While Human Ecology is the core of our student’s daily schedule, they spend the majority of the rest of their school day in Skills Courses. The students move through a Math Course, a Spanish Course, and a Writing and Literacy Course each day. At The Sage School, we approach these courses pedagogically differently from our Human Ecology Course. Those approaches are explained below. We see the content of these courses as centered around skills best practiced in short daily sessions. This structure contrasts with the larger periods of time spent in Human Ecology focusing on integrating knowledge in a project-based approach.
We are committed to helping students discover the utility and inter-connectedness of mathematics. Students develop the skills to use math and numeracy in their everyday lives and to apply their knowledge outside of math class.
We anchor our math classes in ALEKS (an online, interactive, artificially intelligent learning tool for mathematics), which serves as our online textbook. The program benefits our students in a number of ways not available in more traditional models or in other online software. Students are in multi-ability classrooms where they learn from teachers, from fellow students, and from the program itself. This allows students to proceed at their own pace. Certain students have, therefore, been able to move through certain material more quickly than a traditional program. Conversely, it has also allowed students who are struggling in certain areas the ability to move more slowly and get the additional attention they need. Students progress from Middle School Math through, typically, either an Algebra 2, Pre-Calculus, Statistics, or Calculus course.
We also teach mathematical thinking through our Human Ecology program and through more ‘real-world’ oriented math projects. The combination of real-world projects and daily practice is designed to prepare our students to do well on traditional tests and while also challenging their broader mathematical thinking skills.
The Sage School teaches Spanish language classes at every band level. Spanish is taught daily, is the only language offered, and is obligatory for all students. We believe that the Spanish language is most applicable for our students because of its local and global relevance. According to the 2012 census, 20.3% of the population of Blaine County is Hispanic, and Spanish prevails as one of the most commonly spoken languages in our modern world. Learning Spanish augments students’ cultural competency within the local community and supports linguistic and cultural understanding throughout travel in Spanish speaking countries. It further assists our students in understanding and developing their sense of ‘place’. To understand the ‘place’ of the western United States, being familiar with the 3 major waves of settlement- Indigenous, Hispanic, and the culturally mixed settlement under the American flag- assists students in constructing a rich and detailed view of our history. The teaching of Spanish, therefore, allows deep study of one of those cultures, while the other two will be looked at more closely during Human Ecology periods. Facility in the Spanish language gives students an advantage as they enter the job market, and opens opportunities to work and travel throughout our country and the rest of the world. By teaching one language at all levels, we provide students with continuity throughout their years at The Sage School and allow them to develop deep proficiency.
The Sage School Spanish department employs the Organic Language Acquisition (OLA) curriculum as the basis for our Spanish classes. OLA is based on current research about language acquisition and aims to create a classroom atmosphere that mimics as closely as possible the environment in which students learned their first language. To this end, classes are conducted entirely in Spanish, with students using strategies of acting, drawing, and circumlocution (using the words they already know) in order to communicate in Spanish and expand their vocabularies and skills. Students and teacher stand or sit in a circle and engage in active and kinesthetic conversation and verbal activities, in addition to daily writing practice and regular listening exercises. The OLA method allows for a student-centered curriculum that is not based on a set of textbooks and workbooks, but is derived from students’ lives and interests. Assessment is based on the levels established by the American Council of the Teachers of Foreign Languages (ACTFL), with students expected to advance one level (i.e. from Novice Mid to Novice High) each academic year. For more details please visit http://actflproficiencyguidelines2012.org. The Spanish program culminates with the two-week 12th grade trip to Ecuador, when seniors spend five days living with a local family in addition to other linguistic and cultural activities.
Writing and Literacy
Our Writing and Literacy program is attentive to the stages of adolescent development of our students. The content of the course connects with the Human Ecology curriculum while focusing intensely on the unique skills of Writing and Literacy. In each year of the Writing and Literacy curriculum, students read texts that align with the appropriate “Task of Adolescence” of our overarching Human Ecology curriculum. For example, when a student is in the 10-11 band working to understand the “American System” in Human Ecology, they read The Great Gatsby in their Writing and Literacy course and decide what makes the novel distinctly American as they work to develop skills to decode literary symbolism and craft analytical arguments. A student in the 6-7 band during their “Year of Self” reads memoirs and biographies as they develop their own unique written voice and learn how to organize and present personal narratives in a compelling manner.
Writing is a critical skill to develop during adolescence. We believe that learning to write happens with frequent practice, meaningful feedback, consistent revision, authentic assignments, and the opportunity write in many different formats for a variety of audiences. The Writing and Literacy program at The Sage School builds a culture of revision. Students re-work, re-structure, re-evaluate, and re-submit their assignments habitually in order to understand that a strong written product can only be the result of a robust process.
Literacy is an increasingly important skill to build in our modern world awash with information. Students read a spectrum of different types of writing (novels, short stories, newspaper articles, poetry, memoirs, critical essays, personal essays, biographies, etc.) and are regularly asked to determine motivations, analyze rhetoric, and empathize with other perspectives. Reading is taught as a critical tool to broader understanding.