Exceptional learning experiences

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Education is most effective when it is engaging, relevant and transferable for the learner. This means that the student is placed at the center of the learning process, from curriculum development to program delivery. We recognize the importance of creating curriculum that is both developmentally appropriate and sensitive to the diverse life experiences of the children that we serve. This sensitivity to the child will result in learning experiences that ignite a stronger passion for learning, initiate a greater commitment to their communities and the environment, and provide fond memories of their IslandWood experience. In practice, these goals have led us to embrace experiential education, integrated curricula, and inquiry-based learning.

In the process of putting these philosophies and methods into practice through the creation of our curriculum, we have chosen to use Understanding by Design (UBD) as a curriculum development tool. UBD is designed to engage learners by focusing on enduring understandings which authors Grant Wiggins and Jay McTighe describe as the connections that “bind together our knowledge into something that makes sense of things.” With our goal of inspiring environmental and community stewardship, a curriculum based on understandings derived from knowledge and skills is appropriate. We thus begin with identifying our desired results: meeting our mission and the schools' needs. Then, we determine what evidence we need for knowing that we have achieved those results. Finally, we design the learning experiences that will help us to achieve our desired results.

We have found that the UBD process works in the context of creating curriculum at IslandWood. Some of the benefits of this process include:

  • The Framework is very flexible and can be used with different age groups from child to adult, with different length programs, with an integrated focus and with diverse goals.
  • Assessment is performance-based, formative, and embedded in particular lessons and experiences. This places less emphasis on one summative tool.
  • Essential questions promote further inquiry in the lessons.
  • The instructor is constantly challenged to connect lessons and activities to the big picture by remaining attentive to Desired Results and Evidence of Understanding.