*Bold words are IB Learning Profile and (PYP) attitudes, characteristics all within the IB community value and strive toward developing.
The International Baccalaureate (IB) curricular framework encourages interdisciplinary planning. Science and technology applications provide teachers with “ta-da” to captivate and magnetize our students to be thinkers and inquirers cloaked in great fun. It is incredibly easy to incorporate science into each of our units for science is the world where wonder, inquiry, and awe live. When bringing out any piece of technology or science lab, we encourage students to play with the materials. The play helps build confidence, resiliency, curiosity, and patience in the evitable lack of perfection occurring first tries. And, how frustrating would it be to be shown all sorts of inviting toys and be told you couldn’t touch them?
Our youngest students have built robotics for simple machine units. They play with circuits in learning about electricity and light their own “doll-play houses” by striping and re-wiring holiday lights. They are regularly exposed to the latest educational tools on electronic, multimedia boards and tablets. We balance the world of technology with other educational tools, especially at this age. Our students are not technologically deprived and often know (or think they know) how to use technology tools better than their teachers, so we strive to ensure students have access to technology tools when it truly enhances the learning environment. We are laying down the foundation for responsible, safe, balanced-healthy use of technology tools. We have iPads for student use in Pk-3rd grade. These iPads, selectively filled with applications, games, readings, research, and tools, directly connect to Unit of Inquiry topics as a portable, dynamic “media centers”. They easily can be connected to each class electronic projection board or system. These technology tools are standard in many 21st century schools around the world, and our students definitely are not left behind in their understanding and confidence in using them.
Our 4th graders are learning how to use student-friendly databases and search engines while also learning how to comment and communicate with their teachers and fellow students in Google documents, how to type, how to make visual maps and computer generated characters, and right now at the Littleton campus, how to use SketchUp, a 3D drawing program, to ultimately create Ancient Greek labyrinths and self-designed figures, with our school’s 3D printer. The risk-taking and courage these students have to take on is tremendous. None of us knows what exactly we are doing (with the 3D printer) so we all truly have to experiment, be comfortable with our lack of being perfect (practice our resiliency*), tweak our designs with reflective thought, and learn to have fun in the messiness and sometimes uncomfortable environment of not knowing it all. Some of our 3rd grade students, at the Boulder campus in particular, are using a coding program developed for students, called Scratch, to develop games, quizzes, and teaching modules on the concepts they are learning in math class.
Our 5th and 6th graders are using their laptops daily for classroom and research. They regularly do video editing of their work and continue to build on the ever changing landscape of what technology offers students (with enthusiasm, flexibility, and principled development of social and safety skills). The science labs, experiments, and discussions permeate and ooze into almost every day with units centered on how physics, chemistry, and our minds affect the world around us. All final year PYP (Primary Years Programme) students, in all IB schools, engage in a student-led project called, The Exhibition. In the Exhibition, students demonstrate the skills they learned in their entire PYP (Pk-6th grade) program in communication, research, thinking, self-management (time management, safety, and executive functioning), and social skills. As part of this program, students develop their own topics for class and individual study. This year, the students’ central idea for discovery has the central idea of Technological exploration provides opportunities to understand, alter, and impact our world. Within the first inquiry, students are independently learning the “what” and “how” of a use of technology in exploration, such as how nanotechnology is used in medical fields, how robotics are used in space or ocean exploration, or uses of drones in agriculture. The second and third inquiries students will do individually and in groups in how technology alters our worlds and the impacts of technology (the good, bad, ugly, and beautiful). Students are encouraged to research print (both book and electronic) sources, interview experts in the field, and play and understand the mechanics of the actual technologies to improve their understandings and provide well-balanced perspectives of impacts of technology.
Our 7th and 8th graders partake in two distinct courses which continue to encourage them to be open-minded, reflective, and knowledgeable in their science and technology learning. As the aperture of open-mindedness sometimes begins to close in adolescence, we strive to keep it open by providing students with the background knowledge and debatable questions to ponder from different perspectives. In science, we explore topics others in our nation and world are not allowed to discuss or steer away from such as evolution and genetic engineering. Our graduates leave Mackintosh with a solid science factual knowledge understanding, confidence in doing labs on their own and in groups, and the ability to reflectively communicate their findings and knowledge that regularly supersedes their peer group. In Design class, students have completed both technology based projects and hands-on, building projects. Design Thinking employs engineering principles set in motion by humankind since the wheel, or maybe even the before the wheel. It begins with empathic, caring thinking about a problem, developing with design specifications to address that need, developing prototypes, creating, and continual reflection and revision based on your work. It creates not only solutions, but students (future citizens) who are knowledgeable, thoughtful, logical, reflective, and intelligent in the design of innovative solutions for real problems. Our students are currently building “Little Libraries” for our Mackintosh Littleton campus, the city of Littleton, for the community in Pine Ridge Indian Reservation (also where they will engage in a service learning trip this Spring), and for a school in India we are connected with through a program called PlaceTalks, an online sharing platform developed by students at MIT, which was through an introduction by one of our Mackintosh parents and the World Education Fund. Students also have built “legacy” projects for the school, such as the very popular Gaga Pit in Littleton and lasting raised gardens all around the Boulder campus. In addition to developing caring, service type projects in their Design class, students develop computer skills in programming and design which keep them above or at par with fellow students then in high school. Of our graduates last year, many of them have continued, with confidence, their studies in STEM programs, while at the same time venturing into other disciplines. Our students rarely pigeon hole themselves into one discipline, but seek out opportunities which round out their education in athletics, arts (especially drama and visual arts), and language. I believe our exposure and ability to explore and play with technology applications such as Scratch, Prezi’s, website design, multimedia projects (using a multitude of medium in video, pictures, audio, and visual mapping) opens doors for our students in the future and give them a solid footing.
by Sharon Muench, Mackintosh Academy Curriculum Coordinator