Student Agency in Learning

Stem School

Each year, our fifth graders embark on a journey to Exhibition, an annual rite of passage for students completing their education here at Alpine IB World School.  Each grade level has six units of inquiry that they learn about each year.  In fifth grade, students take one of those units and design it themselves under the IB Theme, “How We Express Ourselves”.  They inquire into the ways in which we discover and express ideas, feelings, nature, culture, beliefs and values; the ways in which we reflect on, extend and enjoy our creativity; our appreciation of the aesthetic. Students reflect on their years at Alpine and design a unit in which they use all the tools, skills and knowledge they have learned to create an opportunity to synthesize what they know, create new meaning, and share this with our community in our annual 5th Grade Exhibition.  
Students begin the process by analyzing the theme.  They ask what does this mean, how does this relate to me, what interests drive my learning?  Then, they discuss with peers personal interests and discoveries they are interested in pursuing.  Some of the student interests from this year include imagination, music, art, drama, robotics, and video gaming.  Following these classroom conversations, all fifth graders gathered together to create an enduring understanding under which they would have the freedom to choose individual topics to study.  The guide we use as teachers to create a central idea for a unit of inquiry is Concept - Verb- Concept.  We explore two related concepts and connect them as our enduring understanding for a unit. Approximately 75 fifth graders broke into small groups and, using this process,created many different central ideas.  The final three were:

  • Imagination sparks discovery.  

  • The arts express feelings.

  • Imagination solves problems.

The next step was to present these three central ideas to the Inquiry Committee.  The Inquiry Committee consists of Alpine teachers who meet regularly to address the needs of our IB program.  Some of the things we do include voting on Central Ideas for all grade levels,analyzing practices and policies and evaluating our overall IB program of inquiry.  Fifth grade representatives from each class were chosen to attend the Inquiry Meeting and present their ideas.  In the same manner we do with other teachers, the team held a discussion about the merits of each of the central ideas.  We asked questions, including, “What thinking does this spark for you, How might this central idea help you develop the specific topic you are interested in studying, and How can you research / solve problems about your topic under this central idea?”  This generated deep discussion among both students and staff about which of these central ideas would be most universal for fifth grade.  Finally, we voted and Imagination solves problems was the central idea we settled on.  Next, we used the Central Idea Checklist to evaluate the central idea for many things, including its neutrality, ambiguity and global perspectives.  The students will bring back the central idea to their classmates and share the process they were engaged in with their classmates.  

From now until March 31, students will be working on this unit.  From identifying topics of interest to developing student groups, researching topics and creating presentations students will be focused on personalized learning and student agency, making their voices be heard in the most authentic and relevant way possible.  Exhibition is open to the public and is a tremendous site to see.  Please consider joining us to celebrate the growth and learning of our 5th grade graduating class.