The Core Knowledge curriculum has a heavy emphasis on Language Arts. Aspen Academy uses a phonics-based program to teach students reading and decoding skills, and then starts students in real books as soon as possible. Students gain a sense of accomplishment reading actual books instead of reading anthologies. Reading is divided into two areas: the Core Knowledge content we want all students to have which includes the designated stories, books, and poems for each grade level, and then the guided reading which is the related reading material that challenges students at their tested reading level.
As a part of our commitment to literacy and individualized instruction, students are tested in this area using Fountas and Pinnell’s Benchmark Assessment System. This assessment provides teachers with information about the areas of student strengths as a reader and areas to grow in. Instruction is then individualized based on that assessment – working on phonics, comprehension, fluency and many other reading skills as described by the state standards. This is true for students who need added assistance as well as those who easily excel in this area. Students also learn cursive starting in second grade and best practices in writing through instruction on the state standards in writing. For further discussion of literacy at Aspen Academy, please see the Literacy Plan.
The Core Knowledge Social Studies curriculum often ties in closely with the Literary selections for the grade level. As students learn about various countries, they are often reading literature that is set in those parts of the world. Each grade level has a unit on U.S. History and Geography, as well as World History. For example, First Graders do a unit on Egypt, Fourth Graders learn about Africa and China. Sixth Graders have a unit on Latin America, and Eighth Graders learn about the geography and politics of the Middle East. There is also a heavy emphasis on biographies as part of the Social Studies curriculum.
Aspen Academy uses the Singapore Math curriculum. This curriculum introduces students to a few key concepts with concrete examples, pictures, and opportunities for hands-on activities. Over time, the student is led progressively and logically to model-drawing as the method to solving real-world world problems. There is a heavy emphasis on repetition and mastery before moving on to new concepts. This curricular model is a direct inverse to many U.S. curricula where many concepts are taught during the early years without an expectation of mastery and students continually spiral back to the concepts.
Young students start by learning “number bonds”. As students get older, they learn specific steps for solving word problems through model-drawing. Singapore Math also teaches strategies for “mental math” or solving problems in their head. In all areas of Singapore Math, there is a heavy emphasis on learning place value and algebraic concepts–areas of math that are crucial for student proficiency on the MN State Standards.
The Science curriculum covers the biological sciences, physical sciences, and earth sciences. The topics are sequential and each grade level builds on the information learned in previous years. Examples include learning about electricity in First Grade, Astronomy in Third Grade, Chemistry in Fifth Grade, and starting Physics in Sixth Grade with units on heat and energy. In each grade, there is also a focus on science biographies in which students read about great scientists who have made important contributions to their field. Another thing Aspen Academy has done, in ordering supplemental reading material for students, was to look through all science topics covered in all grade levels and purchase fiction and non-fiction books relating to the Science curriculum so that if students wanted to expand their knowledge in these areas, they had reading material that would help them do so.
Second Language Instruction
We believe that the study of a second language enhances students’ perspective of the world around them and their understanding of people from other cultures. Spanish is introduced to students at Aspen beginning in Kindergarten. In addition, Latin is introduced in 4th Grade as a way to increase the understanding of the English language and complement the study of other languages.
Music and Art
In an effort to help each student achieve a balanced, well-rounded education, Music and Art are integrated into other subject areas as part of the Core Knowledge curriculum. Teachers encourage creativity within a structured atmosphere. Music and Art complement each child’s academic experience with a specific scope and sequence of their own.
The Physical Education program encourages personal fitness through individual activities with team games. Participation and good sportsmanship are emphasized. There will also be instruction on health and wellness.
All classrooms at Aspen Academy have Smart Boards–interactive whiteboards that connect to a computer and allow students to “drag and drop” items that relate to their lessons. An example would be Kindergarteners who drag the names of each of the seven continents across the board to match them up with the picture of each continent. The Smart Board also allows the teacher to download thousands of internet videos that complement classroom topics through “United Streaming”. Aspen Academy also has student laptops for keyboarding and internet research.
Aspen Academy uses Data Driven Instruction as a method of consistently understanding what instruction a child has received and can apply as well as looking towards areas of growth. This system, described in Driven by Data by Paul Bambrick-Santoyo, is utilized throughout the areas of reading and math to constantly guide and change instruction for all students. Students are assessed in multiple ways throughout the year. Please see the assessment calendar for 2016-2017 for further descriptions and timelines of all assessments given to students at Aspen Academy.