The McKinna School curriculum combines both systematic teaching and project-based learning.
Systematic teaching is the direct teaching and practice of necessary skills and content. Systematic teaching provides students with the instruction and practice necessary to acquire skills. Application of these skills combined with higher level thinking skills, such as, learning-to-learn skills, communication skills, thinking and reasoning skills, and interpersonal skills, are developed with our Project-Based Learning approach. Through in-depth investigative projects, students are provided with opportunities to expand and integrate their knowledge and apply these skills towards intrinsically motivated mastery.
Our curriculum uses the Common Core Standards as a basis for guiding the curriculum requirements. However, here at the McKinna School, we take these standards and “run with them.”
Our teachers flesh out the basic requirements with materials, practicum, and experiential opportunities for each student, designed to engage them in their own learning process. Our faculty adapts and modifies the course material in such a manner so as to reach every student. Finally, we feel that it is extremely important to determine what a child can do with the knowledge they have garnered. Therefore, we conclude units of instruction with projects of mastery. These are assessment strategies, which allow our students to demonstrate their level of understanding and mastery of concepts and skills. Several times a year, exhibitions are held in which parents are invited to observe and participate in the mastery projects.
The McKinna School Humanities program takes an interdisciplinary and integrated approach to culture and history. By integrating History and English curricula, Humanities is designed to engage students in historical and cultural inquiry and investigation. At the McKinna School, our program is meant to be provocative. We want our students to be able to “think” about significant historical and current events and their impact around the world. Through literature, textbooks and historical fiction, the McKinna School students are encouraged to look at the perspectives of the key players and events and begin to develop an understanding of the environment, lives and experiences of these times and people. Additionally, we want our students to become aware of the “chain” of events.
An integral feature of the Humanities program is the reading of novels, both historical fiction and those relevant to our elementary school students. Class discussion and activities are designed to foster students’ understanding of plot, setting, and character development, as well as to begin to develop their critical eye toward literary analysis. Additionally, the Humanities program continues to review basic skills in grammar, vocabulary and spelling conventions throughout the year.
Writing skills play an equally strong role in the McKinna School’s Humanities program. All students are required to develop their ability to write with the intent to “answer a question,” as the thesis-based essay is the basic form of written communication. Thesis-based writing helps students develop their own voice, as well as develop the self-confidence to prove their point of view.
Another key facet of the Humanities program is Research. Research projects provide increasing levels of independence for students as they delve further into areas of importance to them. Through their investigations, students develop their ability to negotiate through a variety of sources including the Internet, non-fiction sources, as well as conduct interviews with experts in their fields. Students learn to cite sources and write formal bibliographies. Another important goal of research is for McKinna School students to learn how to determine the reliability and value of sources, especially those found on the Internet.
Finally, the Humanities program offers students the opportunity for creative writing through the writing of stories, plays and poetry. At every grade level an emphasis is placed on the “writing process:” organization of ideas, sentence structure, grammar and editing.
Physical Education/Action Breaks
The aim of our Physical Education program is to help students understand that living healthfully and staying fit is part of a lifelong process. Thus, during our Action Breaks we encourage lots of movement and exercise through a variety of activities including yoga, martial arts, non-traditional sports and games, thereby providing fun and creative ways to stay healthy. Additionally, students develop their coordination by practicing athletic skills related to traditional sports. Skills include throwing, kicking and catching.
ASSESSING STUDENTS' PROGRESS
Measuring students' understanding and mastery of course material is of utmost concern here at McKinna School. However, we value the “whole student” and believe that it is necessary to assess a student’s progress using a variety of tools. All the following methods are used to demonstrate and assess students' progress.
Project Presentations is perhaps the most authentic form of assessment. Through the presentation, one truly assesses what a student knows, as opposed to what they have merely memorized. Through in-depth research, presentation and a question-and-answer session, students are challenged to master an area of curriculum not covered in class.
McKinna School project presentations may take several forms in the classroom: Essays, projects and portfolios and multimedia demonstrations. All are submitted to or performed for and audience who in turn ask questions as to the learning process of the student. Students develop a topic of their own, research the topic, write an essay with regards to their research, present their findings in a creative format and field questions from peers, parents and teachers.
Collections of student work are gathered by every teacher in portfolios. These provide a resource for students to reflect upon their own learning process and mastery of skills and concepts. Portfolios may also include teacher comments and student reflections and journaling.
Demos (a.k.a. Tests and Quizzes)
Throughout the year, students will participate in Demonstrations or Demos, our term for tests and quizzes, as another means of evaluation. While we feel that tests and quizzes are not a means through which to gather a complete picture of student learning, they can provide a spot check of particular skills, hence the term Demo.
McKinna School views testing as a piece of the assessment process, as standardized tests provide a snapshot of a child’s academic progress and performance. McKinna School stresses that parents and students should regard the significance of standardized test scores with caution. Additionally, standardized tests are not used as a measure of a student’s intellectual ability, creativity, or to predict one’s success in later life. However, at McKinna School information gathered through standardized tests may be used by teachers to help direct the design of, and modifications and adaptations to curriculum. Additionally, we feel that standardized tests provide an opportunity for students to become accustomed to the formal test taking process.
Conferences and Progress Reports
Parent teacher conferences take place three times a year, however, parents are encouraged make appointments at any time to discuss their student’s progress.
In addition to conferences, Progress Reports are written twice a year. At McKinna School these progress reports take the form of narratives, as they are in-depth reports written by subject teachers and the student’s advisor evaluating the student in terms of both affective performance and cognitive development, covering a range of skills and behavior in the classroom.
At McKinna School educational research plays a valuable role in designing our education program in order to best meet the needs of our students. Thus far, the research findings on homework show very limited positive impact on student education. Therefore, our teachers meet with both parents and students to develop the best practices for after school homework based on the individual needs of each child. However, we do encourage all our students to continue their reading after school. We have an all school 100 Book Challenge to encourage everyone, students and teachers alike to read outside of school. Additionally, reading may take the form of independent practice, parents reading aloud to their child, or a combination of the two, based upon the abilities and needs of the student.