The world today has the unfortunate tendency to think in extreme opposites, and schools are certainly not exempt from this predilection. Educational reform, for example, is often characterized by two distinct positions: the traditional “old school” and the non-traditional “progressive” approach. These radically different visions have been competing for over a century. The traditional approach, associated with such individuals as B.F. Skinner and Edward L. Thorndike, is steeped in behavioral psychology, standardization, and the belief that learning is just the acquisition of very specific skills and bits of knowledge — a process that is linear, incremental, and measurable. Progressive education, on the other hand, identifies with the ideas and concepts of individuals like John Dewey and Jean Piaget. Rejecting the technocratic and mechanistic vision of traditionalists, progressive educators believe that thinking and learning emerge from our shared experiences and activities. It is what we do that animates what we know. Progressing through a series of stages, children should play an active role in democratically constructing reality rather than simply acquiring knowledge.
The fact that these two basic approaches have been contending for so long, is a powerful argument for the existence of both. As such, our approach at KAIS Elementary & Middle School tries to blend traditional goals with progressive methods. The sad truth is that many schools in the world attempt to teach down to the students, filling their heads with cold facts and static information. Knowledge, in other words, is treated as an end itself, and the goal unfortunately becomes to display this knowledge when called to do so. This “static, cold-storage ideal of knowledge,” to borrow the words of John Dewey, is at odds with the natural, educative development of the child, and cannot be the sole method depended upon in the classroom. We cannot afford, in a democratic society, to reduce our children to containers, into tabula rasa receptacles to be filled by an omniscient teacher.
As such, we use a variety of pedagogical approaches in the classroom in the hopes of striking that perfect balance between the traditional and the novel, the old and the new. For example, in our innovative social studies classes, we blend game mechanics to elicit intrinsic as well as extrinsic motivation from the students. The history of Early and Medieval Japan could involve a historical roleplay in which the students play daimyo in control of feudal provinces, who make decisions about which technology to research, how many armies to train, and what strategy to use on the battlefield. Similarly, the golden age of exploration and discovery could come alive, pitting the students against monstrous waves, mutinies, and starvation in their quest to establish trade routes in the spice-rich Moluccas. Such novel approaches are not limited to the social studies; mathematics and science classes also involve a number of interesting student-centered projects. In math, for example, students followed the stock market daily, creating graphs displaying profits and losses. Similarly, science class was busy this semester building a solar oven, nurturing a worm colony for composting, and designing race cars using our 3D printer.
We also employ differentiated learning in many of our classes; that is, providing different students at different learning levels with different material. A Grade 5 student who has demonstrated mastery over the math content (using ALEKS, an adaptive assessment and learning software) would not be arbitrarily limited by their grade. They would be placed in the appropriate class, and given the material that he or she needs to pursue their individualized learning path. Similarly, a student who has trouble grasping concepts would be given the assistance required until they master the content — they wouldn’t simply be left behind and unrealistically expected to “catch up.”
Other examples abound at our school, and we are all very proud of the work we do. Is it perfect? No. But we are confident that with every passing day, we are getting closer and closer to our ideals. If you have any questions, do not hesitate to inquire further on our Contact Us page. Thank you for visiting our website, and we sincerely hope that your child can begin his or her educational journey with us.