How We Teach
STEM competencies do not exist in isolation from each other, and, as such, are most effectively learned through an interdisciplinary approach.
The core of SySTEM Phoenix’s educational approach is founded on the belief that an integrated, relevant instructional model results in deeper, more meaningful learning.
Through a Problem and Project-Based Learning pedagogical approach, students develop the skills to tackle the robust problems characteristic of the real world. As active agents in the learning process, students pursue and use knowledge to negotiate their learning in peer groups and present solutions to authentic audiences.
Every component of SySTEM Phoenix’s method and our academic program reflects this commitment to accelerated, integrated learning.
Courses are designed to ensure coursework is connected within subjects and to the outside world. As well, the Common Core English Language Arts standards are incorporated across all content areas.
Integrated Core Courses
These instructional blocks use best practices in Problem and Project-Based Learning to emphasize interdisciplinary connections. In Humanities, English Language Arts Common Core Standards are embedded in the context of Social Studies Standards. Similarly, Math Common Core Standards and the Next Generation Science Standards are integrated cross-curricularly to ensure deep mastery of the standards.
The PBL courses are driven by 21st Century Skills (Collaboration, Communication, Critical Thinking, and Creativity) and highlight the connection between STEM and solving real-world problems. A service-learning component calls upon the full repertoire of students’ knowledge and skills to create solutions to real world problems posed by STEM industry and community partners. Students become adept at recognizing how their learning serves an important function in the improvement of their local community.
Early College Classes
Students participate in our accelerated middle school program in order to prepare to participate in college-level coursework through Phoenix College in their freshmen year of high school. Students who are on track can participate in college classes in 9th through 12th grade and graduate from SySTEM with their Associate’s Degree in Science. This makes them more competitive for admission and scholarships at top colleges around the country and world, in addition to providing them with accelerated curriculum.
Methods of Instruction
Hands-on learning is learning by doing. Through the use of manipulatives and interactive technologies, students conduct investigations in which they directly observe and test their ideas. The learning experience enhances students’ ability to think critically and learn what, how, when, and why concepts interact.
A cooperative setting capitalizes on the collective knowledge and skills of peer groups. This group interaction supports the development of strong critical thinking skills as team members brainstorm, develop action steps, posit questions for discussion, and evaluate each other’s ideas.
All content students experience is taught within the context of a larger project. Students learn state and international standards through the project, not before the project. Many projects will have a product but the product is not the most important part of problem and project-based learning. Students master a variety of standards through the rigorous process of solving a community problem such as creating a sustainable recycling program, building a community garden, or developing a community awareness campaign on water conservation.
Unit Design: Problem-Based Learning
Problem-Based Learning is the culmination of interconnected learning, incorporating standards in a holistic way to motivate mastery of various content standards through the lens of a novel, ill-defined problem.
A problem is ill-defined when not all the information necessary to solve the problem is given, which requires students to consider the application of knowledge before its acquisition. This sequence infuses the learning experience with purpose and motivates students to conduct research and discover new knowledge to actively solve robust problems.
Lesson Design: The 5 E Learning Cycle
The learning cycle rests on constructivism as its theoretical foundation: Engage, Explore, Explain, Elaborate, and Evaluate.
Constructivism is a dynamic and interactive model of how humans learn. A constructivist perspective assumes students must be actively involved in their learning and concepts are not transmitted from teacher to student but constructed by the student.
Teachers make learning meaningful when they employ activities that call on students to use their prior knowledge and experiences to construct their own frames of thought.
Through such inquiry learning approaches, students are put into situations that demand critical thinking and encouraged to internalize major concepts. Inquiry activities also give students the opportunity to express, confront, and analyze preconceptions and misconceptions in an active, non-threatening way.