Problem Based and Integrated Curriculum

In order for such a small school to do justice to the wealth of information, viewpoints, experiences and resources available to teachers and learners, our studies use a  thematic rotation to put the world into perspective:

  • The Ancient World
  • The Americas: post-contact to the Industrial Revolution and Westward Expansion
  • The Modern World of the 20th and 21st Centuries

Periods are studied in two-year cycles.  Coursework is put into the context of these historical periods,  drawing connections between lessons of the past and actions of our current time.

Our full-time program courses fall into three categories:  core classes, afternoon blocks, and stewardship.  One credit equals 120 contact hours with teacher and subject.

CORES meet three to four days per week, all year, for at least one hour per session.  They include English, science, math, and foreign language.  Students earn 1.2-1.5 credits per course per year.  This consistent immersion builds both skills and dispositions essential for a strong academic foundation.  Students are grouped largely based on their experience with or exposure to material or skills.

An integrated, multi-age math and science pilot begins in the fall of 2017.  This course will run for two hours per day, four days per week, all year.  It will consist of students grades 6-12 chosen for their problem solving abilities, curiosity, and collaborative skills, and will introduce students to real-world problems for which they will use (largely but not exclusively) math and science skills to solve.  Any given project could include exposure to and use of advanced maths, including calculus, probability and statistics, and geometry, and will delve deep into scientific principles of biology, chemistry and physics.  Students engaged in this program will be working through real problems on our property, all of which will be scalable and directly connected to food security and climate issues faced by others.

For example, students will:

  • design and construct an Archimedes screw which will use the current from the river on our property to generate electricity for our farm, with a twin designed for wind power.  This will include factoring flow rates in different seasons, projecting and planning against disturbances in the riparian ecosystem; figuring conversions for electrical current; building the screw mechanism and infrastructure, and working with state and federal oversight agencies
  • breed pigs and sheep specifically for our micro-region, including traits for foraging ability, hardiness, meat proportions, reproduction, and growth.  This will include historical research on breeds, genetics work, animal husbandry, food chemistry, curing (dealing with ambient factors as well as managed), and marketing of a “new” breed
  • expand our current composting endeavors to a community scale to reduce biological matter in the waste stream, including both hot composting and vermiculture.  Students will plan and manage for micro biome health of the compost, explore pathogenic factors to a public waste system, measure and manage for appropriate chemical content of end product, design and construct and manage compost beds, and market the final product.
  • transform our existing greenhouse into a  bio-shelter, a solar greenhouse ecosystem for four-season growing using permaculture principles.  This requires understanding of solar gain and the construction of a climate battery, a ground-to-air heat exchanger which uses the thermal mass of the ground to heat and cool the greenhouse, year round.  

Within five years, it is the expectation that the majority of our core classes will become

integrated and problem-based.

BLOCKS run for one-two quarters and meet four afternoons per week for 90 minutes each session, typically with offerings for middle OR high school.  These intensive studies allow time to delve deeply into fairly specific areas of history, social justice or the sciences.  Courses are designed with student input and each earns approximately .60-1.20 credits.

Past courses include: Mediation and Conflict Resolution; Modern Conflict and War; Food Systems and Climate Change; Economies and Markets; Ethics In A Modern Society; Communicable Disease; Branches of Government:  Checks and Balances, or Road Blocks; the Individual and the State; Ice Ages and Climate Change; Evolution of North America; The Power of Myth; Evolution of Species; Crusades–Ancient and Modern; The Role of Martyrs in History; Religion and Genocide; Remember the Ladies: Pilgrims to Suffragettes; Supreme Court and the Constitution; The Atomic Age; Guns, Germs and Steel.

STEWARDSHIP meets on Fridays.  From 8:30-noon, students immerse themselves in one intensive elective:  the arts, wood working, farming, cooking, health and sexuality, invention, hiking, mountain biking, skiing or boarding, musical theater, chemistry, astronomy, and more.  Expert crafts people or other specialists from our region often teach these courses, designed to build skill and passion.

Assessment and Evaluation

We believe that assessment and evaluation are tools to help learners plan, grow, and to record that growth.  To that end, we assess in many ways–from extemporaneous conversations to formal presentations;  journaling or lab notes to annotated plan; pencil and paper tests to problem based projects.  Students learn to assess themselves and to trust their own insights rather than to rely fully on extrinsic observation.  Areas assessed include specific subject content and understanding, abilities to use skill sets to solve problems or do something, dispositions, and critical skills:  leadership, creative thinking, organization, problem solving, communication, ownership, and critical thinking.

Evaluations are narrative.  We do not use a traditional alpha-numeric system, but instead note on individual transcripts whether a student has met basic class criteria (Pass), as done so in an exceptionally vivid way (Pass with Distinction), has marked some impressive personal growth (Pass with Personal Honors), has not met basic expectations in the most half-hearted of ways (Pass with Concern), or has failed to meet even basic expectations (Fail).

We neither assign grade point averages nor rank our students, not only because it isn’t possible to translate our narrative system into letters and numbers, but because we, at our core, do not believe in ranking. We are happy to offer individual narrative recommendations for scholarship consideration, college course prerequisites, or in other areas which typically rely on standardized norms.