Science Lab at Flagstaff Academy

ABOVE: Flagstaff Academy is proud of its inquiry based, hands-on Science Lab that allows students to use the process of science to understand the world around them. (Photo courtesy: Flagstaff Academy).

Curriculum and access offer foundation for the future

Some schools in Colorado are both using and teaching science and technology to prepare students for a future that seems almost unimaginable right now.

With increased access to equipment, curriculum and online availability, students are being provided with more tools than ever before to help them answer why the world works the way it does.

Flagstaff Academy in Longmont, for example, is a charter school that offers tuition-free Core Knowledge curriculum for students from kindergarten to eighth grade.

“We believe that science and technology are the foundation for everyday life,” explained Katie Gustafson, executive principal. “This helps students understand and navigate the world around us. Students are growing up in this world that is very different from the one we grew up with. We are preparing kids for jobs that don’t even exist yet.”

Students, even as young as preschool age, are encouraged to ask questions in both formal and informal formats based on an understanding of the scientific process, critical thinking and the engineering and design process.

Gustafson said, “Starting earlier helps students develop critical thinking and gets them to observe the world around them and take note when they are in their backyard asking questions. The earlier those skills start, the more they can practice those skills and the farther they can go. … It makes it easier when they go to high school, college and the workforce.”

As part of its mission to develop well-rounded, ethical leaders, the school also emphasizes math, literacy and the arts.

“We have a very strong arts and music program. The arts fit naturally into science and technology. When we talk about music and visual arts and exploration, technology lends itself to the tools needed,” Gustafson said. “Technology is everywhere; they get excited because it’s not all about reading from books and memorizing.”

Upwards of 25 electives, known as essentials (called specials in other schools) help broaden science and technology with a hands-on approach. Essentials instructors collaborate with general education teachers to support core learning.

For example, younger students can participate in the Elementary Science Lab, where they can “get messy, try new things, play with magnets and the microscopes,” she said. A Smart Lab also is available where students have a learning module that allows for exploratory learning for pursuits such as online comics or storyboards.

Other essentials include pre-engineering, robotics, computer science, cybersecurity, food science and even forensics.

A favorite among students is the campus greenhouse. “(Students) get to plant and harvest and taste the fruits and vegetables. We have aquaponics, where they learn about filters and the life cycle. Those are the kinds of memories that stick out to kids.”

Access to technology and equipment can be just as important in education as curriculum. (Photo: Shutterstock).

While innovations can open up the world for students, science and technology are just as essential in connecting students more directly to their communities’ needs.

Watershed School in Boulder, for example, seeks to prepare students in grades 6 to 12 to take on the world’s greatest challenges – many of which are rooted in science and technology, said Tim Breen, head of school.

Science courses at the school are called expeditions and focus on what Watershed has identified as the 25 great challenges in the world by employing significant field work.

“… Our students learn biology through courses on climate change, neuroscience and biotechnology. They learn chemistry through courses on pollution, atmospheric science and plastics. And they learn physics through courses on clean energy, infrastructure and engineering.”

The courses are multidisciplinary and allow students to explore the social and political aspects of the issue. Watershed aims to engage students in research with local organizations,
Breen said.

“Indeed, we hope to engage students in doing research that makes a contribution (e.g., citizen science projects).”

The school, which boasts a 100 percent college acceptance rate, also recently revamped its math program to include an emphasis on data science and technology applications.

Breen added, “Colleges also appreciate our focus on students producing high quality work (we favor quality over quantity). Our students graduate knowing how to ask great questions, explore them with rigor and communicate their results with clarity and grace.”

Access to technology and equipment can be just as important in education as curriculum.

With more than 5,000 students enrolled, GOAL High School is Colorado’s largest high school. The school, with 36 drop-in centers throughout the state, blends face-to-face instruction with online learning. The school is a free PERFORMANCE-rated high school that partners with Microsoft and Lesovo to offer access to cutting-edge technology.

“To be recognized as a Microsoft Showcase School, a candidate school … must be leading in multiple areas of Microsoft’s Education Transformation Framework,” said Jamie Trujillo, chief information officer, via email. Company education leaders evaluate schools every day to ascertain how they transform the educational model using new, creative ways to engage students.

Trujillo added, “Microsoft places a high premium on workforce development and modern workplace skills, with a focus on equity and inclusion. GOAL is a leader in all parts of the ETF, including Leadership and Policy, Teaching and Learning, Intelligent Environmental and Student and School Success. In short, GOAL is a true next-generational educational leader.”

Each student is provided a computer and an Internet hotspot upon request. Microsoft Surface products for concurrent enrollment and Lenovo Legion gaming laptops for an eSports program also are available.

“We can offer our students a more immersive experience to develop their next-generation skills. We offer technology certifications, internships, workforce coordination, experimental technology, eSports and a robust Career and Technical Education program, all through Microsoft technologies,” Trujillo said.

By Kathleen Duff for Raised in the Rockies