In June 2013 we began the first stage of curriculum development for the new school by taking a team of nine educators from PFFS-University and City High School to San Diego to participate in the High Tech High, three-day ‘Summer Institute‘. Between August 2013 and January 2014 this team worked together on five additional, ‘weekend’ days to begin designing curricula for PFFS-Downtown.
Using the Understanding by Design® Framework (by Grant Wiggins and Jay McTighe), we first studied carefully the middle grades content standards to identify from all of the disciplines, clusters of interdisciplinary ‘big ideas’ that would be at the center of our units of instruction. We studied together the Arizona state content standards, the national Common Core standards for ELA and Mathematics, the Next Generation Science Standards, and the ISTE technology standards to find interdisciplinary connections. As these clusters began to take shape as units of instruction, we brain-stormed together demonstrations of learning that would give students the opportunity to show us that they knew deeply the big ideas from these units and were able to perform all the important skills in each unit. We discussed unit projects that could provide students, through an inquiry/discovery process, the knowledge and skills needed for the demonstrations of learning.
Our five additional days were consumed by this endeavor and in February 2014 we passed onto the staff of Paulo Freire Freedom School – Downtown our body of work. The next phase of curriculum development was carried forward by Joe Boehm, Nancy McCallion, and Rachel Nisch.
In February and March 2014 as part of the second stage of our curriculum development process, these three met together on several occasions to hone the work of the initial Design Team, to begin creating and embedding unit projects, and to develop the scope and sequence of the instructional units. Each of them had 20 additional days for curriculum development to be completed before the middle of July 2014 – funded by the Arizona Department of Education’s AzCSP grant ‘Project Year II’ which began on April 1st, 2014.
In early May 2014 the PFFS-Downtown teaching team visited MC2 STEM High School in Cleveland, OH to learn first hand how that ‘model school’ delivers interdisciplinary STEM curriculum to students in three locations (9th grade at the Great Lakes Science Museum on Lake Erie, 10th grade at GE’s Lighting Headquarters in Nela Park, and 11th/12th grade at Cleveland State University).
They continued meeting throughout the summer creating together programming that would include a two-hour AM block and middle block rotations through Mathematics and Writers Workshop. The AM block of time they called ‘Learning in Community’ – designed to be one contiguous block of project-based, interdisciplinary learning across the entire school year. A two-hour PM block called ‘Flow Lab’ would provide students multiple guided options for following their passions individually and in small groups.
Renovation of the 6th/7th grade spaces was completed by mid-July and when students arrived on 7/31/14, PFFS-Downtown opened as a demonstration site/lab learning environment for best PBL/STEM instructional practices and small school design. PFFS-D has the same vision and mission and the same academic goals as PFFS-U, however PFFS-D has created very unique programming to carry forward this vision and goals. PFFS-Downtown is the vanguard of the emerging CITY Center for Collaborative Learning and provides CITY Professional Development Center with lab classrooms for adult professional development.