Active learning and hands-on experiences are driving a new science curriculum at KIPP Sunshine Peak Academy (KSPA) and KIPP Northeast Denver Middle School (KNDMS). The new curriculum is part of a strategy that emphasizes more computer science, technology and engineering tracks, and is being adopted by KIPP schools across the country.
The new curriculum is called Amplify, and it moves students away from memory-based learning and toward active engagement in which students “figure out” new concepts instead of “learning about” them through memorization.
For example, in a recent lesson about energy, Mr. Mullet’s 7th grade class at KNDMS simulated the movement of molecules by shaking magnets in a lab that illustrated how kinetic energy works. During class, the students also reviewed how molecules become solids, liquids, and gas using an online activity with the classroom’s laptops.
So far, the new curriculum is receiving positive reviews from both staff and students.
“It’s more fun,” said Tyanna, a 7th grade student at KNDMS. “We do a lot more labs now. Before it was boring and not as cool because we would just do worksheets and read out of books.”
The curriculum is more than just fun and games, though. It provides assessments to measure individual students’ areas of growth, and can provide recommended activities based on those results to ensure students are on track to master the subject matter. While many of the class activities are done as a group, instructors can now provide individualized lessons and activities for students using online tools and in-class laptop computers.
The adoption of the Amplify curriculum is part of a broader move to spark a greater interest in science, technology, engineering, and math, sometimes referred to as STEM subjects. With many post-secondary career opportunities in STEM fields, developing a passion for science can help students prepare for choice and opportunities in careers that may not even exist today.
As is the case in other subjects, teachers continue to have a great deal of autonomy in deciding how best to adopt and implement the Amplify curriculum. Mr. Mullet has opted to create small group lessons, allowing half the students to complete the hands-on portion of the lesson, while the other half to review the science behind it, before switching halfway through the lesson. Mullet believes this is a powerful factor in allowing students to take ownership of the lesson, and thus feel more invested in the learning process.
The curriculum also facilitates collaboration across schools and state lines for teachers. Teachers can connect about Amplify and share feedback or advice on presenting the curriculum. After learning about Amplify over the summer at the KIPP summit, Mr. Mullet visited a KIPP school in Baltimore to see how they implemented it. Now, he and his colleagues believe the new curriculum represents an important evolution in how students at KNDMS and schools across the country learn to love science.