New Science Curriculum Boosts Student Engagement

Posted Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Active learning and hands-on experiences are driving a new science curriculum at KIPP Sunshine Peak Academy (KSPA) and KIPP Northeast Denver Middle School (KNDMS). The new curriculum is part of a strategy that emphasizes more computer science, technology and engineering tracks, and is being adopted by KIPP schools across the country. 

The new curriculum is called Amplify, and it moves students away from memory-based learning and toward active engagement in which students “figure out” new concepts instead of “learning about” them through memorization.

For example, in a recent lesson about energy, Mr. Mullet’s 7th grade class at KNDMS simulated the movement of molecules by shaking magnets in a lab that illustrated how kinetic energy works. During class, the students also reviewed how molecules become solids, liquids, and gas using an online activity with the classroom’s laptops. 

So far, the new curriculum is receiving positive reviews from both staff and students. 

“It’s more fun,” said Tyanna, a 7th grade student at KNDMS. “We do a lot more labs now. Before it was boring and not as cool because we would just do worksheets and read out of books.”

The curriculum is more than just fun and games, though. It provides assessments to measure individual students’ areas of growth, and can provide recommended activities based on those results to ensure students are on track to master the subject matter. While many of the class activities are done as a group, instructors can now provide individualized lessons and activities for students using online tools and in-class laptop computers. 

The adoption of the Amplify curriculum is part of a broader move to spark a greater interest in science, technology, engineering, and math, sometimes referred to as STEM subjects. With many post-secondary career opportunities in STEM fields, developing a passion for science can help students prepare for choice and opportunities in careers that may not even exist today. 

As is the case in other subjects, teachers continue to have a great deal of autonomy in deciding how best to adopt and implement the Amplify curriculum. Mr. Mullet has opted to create small group lessons, allowing half the students to complete the hands-on portion of the lesson, while the other half to review the science behind it, before switching halfway through the lesson. Mullet believes this is a powerful factor in allowing students to take ownership of the lesson, and thus feel more invested in the learning process. 

The curriculum also facilitates collaboration across schools and state lines for teachers. Teachers can connect about Amplify and share feedback or advice on presenting the curriculum. After learning about Amplify over the summer at the KIPP summit, Mr. Mullet visited a KIPP school in Baltimore to see how they implemented it. Now, he and his colleagues believe the new curriculum represents an important evolution in how students at KNDMS and schools across the country learn to love science.

Tags: KIPP Northeast Denver Middle School

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KIPPsters Find Life Lessons at High Altitude

Posted Wednesday, February 14, 2018

KIPPsters from KIPP Northeast Denver Leadership Academy and KIPP Denver Collegiate High School got a real-life lesson about what it means to get back up after a fall, as teachers from the two schools organized the first ever KIPP Colorado snowboard and ski trips. Students across all grades participated, and, for many, this was their first time on a snowboard or skis. 

The schools partnered with SOS Outreach, a Colorado nonprofit founded in 1993 to help teach youth character strengths like courage, integrity, wisdom, and compassion by connecting them with the outdoors through activities like skiing, snowboarding, hiking, and camping. 

Phoebe Novitsky, a special education teacher at KIPP Northeast Denver Leadership Academy, organized the snowboarding outing to Vail Mountain for KIPPsters in January. Having managed youth programs for SOS Outreach in the past, she hopes providing access and exposure to new experiences will help students step out of their comfort zones and learn how failure can be integral to being successful. 

“This experience aligns with the character strengths KIPP teaches, like grit, resilience, and positivity,” said Novitsky. “Accepting that an experience is challenging and pushing through it is a lesson that aligns with KIPP’s mission and values. We’re excited to continue to find ways to integrate more outdoor learning experiences to complement what students are learning in the classroom.”

Alyssa Bull, who helped organize the outing for KIPP Denver Collegiate High School, saw her students take a strong interest in the mountains. 

“It was really cool to see what each student took away from this experience,” said Bull. “Some kids didn’t end up loving it but they still were glad to have tried it, while other kids were asking ‘when can I move to the mountain?’ Other students hadn’t realized there were so many people who worked in the mountains to keep them running each day. It got them to reflect on their own interests and possibilities in outdoor recreation that they might have never considered.”

SOS outreach coordinates with the mountain parks to provide inexpensive tickets to the slopes. For $25, they provide each student with a lift ticket, ski rentals, a helmet, boots, and skis/snowboard. They also provide all the special clothing students need, like ski pants, jackets, gloves, and goggles. 

Ms. Novitski and Ms. Bull both hope to continue and grow the program, so that students can continue to learn about the outdoors and about themselves in the process.  

“As a math teacher, I feel like I have great days in the classroom and not-so-great days,” said Bull. “It can be hard to make math memorable all the time, especially for every student. But to have a day when you can tell students that they are going to grow from this and remember and cherish it for a long time is really cool, because I feel the same way. I’m going to remember this and cherish this forever.”


Tags: KIPP Denver Collegiate High School , KIPP Northeast Denver Leadership Academy

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