Bright Ideas' curriculum is responsive, integrated and flexible. Because the curriculum includes the child’s interests and questions, learning is responsive to the child's developmental level. We use Essential Questions to organize the curriculum which provides meaningful frameworks that integrate the academic and artistic disciplines. When concepts and skills are encountered by the student in personally meaningful activities, the student is energized, thereby engaging motivation and producing drive.
Choices and challenges are major components of Bright Ideas' program. Giving choices empowers a child to take charge of his learning to deepen and extend it. The curriculum is differentiated, which means varied to accommodate the child's learning style and emotional needs. It is individualized to provide an appropriate pace. We firmly believe that a child cannot reach his optimum potential unless he is sufficiently and consistently challenged to higher achievement. Children have a right to learn at a level that demands sufficient effort, yet is not beyond their grasp. Instead of pigeon-holing children by age, we search for the level that challenges them. A child’s age is only loosely correlated with his challenge level. Grouping by multi-age grade levels, we offer flexible pacing from preschool through the 12th grade, so that a child can be moved ahead when his personal growth exceeds his present level. Without intellectual challenge, his learning would become stagnant and stale, rather than vibrant and exciting. Choices in how to complete work and in designing projects provide flexibility in pacing, learning style, and depth of study.
Bright Ideas’ strategies incorporate Dr. Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi’s theory of flow. Flow is a subjective state that people report when they are completely involved in something to the point of losing track of time and of being unaware of everything else but the activity itself. To enter the state of flow, there must be clear goals and immediate feedback on the activity. Challenges and skills must be closely matched. Focus narrows to the activity and the experience. The activity becomes autoleic, that is, worth doing for its own sake. Flow leads to complexity because, to keep enjoying an activity, a person needs to find ever new challenges in order to avoid boredom, and to perfect new skills in order to avoid anxiety (Csikszentmihalyi). The more times that flow is experienced, the more often the student will choose to do the activity that produced it. Bright Ideas’ task is to increase student flow experiences associated with school work so that achievement is enhanced and talent is developed.
Hard work is demanded of everyone and celebrated by everyone. Instead of the false hierarchy of supposed innate ability that is common in traditional schools, we have created a meritocracy of effort. Since everyone is placed at their challenge level, the harder a student works, the more respect he gets.
Project work requires courage, determination, and responsibility. Courage is demanded when publicly presenting projects in which creative risks are taken. Determination is required to develop projects. Responsibility is demanded in order to meet deadlines and work independently. Students often come from environments that have caused them to lose their inner locus of control, and along with it, their love for learning and their motivation to succeed. Many do not take responsibility for their actions. High moral character, honor, integrity, and self-discipline are vital components in the leaders of tomorrow. Our Code of Accountability must be strict in order to instill these qualities in our students. We have daily standards for quantity and quality of work done. Students earn rewards for keeping their work up-to-date and receive consequences when work is not done. We work with the child to help him become more responsible by giving choices, with praise and encouragement when he chooses well, and by allowing him to experience consequences when he doesn't choose well (see Code of Accountability).
Other theories and strategies used are cooperative learning, Howard Gardner's Theory of Multiple Intelligences, Barbara Clark’s Integrative Education Model, manipulatives for math and science, peer tutoring and mentoring, computer technologies, phonics combined with whole language, interdisciplinary project learning, and reading and writing across the curriculum.
To be competitive in a global society, graduates need to have a firm background in world cultures and be competent in the productive skills necessary for the 21st century. To accomplish this purpose, 17 years ago, Bright Ideas designed a framework for curriculum using world history as the focus around which other subjects are integrated to deliver an in depth global perspective, SCANS workplace competencies, and Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills (TEKS). SCANS is the report from the U.S. Labor Secretary's Commission on Achieving Necessary Skills, which was issued in 1992 to define workplace competencies for the 21st century (see Code of Accountability).
