At Acera, we develop a fearless love of science and an awareness of the inter-connections between STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) and the arts and humanities.
At our school, science isn’t a subject students learn about for a specific amount of time every week in a confined space — science is a practice, an approach to observing, investigating and questioning the world, that is applied constantly and throughout.
Essential questions in classrooms interrelate with fields of scientific study and inquiry. Classroom themes have included anchor topics such as ecosystems, climate change, design/re-design, biomimicry, flight and space, geology, Newton’s Laws of Motion, and evolution.
We believe that students need to be able to explore phenomena and scientific concepts just like scientists do: by conceiving, designing and running experiments; by observing phenomena and recording their process, observations, and outcomes; by analyzing their data and interpreting their findings; by discussing their ideas, questions and observations with peers, teachers and mentors from industry. This starts with simple experiments such as making slime or exploring the properties of sugars for our youngest students, and does not end with a current middle school unit in which students edit genes in bacteria.
Always, scientific and engineering topics interrelate with great questions of humanity. How do civilizations form? What is the impact humans have in the world? How can we be positive stewards of the earth? How can we recognize challenges and lead positive change that respects the perspectives of others?
From year to year, deeper investigations in particular engineering topics occur, and have included structural, frugal, sustainable, mechanical, electrical, and optical engineering.
Our students have build batteries with dirt, made bridges leveraging a variety of strategies, and invented mobile oceanic structures using principles of biomimicry, to name just a few examples.
Computer Science and Technology
Students often start off in early elementary learning about computer science components through hands-on robotics tools and through our unique program “Understanding Computers, Understanding Ourselves,” which was created by two Acera teachers. Students tell interactive stories in Twine, develop worlds in Scratch and create ways to visualize data, make video games, and bring a wide array of projects alive. Some students get deeply invested, and become facile with arduino boards or with programming in virtual reality.
The Acera Tech Hub is a new zone in the central Commons area of the school, and enables access to Podcast Production, Photoshop, fixes and troubleshooting, and an array of constantly growing new tools. Concurrently, student leadership in the Tech Hub area by middle school and upper elementary students enables students to gain skills and become known in the community as resources to help others.
Students gain skills in programs like GarageBand to record and mix music and soundtracks, and in film-making and video editing software for films or stop animation movies. Students are encouraged to bring in projects and integrate them into their learning experience. Some amount of computer science learning is offered every year in every classroom, in ways that evolve to fit each class group in their talents and interests.
STEM Specialist teachers, who have deep training and work experience in fields of engineering, biotechnology, computer science and beyond, enable learning and growth.
The SEEDS StudioLab
The SEEDS StudioLab engages students in playful, experiential, and collaborative learning experiences with new technologies. SEEDS stands for Science, Engineering, Esthetics, Design and Storytelling; and for a hands-on, interdisciplinary, creative space where children explore and design innovative and personally meaningful projects.
Driven by their own ideas, students can for example hack a cheap electronic toy, investigate its contents, learn how to use the sensors, lights and circuits inside, and repurpose them in a unique, self-designed and very different toy or artifact. This transition from consumer to creator, from using a product that is based on scientific principles to understanding how these principles work and can be applied elsewhere, fundamentally changes how children engage with the world, and how they see themselves in the world.
The Acera Woodshop
The Woodshop is a place where engineering comes alive in the form of a diverse set of hands-on projects. Students start with basic projects that teach both woodworking and design skills, and progress to designing and building increasingly complex and creative projects. Next to opportunities to work on woodshop and engineering skills during Creativity Morning, each class has specific times set aside to work in the woodshop and develop engineering projects related to the classroom’s theme. Students have built a coldframe and compost bins, for example, as part of an exploration of “What Nourishes Us?” They have build a sandbox on the playground as part of a unit on Dirt, and developed prototypes of artificial limbs as part of the theme “What makes us human?” Individual woodshop projects have included making a wooden chest or bench; building a scooter or bookshelf; and building a swing and tree houses for the playground.
All students in upper elementary and middle school have weekly science lab times. Our professionally equipped biochemistry and molecular biology lab in the Innovation Lab area of the school enables students to learn science by practicing science. Students are assigned just enough pre-reading to know what they need to know to get excited about setting up an experiment to recreate a procedure or experiment. Vocabulary is not learned from a textbook for a test, it is learned in the process of needing to be able to accurately name materials, protocols, principles and other details in order to run an experiment successfully, and to get the desired results. Students record their steps, discussions, observations and results in their lab notebooks, and continue to learn from their teacher and read up on what they are investigating as new questions arise. Students then reflect on their work in lab reports, as reflective writing after experiential learning deepens the learning and connects experience with conceptual thinking.
Studies consistently show the importance of hands-on experiences in science education. At Acera, students engage in the doing of science with all their senses, and experience the interconnections between creativity, scientific thinking and problem solving. Applying both these experiences and their analytical skills, students develop a deep and multifaceted understanding of scientific concepts.