Our unique Connections Class in grades 1-3 is a great example of how, starting at a young age, students bridge their content-rich studies with deep critical thinking skills, putting what they learn to the test in a scenario-based project learning block. One of the goals of Connections, which meets once a week for 85 minutes, is to literally “connect” the curriculum, showing how each subject relates to the other, even if it doesn’t seem to do so on the surface.
This course provides young minds the opportunity to think creatively, build important social and presentation skills, and develop a crucial skill set to approach problems or challenges from multiple angles. It is often the process-oriented approach of Connections that we point to as developing skills we know will stay with our students far beyond elementary, middle, and high school.
To dive further into the thinking behind the Connections Class, Chris Zefferys – Director of Student Enrollment for BASIS Independent Schools – spoke with Stephanie Behning - BASIS Tucson Primary Subject Expert Teacher in Visual Arts and Connections Subject Adviser, about the origins of the class, the approach taken in the program, and how the guidance of Learning Expert Teachers has driven the success of the Connections Class program.
CZ: How did the Connections Class get started?
SB: BASIS.ed schools’ Connections Class was created out of the desire to have a specific time in the curriculum to develop student creativity with a hands-on approach. We wanted our students to connect the curriculum beyond just the classrooms. We wanted to make sure that they weren’t learning the discipline in a bubble but also illustrate how the discipline connects with all our other disciplines. All subjects can cross over and be integrated in some way. We wanted our students to understand this through the Connections Class and engage with subject matter through scenario-based projects.
CZ: How does Connections help with Critical Thinking, Problem Solving, and Creativity?
SB: Connections gives students time and space to become both the leader and a contributor in problem solving. When they are presented with a Connections scenario, which offers a challenge and a constraint, they begin to think outside of the box and become more innovative with their ideas. An example of a Connections scenario is to create and illustrate their own, entirely new culture, establishing laws, economic parameters, art, music, history, and more. In this particular example, students are given the following scenario: You are part of new culture. You currently don’t have a name, any written language, any laws or a form of currency. You need to decide what you are going to call your new culture, create a written language, create laws, create a map of where your culture lives and develop a form of currency for your culture. Basically, students utilize their knowledge of other cultures to develop their own innovative culture. They collaborate with other students to develop the critical aspects of their culture, then present their finished products during a cultural festival where they will share and celebrate the unique attributes of their culture.
Through this exercise, students connect to Humanities through the study of Ancient Greece. Math connections are made through the creation and value of currency. Students connect to Science through observing and classifying currency and to the Fine Arts by designing and making their currency.
Simultaneous connection of disciplines not only reinforces what they have learned but encourages them to apply it in a new way. Collaborating with, and getting new ideas from their peers, becomes an explosion of ideas coming together, combining, changing, and building upon one another.
CZ: What will students take away from Connections Class?
SB: Students will be able to keep their problem solving skills flexible, make connections more naturally, and carry solution-based thinking throughout their education. The goal of the course is to promote sustainable creativity, and help them better understand the world around them and that there is more than one answer to a problem they are presented with.
CZ: What role does social interaction and communication play in the Connections Class?
SB: The thread of community exists throughout the Connections curriculum and will stay with them in their other courses and year over year. Students are constantly introduced to different ways to interact with their peers and to brainstorm how their actions impact others. They are looking to each other as individuals and as a whole community to solve problems together. They become a team. They learn how to handle difficult situations with peers, discovering how to interact with other people – people with differing opinions, beliefs, and perspectives. Students will quickly learn how their behavior impacts the people around them. The vitality of looking at one’s emotional self is an undercurrent of problem solving development throughout projects. Students have the opportunity to talk about how their emotions affected the outcome of their goals and what it means to be a unique person.
CZ: Why does a Learning Expert Teacher (LET) lead this class?
SB: In large part, the BASIS.ed curriculum in grades 1-4 consists of integrated learning blocks where students travel from class to class and are taught by Subject Expert Teachers (SETs). Their Learning Expert Teacher (LET) is present in nearly every class, ensuring subject mastery at a high level, that the content delivered by the Subject Expert Teacher is fully comprehended by the Learning Expert Teacher. Connections Class is taught by the learning expert teacher because, the Learning Expert Teacher is the immediate connection between disciplines. They travel with students to every single class, understanding both individual and group progression levels in every class. Learning Expert Teachers have the first-hand ability to provide individual solutions to each child and can help differentiate the needs of each learner in the class. Because The Learning Expert Teacher is responsible for getting them where they need to go, connections are made with greater familiarity, and thus more proactively.
Learn more about the BASIS Independent Schools Connections Class by registering to attend an upcoming Information Session.
*In mature schools, Connections Class is discontinued in grade 4.
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