Informal Education is child-centered. We start from the premise that everyone is a learner, including teachers. Most teachers go by their first names in recognition of that. We believe children learn by doing and experiencing with the teacher as a guide.
We use an integrated curriculum in recognition of the fact that children do not learn subjects in isolation. We look at the brain as a web seeking to connect all the information it receives.
Teachers plan integrated units using Columbus City Schools’ curriculum and children’s interests to build authentic learning experiences. Together with students, they often plan “webs” that focus on a theme or central question to guide their learning. The emphasis is on how to study a subject, and not exactly what to study. A thematic unit could go in any number of directions based on student interest. The idea is for students to “own” their learning. This develops a sense of enthusiasm and relevance, and respect for diversity in learning styles and ability.
Once a web has been developed, teachers and students choose pieces of literature to enrich their learning. They create writing in many forms including narratives, letters, and poetry and journal entries. They create projects that allow students to express and reflect on their learning. We believe that visual representation makes learning more memorable and is another way for students to express their learning.
Here is an example of a web: Exploring the People of the Arctic
Collaboration and Problem-Solving
We invest a great deal of time in establishing routines and expectations. We develop a classroom community and address problems collectively. We use both mixed-age groups and straight grade levels in grades K-3. When possible, older elementary children “loop,” spending two years with the same teacher and group of students.
We foster autonomy and teach children to be accountable for their own learning. Once they are able to make decisions independently, they are able to move freely through the classroom to find materials and resources they need.
We are flexible in our use of space. We prefer tables over desks because they allow for collaboration, helping to keep the focus on the group and not always the individual. Our classrooms offer community supplies, which helps students develop responsibility for shared materials. The classroom is laid out for purposes of use. Teachers pay attention to patterns of movement, as movement is important to us. Classrooms have their own libraries, carefully organized for learning.
We value integration of arts as part of our program. Visual arts, music and dance play a central role in our curriculum. Teachers work closely with the arts team to create and plan for thematic units, including sharing student work and performances. Examples of student artwork line the halls.