The money to be made! Like all of us, scientists are misled by their hopes, their biases, and their ambitions. Well-acknowledged scientific "facts" have been proven wrong, and long ridiculed theories are now written in textbooks. This is not a flaw of the scientific process, but rather an inescapable reality that we must be aware of.
Our biology curriculum will draw on a variety of resources to cover five main areas of study: ecology, cell and molecular biology, genetics and evolution, plant biology, and human body systems. As part of our year-long biology course, students will work on an unanswered biological question in one of the above areas of study. Some areas - such as evolution and human body systems - will be difficult to study in the Academy setting due to practical and ethical constraints. Other areas - such as ecology, plant biology, and cell biology - will be better suited to student-led research projects. Our ultimate goal will be to make a meaningful contribution to the scientific body of knowledge, while learning key biological concepts and acquiring a variety of lab techniques. By participating in original research, we hope that students will be inspired to learn independently and experience first-hand the joy of discovery. I look forward to guiding the young scientists in their investigations!"
Community. Merriam-Webster defines community as “the people living in a particular area.”
Community Service. Oxford Dictionary defines community service as “voluntary work intended to help people in a particular area.”
It was with these definitions in mind that we defined the Community Service curriculum, which broadened how one usually thinks of community service. Being a new school we’re building a community from the beginning. This community is made up of our students, our faculty and our students’ families, and before we can begin to impact our broader community, we have to build our own community.
The learning objectives for Community Service are three-fold:
Ideaventions Academy Community
We will spend the first two months of the school year focused on laying the foundation for the Ideaventions Academy community. After the initial two months, each Community Service class will include a lesson in how to be a member of our school community.
We are very excited that our inaugural class of students will have the opportunity to shape the Academy through the creation of our Honor Code. Students and faculty will work together to learn about ideals, honor, integrity, and trust, then using this knowledge, draft a code that will withstand the test of time and that we can abide by as a community.
By the end of the first two months, students and faculty will know and understand the expectations of being a contributing member of this amazing community. Our community’s expectations on compassion, respect, bullying, acceptance, friendships, honesty, and choices will be worked and defined by students and faculty to lay the foundation for the rest of the year.
After the initial two months, we will lead short, 20-minute lessons on more nuanced skills that reinforce the work done. Topics of these lessons will range from understanding stress and anxiety within oneself, to sharing, be it a lab tool or credit in a scientific publication, to how to handle exclusion in a group. The spectrum of topics covered will create the glue for this tight-knit community.
Once we have defined what it means to be part of the Ideaventions Academy community, we can then venture out to begin to impact the broader community. The broader community can be our local Reston community, our state, our country or our global community. The possibilities are endless. Through this work, we’ll always look at the geographic area that we’re influencing and the communities that we hope to help.
An aspect of the curriculum is to introduce students to the wide range and scale of causes, which include pollution, animals, poverty, and natural disasters. As part of the selection of a service project and background research, students will learn about the various social causes and gain an appreciation for the diversity of communities.
This is the area of the curriculum that most people think of when one mentions Community Service. Our goal is to teach students the skills that they need to make an impact. Many of these skills are transferrable to entrepreneurship and other professional communities like the scientific community.
As students may be working in a class of eight to ten students, it is not feasible to run eight to ten separate community service projects. Instead, we’ll be using a framework that mirrors the “real world.” We want students to feel empowered and to have choices. Therefore, we will not be dictating the project that they will undertake.
Every student in the class will draft a proposal for the project of their choice. Students will create rating criteria that will be used. Each student will then blind-rate all of the other project proposals based on the agreed-upon criteria. One or two project proposals from the class will be selected as the class project(s) for the year. By being active participants in this multi-step process, students commit to the choice for the class and learn how to evaluate potential work, as well as their own. The method for choosing the project(s) mirrors the grant process for a non-profit, the funding process for a research project or the venture capital process in a start up.
The next phase is project execution or implementation. In addition to actually doing the project, in this phase of the project, we learn about planning, marketing, funding or fundraising, goals, project roles, unintended consequences, and documentation.
Finally, we either complete the project or we decide to sustain the project into the future.
In conclusion, from this curriculum and experience, we believe that students:
I am excited to welcome Dr. Mariana as a guest blogger today. I’ve enjoyed watching Dr. Mariana teach Ideaventions’ homeschool Molecular Chemistry class for middle schoolers this spring and it has been a true pleasure to work with her on designing Ideaventions Academy’s Molecular Chemistry full-year curriculum.
“What were the most memorable moments in my science education? Which teachers and mentors had the most impact on my career? As a teacher, what core concepts and skills do I want to share with my students? What do I want my students to remember ten or twenty years from now? How do I best achieve this? These are the questions that have been running through my mind as I prepare to teach a year-long, formal chemistry course at Ideaventions Academy to our inaugural class of students. To approach these questions, I have been reflecting on my own school experience and reading modern trends in education. I am finding that there are no easy answers, but would like to share some of my thoughts with you.
Looking back on my science education, a few awe-inspiring moments immediately come to mind. Standing among hundreds of fluttering monarch butterflies. Tracing the brainwaves of a fish on an oscilloscope. Holding a petri dish full of human cells in my hands for the first time. Watching a cell divide under a confocal microscope. As I write this, I realize that none of these memorable experiences happened in a formal classroom setting.
I loved school - from kindergarten to grade school to graduate school - and I always did well. School was a game that I enjoyed playing and became very good at: attending classes, completing homework assignments, passing tests. But something was missing throughout my many years as a student in science classrooms: the freedom to explore, the thrill of discovery, the "spark" that makes it all worth it. I didn't experience this until I first joined a research lab, through a collaborative program between my high school and a local research institute. Why wait so long? What about those students who aren't fortunate enough to have a research experience? What about those students who become discouraged somewhere along the way?
