October 8, 2015


It used to be called homeschool.  It still is at the time of this writing, I guess.  But that’s not what it is at all.  In fact, it looks almost nothing like homeschool.  The students aren't at home, working out of an office, in the living room, or in their bedroom.  There is no online login with a list of repetitive activities, unit “quizzes”, and a difficult-to-reach support person that grades your work.  This isn’t a tutoring center where the majority of the teaching is actually left to the parents, or worse yet, to a textbook.  No, this is nothing like that.

So, what is it then? While we may not have a good title for it yet, if you ask our students and teachers, they will all tell you that this is the future of education.  


You might ask, “What could be so different about what you’re doing?” Lots of things.  First and foremost, ISLA Academy students each play a major part in the design and implementation of their own education.  Each student completes a series of in-depth, highly integrated projects based on their own particular areas of interest.  With guidance from a team of experienced, progressive educators, the students pursue deep, driving questions that require them to learn more than just surface level content.  Their research drives them to ask more questions and ultimately to present their learning in the context of their choosing.  One student is producing a play on the perceived and unperceived differences between the touristy version of her home country and the “real” version.  Another student is designing an interactive board game that calls on players to build their own civilizations while simultaneously avoiding the mistakes committed by the Mayans during their collapse.  And what’s more, each of those students participated in the creation of a grading rubric to assess their own performance.  They define what exemplary work will look like and then strive to achieve that definition.


Our STEM (science/technology/engineering/math) club is another major difference.  Instead of pushing students to read a chapter in their textbooks or to listen to a monotonous lecture, we present them with a weekly design challenge.  In groups, they run the stages of engineering by investigating their topics, imagining solutions and planning prototypes, building, testing, and finally improving their structure to complete the task.  Groups then use their research and creations to explain the scientific concepts presented during the week, such as gravity, momentum, friction, or air resistance.


Much like many that have found creative ways to earn a living using the world wide web, our students have also discovered that there are a plethora of amazing online resources available to assist in their education.  Using the best, research-based programs, our students complete math using the concept of a “flipped classroom”.  They watch lectures, videos, and presentations on the various concepts for homework and then they actually do the work under the supervision of a team of math educators.  In this way, the classroom time is utilized in a very efficient manner, where students have the opportunity to ask questions while in the process of solving problems.  


For extracurricular activities, we believe in giving our students the freedom and support to pursue their passions in life.  If they are into surfing, they spend their mornings at the beach earning credit in physical education and more.  If they love horseback riding, playing the cello, basketball, or volunteering their time at a local orphanage, we give them the time to pursue those areas and the ability to receive academic credit for doing so.  At ISLA Academy, we understand that education happens in lots of places, especially outside the classroom.  


We also put a strong emphasis on language.  Our students learn academic writing skills by dissecting model text types and using that analysis to write structured, organized essays that adhere to standards required for the SAT, TOEFL, and GRE exams.  Just this week, our students broke down an essay on the merits of school uniforms and then wrote their own essays about the societal effects of violence on television and the pros and cons of reuniting North and South Korea.  In addition to academic writing, our students also regularly participate in creative writing activities, often at our “classroom” on the beach at Playa Laguna.  We also schedule several hours each week for Spanish classes.  Students learn grammar and vocabulary through online games and instruction and participate in conversation and listening activities with our native Spanish teacher.  Students also regularly participate in sports and gardening with our support staff, giving them opportunities to use learned vocabulary in a real context.


If you’ve read this far, maybe you have an idea about what we should call this type of education.  Let us know by dropping me an email at director@islaacademy.com or better yet, come by and see us in action.  Our doors are always open.  Education is a community affair!

September 28, 2015

At ISLA Academy, our students are eager to learn. Our teachers are dedicated. Our playground and facilities look better and better each day. We are also continuing to welcome new students as the weeks go on. To say the least, everyone is smiling and enjoying our time learning here at ISLA Academy. As the school’s Curriculum Coordinator and the preschool’s Head Teacher, I would like to welcome you all to our first edition, of the preschool monthly blog! My assistant teacher and local Dominican, Ms. Arianny would also like to welcome you! It has been a busy year so far!


We have been getting to know each other and we have been learning new routines around school. We have also been learning new vocabulary words/concepts, the Common Core subjects of reading, writing, speaking, listening, and math. Science and Social Studies have also been a focus. We have been exploring in the arts of music, visual arts, and drama. We also know that our physical health, emotional health, and social skills are important focuses. In addition, importantly to mention, we have been learning most of this bilingually in both English and Spanish. It’s important at this age to talk about sharing, taking turns, and learning correct questions or statements that tell us nicely how we feel. We might ask, “Please may I say something?” instead of interrupting. We might ask, “Please may I use that?” if we would like to play with a toy our friend is playing with. We also might say, “Please don’t do that,” if what someone is doing is bothering us. These are simple, but nice ways we can get our point across to our friends.


Our big 9-week social studies unit asks us to explore our histories, our families, and who we are. We have been looking at baby pictures and describing how we have grown and changed since we were babies. We have looked at pictures of people in magazines and sorted them and spoke about what parts of the family they might represent. We have been interviewing our family members and asking about activities we loved to do together when we were babies, because we can’t quite remember that well.


In reading, we have been reading books about growing plants, tadpoles changing into frogs, and discussing our connections to these texts. We have been pointing at pictures, making predictions, and discussing the plots of the stories. We have been associating words with pictures, which is helping us learn colors, shapes, our names, and various sentences or questions we have been saying a lot in class.


In writing, we have been using our fingers to “write” notes to our parents in the sand. We are constantly working on our speaking skills as we have to explain ourselves, how we are feeling, and give answers we have to questions. We listen to how everyone is feeling, we listen to directions, we listen to stories, and we listen to music.


For science, we have included the “growth” concept in our learning by reading books about plants, animals that grow, and we have even planted our own seeds. Every day we observe our plants and discuss any changes we see. We have also been very busy studying math concepts. We are practicing counting objects to help our concept of how the number “1” actually means “one thing.” We are counting beans, rocks, coconuts, blocks, and anything else we can find. We are also looking at patterns around school. We understand that patterns are everywhere. We can even make our own patterns! We have been making patterns with colored Unifix cubes. They are really fun, but still a difficult task. We have also been using mathematical vocabulary to discuss things we do “before” school and “after” school. We have been talking about who has “more” or “less” rocks. We have also been talking about who is “first” or “last” in lines to lunch. During our calendar time we have also been talking about what we did “yesterday,” what we will do “tomorrow,” and also what important events might be coming up “next week.”


We have been listening to music and showing our feelings about a particular song by drawing, dancing, or explaining how it makes us feel. We have been creating art by learning simple shapes and using them to create drawings of houses, people, or airplanes. We have been acting in drama class by acting like animals, a tree, or like were in a moving car driving to the beach. Also, we just love using our puppets to imitate voices and pretend to be animals or other people. We have been focusing on our physical health by eating (and cooking!) healthy meals and exercising by moving our bodies, jumping, skipping, or swimming. Our Spanish program is also unique as we try to make everything as bilingual as possible. Instructions are given in both English and Spanish. During read aloud, the stories are spoken in both languages. Around the classroom, some of our phrases and vocabulary are in English and Spanish. When just playing outside, we try to talk to our friends in both English and Spanish. Families have already spoken of improvements of our non-native languages being spoken at home. This is great news! Most of all, we are having fun! Come see us anytime! Gracias and enjoy yourselves out there! ☺ Mr. Franco and Ms. Arianny













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