Learning for Mastery
Hyde Park Academy of Science and Mathematics
THE ADVANCED PLACEMENT PHILOSOPHY
In our 21st century, acronyms have become a part of our daily life. From IPod to IPad to SPCA to FLL, it seems that we now speak in shorthand. At Hyde Park, we employ teaching techniques and strategies of the Advanced Placement (AP) program. We decided that perhaps the term should be defined so that everyone understands the acronym and exactly what points the philosophy embodies.
A person learns something when he or she has a desire or a need to do so. This understanding has been documented since the time of Socrates. Through extensive questioning and examination of one’s thoughts, he led his students through the process of learning. Thus, the approach to learning and teaching which is at the heart of the Advanced Placement teaching strategies has been part of classical education since the time of Socrates.
The goal of the AP approach is to provide students with “Education for Mastery”. We implement teaching strategies that provide our students with appropriately challenging reading and writing tasks. When we have not only learned information but are able to actually do something with that knowledge, we have mastered the topic. We can pick up a book and read about how to correct our stance on the golf course. We now know intellectually how to correct our stance. When we pick up the golf club and try it out, however, we begin to see that we have not yet mastered the stance. Learning math, English, science, or social studies is no different.
Our teachers create and implement instructional strategies that develop higher level analytical and communication skills. Additionally, greater responsibility is placed on the student for his or her academic progress. Through the emphasis on developing critical thinking skills, our students become empowered as independent learners. Teachers provide necessary instruction but also act as guides or coaches in helping our students develop the skills necessary for them to play an active role in their education. Learning is not a passive activity. In order for our students to push themselves to higher-level thinking, it is necessary for them to feel secure. Providing a classroom environment where students feel safe to take academic risks and hone their communication skills is an essential component of our program.
The expectation for our students is that they will perform at rigorous academic levels. This goal is reflected in the curriculum, the quality of instruction, and the consistent challenge that our students have to expand their knowledge and skills to the next level. We believe it is our purpose to prepare our students for higher intellectual engagement.
Vital to our three-year program is the vertical articulation which occurs within our school. Teachers in like curricular areas across all three grade levels work in teams to design curriculum that will promote higher-level learning. They analyze data and discuss course content to determine when, where, and how essential concepts will be presented and developed. This curriculum compacting requires teacher expertise in each content area. Additionally, this articulation occurs between elementary teachers and high school teachers as well. This is essential to ensuring that content mastery is attained and applied at increasing levels of rigor.
Not everyone learns the same thing at the same time. Because of this, differentiation of instruction is necessary. This occurs not only in course content but also in student product. While we maintain basic core content in like courses, there is differentiation in assignments, performances, reading levels, and applications. While students learn the same content, they accomplish this in a variety of ways and at different times.
Our goal is to help students learn to think. In our world it is necessary for our students to learn how to think critically. They must learn to question, analyze, construct, and communicate. These are difficult skills to acquire, and we believe the most effective manner to facilitate this is through inquiry-based instruction. Activities such as the Socratic seminar and threaded discussions provide our students the opportunity to hone their problem-solving abilities. By providing a safe environment for this, students begin to take on increasingly difficult problems and develop confidence in their problem-solving abilities. Through these activities, they are also strengthening their ability to work co-operatively.
As “Education for Mastery” is our motto, we believe that we truly learn something when we are able to do something with our knowledge. Essential to the AP philosophy is the implementation of performance-based assessment. Our use of authentic applications provides a connection to the real world through simulations, seminars, and presentations. Not everything can be measured through pen-and-paper tests so the use of these alternate assessments provides students with the opportunity to demonstrate what they have truly mastered. They also afford our students with the opportunity to work in collaborative teams.
The final component of the AP philosophy is the use of integrated, cross-curricular thematic units. Teachers work in grade level, cross-curricular teams to develop units that provide real world relevance to our instruction. We understand that we all learn when we have a desire or need to learn. These thematic units provide a basis to answer that eternal question – “Why do I have to know this?” The units allow students to actually use their learning. The units make the learning real.
We have all heard the saying regarding providing someone with a fish or teaching someone how to fish. Our students will leave us with the confidence and knowledge that they hold their futures in their own hands. They know how to think and have developed the skills and confidence to accomplish what they choose to accomplish.