The global village will require global knowledge. At present, America's children know little, if any, world history. By the time they encounter world history in secondary school, they are resistant to learning it because they often feel world history is irrelevant to their lives. They neither know nor do they care about other societies' backgrounds or problems. The lack of knowledge and understanding of other cultures' historical backgrounds leads directly to racial conflict. Our children will be global citizens and leaders. In order to be effective as such, they must understand the historical underpinnings of other cultures. "History to be relevant today cannot be so parochial (only Western Civilization) but must encompass as much as possible of the total experience of mankind" (Reischauer 1976).
Our world has serious global problems. "As heretical as it may seem to institution based historians, the study of history has essentially been a self-help project. That it no longer holds such value for the current generation of students, who shun history for more practical disciplines, is evidence of a failure among historians. They have abandoned the old fashioned notion that history has lessons, and thus emptied their classrooms. The most compelling of all reasons to study the past has been to foretell the future" (Davidson & Reeves-Mogg 1991).
Our humanities framework for curriculum, Connections Between Cultures®, uses the history of the world as its focus because children must learn from history's mistakes if they are to create a better future. This curriculum teaches children what they need to know for the 21st century: how to understand and work with a multitude of cultures, how to creatively solve problems and produce knowledge, and how to work hard and achieve. Our children are fascinated by other cultures, as well as their own, because from the time they are three until the 12th grade they study the history of the world's cultures.
We study periods of history in chronological order by examining and comparing the main cultures of each period, beginning in 3000 BC and continuing to the present time. Based on Time Life's TimeFrame series, this study produces a strongly integrated global continuum. This framework supplies a rich source of material for projects and research creating a curriculum that is open-ended enough to plug in the skills and content the children need to acquire, yet is rich enough to demand creativity, problem solving, critical thinking, and the investigation of leadership and moral values.
All students spend three weeks immersed in each culture in each period of time. Because students are allowed to choose challenging topics that they find interesting, a strong network of effective, engaging connections is created for the integration of language arts, geography, and social studies. Our multi-graded classes are PrePrimary, Primary, Intermediate, and Secondary. Each age group has a developmentally appropriate focus in its culture studies. At each level, the children compare not only the different cultures within a time period by outlining the similarities and interconnections, they also compare each culture with their own.
Our curriculum requires approximately six years to progress from 3000 BC through history to the present, at which point the sequence is repeated. If a child is at Bright Ideas for 12 years, he will experience the entirety of written history twice, at increasingly complex academic levels.
By studying each culture within the TimeFrame for three weeks, the children are experiencing a different culture every three weeks, giving them a broad knowledge of cultures. In successive TimeFrames, they revisit most of the same cultures. For example, Europe is visited 16 times, India 8 times, and America 13 times in each four-year cycle. The children develop a deep sense of how each culture developed, how it fits into the span of history, and how much each culture shares with the others. They experience the growth of all the world's cultures through time. The experience causes kids to discover for themselves that within all of us is a tapestry of cultures, made up of bits of the world's history, that there is more to each of us that is similar than different, and that we are all human. The differences become fascinating, not threatening. Diversity becomes a non-issue as we discover our own diverse roots.
Connections Between Cultures® is a dynamic vehicle for developing high achieving problem solvers. Brain researchers indicate that the complex human brain operates best when all of its functions are integrated (Clark 1988). To be effective creative problem solvers, children at Bright Ideas are taught how to integrate the brain's functions: thinking, feeling, sensing, and intuiting. When brain function is integrated, learning occurs with great power and speed.
Bright Ideas supports this process by requiring students to research topics within the culture being studied and design project presentations complete with visuals, music, skits, and models. The curriculum is alive and ever changing because the children and the teachers have choices of which aspects of a culture to study and of how to complete their projects. In order to complete their projects, the students gather research on their chosen topics from a variety of resources. After completing their written papers, they design media-rich project presentations. Art, music, and drama skills are used to develop effective project presentations to share their thinking with others. Designing and developing quality project presentations demands the vigorous use of basic skills, creative problem solving and critical thinking, as well as workplace competencies. This process results in deep thinking and powerful learning.
