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Rigorous Academics & Thematic Learning

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Rigorous Academics and Thematic Learning

October 19, 2021
By Saratoga Independent School

Students learn in a variety of ways. There is no right or wrong way, and as a parent, you know the environment in which your child will flourish and grow. Rigorous academics and thematic learning offer a unique and proven platform. Children learn through stimulating and engaging studies based on a highlighted theme across multiple disciplines.

What is meant by “rigorous academic work?”

Rigorous academic learning is not about instruction given in a harsh or disciplinary environment. On the contrary, educators believe that students flourish in a challenging yet not difficult climate. The Glossary of Education Reform defines it as,

“Rigorous learning experiences, for example, help students understand knowledge and concepts that are complex, ambiguous, or contentious, and they help students acquire skills that can be applied in a variety of educational, career, and civic contexts throughout their lives.” 

It is further defined, “In education, rigor is commonly applied to lessons that encourage students to question their assumptions and think deeply, rather than to lessons that merely demand memorization and information recall. Thus, for example, a fill-in-the-blank worksheet or multiple-choice test would not be considered rigorous by many educators.”

What is thematic learning?

Thematic learning enhances the foundation of rigorous academics by building the curriculum on a specific theme for teaching one or more concepts and subjects. 

Thematic learning is based on the idea that knowledge acquisition is efficient among students when they learn in a coherent and holistic way and when they can associate whatever they learn to their surroundings and real-life examples. Thematic instruction seeks to put cognitive skills such as reading, thinking, memorizing, and writing in the context of a real life situation under the broad aim of allowing creative exploration. (k12academics.com)

Students beginning thematic learning in elementary school, including kindergarten, begin to build a depth of knowledge built upon the ability to connect things that may not seem connected at first. This applies to understanding the impact, for example, that science and technology have on history. Thematic learning encourages open-ended learning based on your beliefs and experiences. 
 

What are excellent examples of rigorous academics and thematic learning?

Rigorous Academics 

Academic Rigor at Saratoga Independent School happens by creating classrooms and learning communities that enhance content and allow for deep thought. Teachers carefully plan using State Standards, quality research-based curricula, and knowledge of their individual students’ strengths. 

At Saratoga Independent School, there is a high expectation that students will do their best by rising to the challenge of the higher level of thinking which their teachers know they are capable of achieving. Students are encouraged to demonstrate knowledge through various pathways, including hands-on learning, rich discussions, portfolios, and written assessments. 

An example of rigor at Saratoga Independent School in a Primary Social Studies class shows students brainstorming the meaning of a timeline. They then will make a “human” timeline to line up in the order of their birthdays. After this, they write the timelines of a school day. Then, they each design their timeline from their birth to the present day. Within these activities, the teacher scaffolds lessons on concepts such as a timeline, a graphic depiction of the passage of time, discussing chronological order, past and present, and math and literacy skills. This project teaches content while allowing each student’s individuality to be expressed through their creativity, culture, and deep discussion of their own chain of events that made them who they are today. 

Theme-Based Learning 

The essential notion of theme-based teaching is that many different activities are linked together by their content; the theme or topic runs through everything in the classroom and acts as a connecting thread for students and teachers.

Saratoga Independent School’s curriculum follows theme-based learning. The themes are interwoven through all subject areas and across grade levels. Pre-K through K-5 and middle school all use this approach to learning. This research-based curriculum supports the mission statement of the school in various forms. In addition, theme-based teaching lends itself to critical thinking, problem-solving, and teamwork. 

Thematic units such as Bridges To People, and Places and Times present opportunities for learning across content areas. While studying Ancient Civilizations Thematic Social Studies, students can apply content learned in science through a Simple Machines unit. This provides an opportunity for students to connect the two by building what they have learned. Through hands-on exploration, students can analyze how simple machines affected the development of civilizations. Then, three years later, the students will learn how those ancient civilizations influenced the structure of today’s government.

How do I know if this is the right learning environment for my child?

Ultimately, you are the only person who can answer this question. However, here are some guiding questions that can help determine if a school is a good fit for your child and your family. 

First, think about what is important to you? Is it safety? The school’s approach to learning? Small class sizes and an individualized approach to learning? Write down your top five priorities and ask these questions when on your visit/tour. 

Second, ask to see the school’s mission. The mission creates the culture for the school. At Saratoga Independent School, our mission is at the crux of everything we do. For example, part of our mission statement says that we “empower students to be curious and confident learners”.  Prospective families can view our website, walk through our hallways, and see examples of how we encourage opportunities for leadership and the sharing of ideas through rich discussions. 

Lastly, you’ll know the people who are connected to the school. The pride and passion that faculty and staff have for their students will always shine through when sharing information about their school. Walking through the halls at Saratoga Independent School, you’ll notice people will stop to greet you on your tour. We love to talk about who we are and what we offer. Currently, enrolled families are also great resources. When you visit, you’ll get a feeling that creates a sense of belonging in a community you’ll want to be a part of too. Ultimately, it’s the people and that feeling that will help to reassure you that you have found the right place. 

Schedule a Campus Tour

We love to show off what we’ve got and how we work! Our private and virtual tours are designed to give a peek inside our school and learn about our strong academics and caring culture. We will meet with you safely outside (or virtually), show you the campus, and answer any questions that you may have. Schedule a tour or contact Colleen Fortune, Admissions Liaison, at cfortune@siskids.org for more information or to schedule a visit. 
 

resources: https://www.edglossary.org/rigor/ and k12academics.com

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