One of the main reasons Westside was established was to offer educational choice to families. In order to offer our families the opportunity to understand the choice they make when enrolling students at Westside, we think it is important to explain the curriculum here at Westside Atlanta Charter School.
Our curriculum has many components: Balanced Literacy, Mathematical Inquiry, Integrated Science and Social Studies, Project-Based Learning, and Design Thinking.
Balanced Literacy is just that: a balanced approach to literacy instruction. Students work through the five domains of reading in a balanced literacy program. These are phonics, phonemic awareness, vocabulary, comprehension, and fluency. Students spend portions of their day in small groups working on word study, guided reading, independent reading, interactive read-alouds, and shared reading. This allows time for the students to work with the teacher one-on-one, work in the whole group, and work independently. Students also engage in writer’s workshop, which is a model of writing instruction. The teacher presents a mini-lesson on a writing skill, and then students work independently to hone that skill in a piece of writing. Teachers conference with students throughout the writing process focusing on students’ strengths and weaknesses.
Math – Eureka Math
At Westside, we believe that a strong math foundation can best be attained through the use of complementary math programs. Therefore, we use Eureka Math, by Great Minds. Eureka Math is based on the theory that mathematical knowledge is conveyed most clearly and effectively when it is taught in a sequence that follows the “story” of mathematics itself, and consists of three components (A Story of Units, A Story of Ratios, and A Story of Functions) that combine to address three focus areas: Problem Solving, Closing learning gaps, and Preparing students for advanced math. The program is also aligned with NCTM standards, and meets 100% of the Georgia Standards of Excellence.
Science and Social Studies
Westside’s Science curriculum aligns with Georgia Performance Standards both in philosophy and execution: To become literate in science, students must acquire understanding of both the Characteristics of Science, and its Content. The Georgia Performance Standards for Science require that instruction be organized so that these are treated together; therefore, a content standard is not met unless applicable characteristics of science are also addressed at the same time. For this reason, they are presented as co- requisites incorporating hands-on, student-centered, and inquiry-based approaches.
The Georgia Performance Standards for social studies, primarily focusing on Georgia, the US, and recent world history, include four strands: history, government/civics, geography, and economics. Westside’s student-centered pedagogy and emphasis on literature include and connect each one of these strands, and reinforce our focus on inquiry-oriented projects related to social studies. This focus has helped our students to become informed Georgia citizens with a robust understanding of the history of the United States, and our place in an increasingly interconnected world.
Project-Based Learning is an instructional method that begins with the teacher posing a driving question about a topic. These topics correlate with the science and social studies curriculum. The project begins with a launch activity in which the students are engaged in the topic. The teacher then poses the driving question. Students then meet experts, engage in hands-on activities, and create a presentation to a relevant audience. This offers students the opportunity to engage in higher-level thinking and create something to teach about a topic.
Another piece of the curriculum that develops critical thinking is Design Thinking. Design Thinking is actually the process of thinking about and creating a solution to a problem. Students identify a problem, and then they develop empathy toward the problem. Acting on that empathy, they brainstorm solutions and find the most viable solution to solve the problem. When they have chosen a solution, they prototype it, and then they test that prototype. As they test the prototype, they look for areas on which to improve. The end product can have many iterations. This process teaches students how to empathize with problems and take action toward solving problems they face.
All of these components together form the basis of the Westside Atlanta Charter School Curriculum. The curriculum reflects our core value of imagination by allowing students to explore topics and express thoughts and learn in various ways. It demonstrates rigor by requiring that students move into critical thinking to solve problems rather than follow rote procedures. It demonstrates service by allowing students to make contributions to the surrounding community through projects and Design Thinking tasks. The well-rounded approach to the curriculum and the focus on student-centered learning has allowed the students at Westside Atlanta Charter School to become engaged in their learning and the community around them.