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 email@example.com or better yet, come by and see us in action. Our doors are always open. Education is a community affair!