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Our classrooms, called clusters, are all multi-age and team-taught. Each of the eight color-named clusters has its own double-sized classroom with two teachers sharing a large space. The open learning environment, devoid of traditional student desks and chairs in rows, is conducive to the project-based curriculum at Open Magnet Charter School. There is dynamic energy in the air as students work collaboratively with each other and synthesize what they have learned over time instead of learning series of skills in isolation.
Subject areas and disciplines are integrated and interrelated in a rich curriculum organized around our school-wide environmental theme of Interdependence: Human Interaction with the Environment. Within this curriculum, subject areas are connected to central concepts or key ideas. Skills, activities, and projects are linked through higher order processes used to construct meaning, solve problems and discover relationships. For example, students use math concepts that they learned in a geometry lesson when they build their cardboard models of buildings for their class project. In addition, they will have to apply their knowledge gathered from a recent field trip to City Hall and learned how actual communities and neighborhoods are formed.
Our thematic approach puts the teachers in charge of the curriculum and its materials. Thematic teaching also allows students’ interests to help guide lessons and activities so that students connect their knowledge and understanding at a deeper level. While every cluster has a constructivist approach to integrated thematic instruction, each has a unique emphasis based on a theme developed by each team. Themes guide curricular organization and subject area content, providing a framework for meaningful implementation of state standards.