A tiny school district in Central Oregon is trying to grow a new kind of student – a student who wants to have a positive impact on their community no matter their age, who is a big thinker, who is resilient, and who colleges and careers are dying to get, said Superintendent and Elementary Principal Stefanie Garber during her talk at TEDxBend 2016. We recently checked in with Ms. Garber to see how this curriculum is working and gladly heard fantastic progress.
The Culver curriculum is STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) focused, designed to be extremely hands-on and immersive. At the second grade level, to learn biology, math, and many other skills, kids may build a farm, for example, where they have to figure out what to plant, how to deal with invading bugs, or how to deal with a fire (real fire-fighters come teach them about this). To ensure that these new teaching methods happen each day at the high school level, Culver schools have now instituted a block schedule with STEM four days a week and every teacher teaches a STEM block. Placing STEM in the block allows for collaborative teacher partnerships in which the teachers can combine projects/kids in a way uses each teacher’s strength and expertise.
One such project by the Ag-shop & Physics STEM class was building large pumpkin launchers. Using physics to determine arm length, weight, base size, velocity, etc. and the Ag-shop for actual construction, they built “trebuchets”, or pumpkin catapults. Some machines were “epic failures,” Garber said, which required replanning and rebuilding, but all the students were very engaged in figuring out how to make their machine launch the oversized squash.
Garber’s innovative approach has also garnered a lot of attention from other schools seeking to incorporate similar ideas. The challenge that many other schools run into, however, are state standards, said Garber. Because schools are required to teach to certain standards, it can be risky to try a completely new approach that hasn’t been proven for those standards, she said. But rather than teaching for the test, Garber advocates crafting incredible experiences for kids, operating at a high rigor level, and the standards knowledge “just comes.”