Connections Between Cultures® produces knowledge workers because it demands higher level thought and production. At the end of each three week culture study, the children are required to present their individual or group project at a school wide Culture Fair. The Culture Fair gives the children a reason to read, write, create projects, and share information using a variety of media. Each student is responsible for teaching his material to the audience in a manner that is engaging and informative. In this way, all the students benefit from each other's research. At Culture Fair, parents, staff, and students celebrate deep and creative thinking, productivity, and courage. Culture Fair creates a community of global learners, forging ahead to create a better future.
Connections Between Cultures® is what the educational futurists are calling for: “a curriculum that is activity‑ and idea‑based, a transdisciplinary one” (Benjamin 1989). Connections Between Cultures® shows students the beauty, as well as the commonalities, of other cultures while at the same time teaches them to produce and achieve at very high levels, skills which they will need to earn a good living.
To become internationally competitive in math and science, our students use curriculum consistent with national and international standards. Our math series follows the national standards produced by the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics and implements the recommendations of the Second International Mathematics Study. For the elementary, we use the Scott Foresman Addison Wesley Longman and McGraw-Hill math series, and for the secondary, the University of Chicago School Mathematics Project series (UCSMP). These series satisfy the requirements of Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills (TEKS).
Because so much of modern scientific research occurs at the interface of the science disciplines (geophysics, biochemistry, human ecology), science must now be taught in a way that makes connections among the sciences and with the real world of the student (Brunkhorst 1991). Students must learn how to think like scientists, by doing hands-on science in biology, chemistry, and physics every year. Topics must be examined in a real world, integrated way, across all the sciences, encouraging connections to be made and developing major concepts in increasing sophistication every year. For elementary science, we use Science and Technology for Children. For the middle school, we use Science Plus, and for the high school, Biology, Physics, Chemistry, and IP/C are offered in as integrated a fashion as possible. (See Greenhouse Lab link).
Bright Ideas Charter School uses the CTBS for grades K-12, ACT for grades 8-12, and the PSAT for grades 10-11. Bright Ideas students take the Iowa Test of Basic Skills with Integrated Writing Skills Test to provide new baseline data and to show progress. In addition, secondary students take the ACT yearly and the PSAT in the 10-11 grades.
A variety of methods are used for grading. For example, authentic assessment as well as paper and pencil testing is used. Other assessment procedures include observation, portfolios, formal testing, student conferences, and formal project presentations.
The foremost goal for Bright Ideas students is superior preparation for college. Bright Ideas students are not allowed to graduate unless they pass MSU's placement exam, or TASP, or state-approved equivalent. Consequently, no graduate of Bright Ideas Charter School will need to take remedial courses.
The purpose of our math assessment system is the understanding and mastery of math. No one fails math. No one is allowed to go on to the next chapter in their math book until the previous one is mastered, allowing students more time on concepts if needed. The system also allows for acceleration, by allowing students to test out of chapters in their math books. Students contract for the speed at which a book will be completed, but they must turn in at least one lesson per day. Time is a variable, but passing math is not. Records of progress are kept in the classroom where they can be used by the students and the teacher, and are available for parents to see.
For the humanities, a chart of deadlines is maintained, so that students, parents, and teachers can check to see what is due when and who still needs to get work in. Portfolios of all humanities work are kept in the classroom for reference by students, parents, and teachers.
Choices and meeting deadlines help students become self-directed by teaching them to motivate themselves, prioritize their work, and manage their time. More self-direction is required of students as they get older, with the goal being that by high school, students should need little outer direction. Beginning college then becomes an easy transition. The amount of incentives needed for individuals varies depending upon their own proclivities and how long they have been in traditional schools. New students tend to need more incentives to learn to manage their work. According to our discipline system, the Code of Accountability, laps or paycuts are assigned when deadlines for any subject are not met, and every day thereafter until the deadlines are met. Lap or paycut sheets that show how laps/paycuts were earned are maintained, so that students and their parents and teachers can see at a glance how students are doing on a daily basis. A system of positive incentives rewards students for each day that no laps are earned.
Progress reports showing grades earned, absences, and laps earned are issued to parents and students every 9 weeks.