Our Practices

Authentic Learning

What makes the ECS instructional program special?

At ECS, we develop active, engaged citizens by teaching students how their choices impact the world around them. We strive to graduate students who are problem seekers, critical thinkers, and thoughtful innovators. We believe that connecting student learning to an authentic, place-based experience sets the stage for deeper student learning – which means they are using their knowledge and skills from multiple disciplines in a way that prepares them for real life. Students are mastering core academic content, while learning how to think critically, collaborate, communicate effectively, problem solve and develop successful habits of mind.

What is authentic learning?

Authentic learning involves real world tasks and tools, makes a real impact on the world, and speaks to students’ personal concerns, interests or identities. We have identified several key elements that make up an authentic learning experience at ECS.

Integrated Subjects: Multidisciplinary Integration is when several disciplines focus on a real world context, typically guided by theme or question. Each subject brings a perspective separately. Multidisciplinary integration allows students to make cross-curricular connections, which makes learning more relevant.

Project-Problem-Place Based Learning: PBL is a method of teaching in which students gain knowledge, skills, and habits of mind by working through a complex problem or project over an extended period of time. These problems and projects are focused around our local environment and community, helping students to build connections to their place. An essential question helps to guide the exploration and learning process.

KDB Framework: ECS knows that children are not defined by a number or a word. As a school community, we are thinking about how to measure the various ways that students thrive in a learning environment. The KDB framework provides us with shared language to think about and communicate student growth in academic content (“knowings”), thinking skills (“doings”), and social-emotional development (“beings”).

This idea of documenting growth of the whole child is also being adopted and experimented with using badges throughout Pittsburgh and in other innovative cities, like Chicago and Los Angeles! Check out Cities of Learning. Carnegie Mellon University has published Theory and Research-Based Principles of Learning that also highlights the importance of developing metacognitive thinking skills and social-emotional dispositions, as well as core academic content.

Differentiation: At ECS, we recognize the unique needs of each learner and strive to provide instruction that meets those needs. Educators use data and observation to better understand each individual student, and use this information to adapt the content, process and/or product when planning instruction. This level of attention to individual needs helps students connect to authentic learning experiences.

Visible Thinking: Visible Thinking is a research-based approach from Harvard University that focuses on integrating the development of students’ thinking with content learning across subjects. This approach cultivates students’ thinking skills and dispositions, while deepening content learning. At the core of Visible Thinking are practices that help to make student thinking visible. Thinking Routines guide learners’ thought processes and encourage active processing. They are mini-strategies that extend and deepen students’ thinking, and eventually become part of classroom culture of thinking.

Outdoor Education: Outdoor experiences have always been, and will forever be, a hallmark of ECS learning! ECS values providing students with outdoor experiences that help to strengthen connections with our natural environment and local community