Our interdisciplinary, project-based and hands-on program is created by our core classroom teachers. Year to year, different essential questions become thematic jumping off points. Questions are complex and engaging, and have included: What makes us human? What is the origin of life? How do we design and redesign in our environment to solve problems? What defines a civilization? An authentic inquiry approach in classroom discussions opens students’ minds and creates a sense of purpose in learning.
Based upon the interests and profiles of each particular class group, teachers initiate and evolve their program through the year to both assure growth in academic skills and the development of Core Capacities.
Sample past units have focused on:
- Civilization, society and origins of humankind including the Big Bang, religion, and more
- Energy and Newtons’ laws of motion
- What makes us human with deeper focus areas about governments and the human body as a system
- Ancient Egypt and emergence of culture
- Climate change and the industrial revolution
- Structural engineering, Haiti, earthquakes and questions of global health
Classroom experiences and projects showcase and expand students’ learning in the arts, lab sciences, engineering, computer science, applied technology, wood shop, and electronic arts. Teachers also expand students’ exposure to innovators in related fields, integrating external curriculum collaborators to enrich student learning.
Core and Specialist teachers partner to develop projects that fit their themes. Ongoing assessment, portfolio creation, and projects emerge from these themes Projects include:
- Build scooters and see saws to showcase their learning about Newton’s Laws of Motion while learning new wood shop skills
- Dissect a cow heart to have a more deep understanding of cardiology and human systems.
- Author their own class play to showcase their understanding of how ancient and modern societies are different, while also making their own props, costumes, music and script.
- Build their own bridges and present them to showcase their structural engineering knowledge while practice creative thinking, teamwork, and presentation skills.
- Write advocacy letters to governmental representatives about topics they have become committed to through their study of the U.S. Constitution, and create an app to give elementary students access to an annotated version of the Constitution.
- Create mini museums to showcase their learning in geology and ecosystems.
- Design and paint murals to beautify the playground while depicting themes about protecting the environment.
- Invent and implement service learning projects to raise awareness about issues of importance for societal health.
Each year brings fresh projects and possibilities, and new ways that students take initiative to improve their world. Students experience school as a place to engage, learn, solve problems, and change things to make their school, community, and the world better.
Middle School Program
Our Middle School Program extends the elementary program approach and philosophy, optimizing the transitional time between childhood and early adulthood. Students learn through dialogue, readings, projects framed by teachers, projects initiated by students, and through authentic experiences of leadership and engagement in the community of the school and the world beyond our walls.
This program seeks to:
- Develop a sense of identity, voice, and confidence.
- Build students’ perspective taking and systems thinking skills.
- Enable students to become a best version of themselves—invested citizens who can make a positive impact within our community and world.
- Foster accountability and organizational abilities to concur with this middle-years stage. Develop creative problem solving, initiative, collaboration, and innovation capacities.
- Encourage emotional intelligence attributes—recognition of the impact they have on their community, accountability, capacity to navigate ambiguity and tolerate frustration, capacity to self advocate, and leadership.
In tandem with a significant focus on the development of academic skills (writing, mathematics, deep reading, complex and critical thinking and problem solving, technological proficiency, and capacity to articulate and follow through on projects), we focus on developing core capacities (systems thinking, perspective taking, moral and ethical decision making, critical thinking and problem solving, creativity, emotional intelligence and leadership). These capacities consistently enable Acera students to readily transition and thrive in high school.
Ultimately, we focus on preparing students for life. We emphasize self knowledge about shortcomings and strengths and emergence of students’ self advocacy and unique voice. We engage students to initiate and lead in a way that aligns with their unique potential as problem solvers, innovators and leaders who can make a positive impact in the world.
Classroom Theme Time: A mix of humanities rich and project based learning built around the essential questions of the year, with identified projects and culminating events as various as a class play, government advocacy outreach, or a community event brought alive by the class. Through discussions, literature groups, dialogue, writing and rewriting, debate, projects, and experiences, the essential questions framed during the year come alive (e.g., What does it mean to be human? What is the origin of things? What does it mean to be free? ).
Math: Ability based placements include math courses in pre-algebra, algebra/algebra II/linear algebra, applications and statistics, discrete math, number theory and proofs, geometry, precalculus, and independent study. Learn more about our middle school program math curriculum.
Health & Wellness: Discussions and activities to promote students’ development of identity, emotional intelligence, and awareness. Sex education programming is adapted from OWL (Our Whole Lives) curriculum.
Science: Biology, chemistry, biochemistry, and hands-on science lab experiences that mirror the way scientists actually work in a lab, rather than following a textbook-based approach. New scientific learning topics and tools are piloted within each year, reflecting our commitment to partnerships, development of novel curricula to share more broadly, and engagement in leading-edge scientific thinking and tools. Watch as Acera students study their skin microbiome.
IMP Project Time: Students work with an IMP Project mentor to turn an interest into a relevant project. These projects are showcased twice yearly at “IMPPosium.” In this process, students learn to have a positive impact in their community and get to work with a specialist in their area of focus (neuroscience, architecture, engineering, woodshop, electronic arts, etc.). Watch a video from the June 2019 IMPPosium.
Electives: Students choose three electives from more than 16 offerings each semester. Hands-on offerings focus on art, architecture, engineering, poetry, woodshop, engineering, and computer science. Afternoon electives focus on social sciences and histories in a wide array of areas, like civil rights, U.S. government, herstory, pivotal moments in history, gender studies, Civil War, world geography, world religions, and philosophy. Watch a video about a 2018-19 architecture elective, the “Tiny House”!