As we were researching curriculum options for our chemistry course, we were looking for a curriculum that would provide ample opportunity for students to experience these "spark" moments. Chemistry is at the root of so many different disciplines - from geology to biology to materials science. But chemistry is tricky because so much of it relies on understanding the behavior of atoms and electrons, tiny particles that we can hardly see with our most powerful microscopes. We were excited to find a chemistry curriculum designed to bridge this gap, linking the nanoscopic world of atoms with the macroscopic world we experience every day. This curriculum is Active Chemistry by It's About Time.
Here is what we like about Active Chemistry:
Altogether, our chemistry course will be a fantastic learning adventure for everyone involved! And while I doubt the students will recall electron configurations or redox reactions twenty years from now, I very much hope they will look back fondly on our chemistry explorations and recall a "spark" moment of their own."
For purposes of this post, when I refer to Art, I am referring to the Fine Arts and Digital Arts. Music and Drama, which are also arts, are covered separately.
A few years ago I had the pleasure of meeting a very accomplished artist, Alessandra Ricci. It all started because I wanted to give a gift that blended science and art, and Alessandra created this magnificent work of art using a portrait of John Snow (the epidemiologist, not the actor) on a scarf. It had been many years, but seeing what she was able to create, brought back memories from high school and spending time at the National Gallery of Art admiring the work of Thomas Cole and Albert Bierstadt after my internship at the Air and Space Museum.
Going into this year and planning the school, when we discussed Art, it evoked feelings of wonder and peace. Art, however, is not traditionally a required course in Middle School. Therefore, the first question we asked ourselves was, “Should it be an elective or should it be part of the core curriculum?” The next question we asked ourselves was, “What are our learning goals for our students related to art?”
To answer the first question, we had to answer the second question. Our goal for art is very similar to our goals for science: to expose students to this wonderful world of beauty and expression so that kids become aware of what is out there as they find an area (or areas) that appeals to them. We also want to teach students the skills that they can take into their work in the future, from understanding perspective to improving their drawing, we believe that these skills are required and not an elective.
With this goal in mind, we envisioned an art program that “sampled” different media and techniques. For one-third of the year, students would learn about 2D art (e.g., watercolors, pastels, drawing, caricatures, etc.), one-third of the year, they would do 3D art (e.g., sculpting, pottery, mosaics, etc.) and the last third would be digital arts (e.g., photography, 3D design, etc.). That was the idea….
Then came the implementation… We quickly learned that the art world is very similar to the scientific community, everybody is very specialized. We had found great people that worked with mosaics or great people that worked in oils or great people that worked in pastels, but we couldn’t find someone that would cover everything we were looking for. It was easy to understand since at Ideaventions, we live the same scenario as it relates to science and engineering. An aerospace engineer is usually not comfortable teaching a biology class and vice versa, a microbiologist is usually unable to teach a computer science class. We considered bringing in experts for 9-week units, but that did not provide the continuity that we were looking for throughout the year and in subsequent years.
We then decided to look for an “Ideaventions” for the arts, a company that would be able to work with us to teach a variety of art techniques and used different media and provide the overall framework for art education. We found The Art Station, based out of Leesburg, and loved their program. The more I learned about their philosophy and their programs, the more excited I was about bringing the Art Station to Ideaventions Academy. I had to make a 20° turn since the media and techniques are integrated into their various classes, but their curricula, all developed by artists and educators, presents the material in a much more engaging way than we could have imagined.
Working as a team with The Art Station, we worked with their curriculum and defined a sequence that would provide our students the art education that we were looking for, while incorporating language arts and life skills into the program. Each week, students will not only learn about a medium, a technique or an artist, but they will also have Show-and-Share time, where they will practice oral communications by presenting their work, as well as learning how to provide and how to receive constructive feedback in an environment built on trust. Finally, students will be given the opportunity to display their work and through this process they will learn to appreciate the work of museum professionals as the link between the work of art (or object) and their audience (or the viewing public).
The breadth and depth of the curriculum that The Art Station is able to bring to our school is exciting, and we think the best way to describe it is by presenting this coming year’s scope and sequence:
We start the year by Exploring Mixed Media. This exposure unit introduces students to a wide range of mediums including collage, clay, up-cycled materials, acrylic paint, colored pencils, construction paper, and chalk pastels.
The second unit, In the Footsteps of the Masters, tackles Art History in a hands-on creative way. Students learn about both traditional and contemporary artists, exploring each artist’s iconic piece, and then are encouraged to create their own unique works of art by applying the same technique or style.
The third unit of study introduces a variety of Unique Techniques, such as the batik method, photo transfers, printmaking. The emphasis is on process and material selection—teaching students the importance of sequencing and providing them with hands-on experience that tests the properties of each medium.
Lastly, we end the year by diving deep on a contemporary art forms, Graphic Novels. We love how comics help us integrate art with storytelling. From designing characters to developing story arcs, this holistic approach allows students to flourish in many ways: They’ll learn the importance of structure, the aesthetics of design and the freedom of imagination. By the end of the session, students will have a full comic strip built upon the principles learned over the course of the program.
I am so excited about the strength of the Art program at Ideaventions Academy and that we were able to find a partner that shares our philosophy and is able to make our goals a reality.
P.S. I have deliberately not discussed creativity as part of the art program. This is because I strongly believe that creativity permeates through the different STEM fields, the arts and the humanities. Creativity deserves its own post and will be covered later this summer.
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