Learning by Design

At The Island Academy, students and teachers collaborate with one another to design individual learning plans.  Quarterly presentations offer formal opportunities for students to reflect on their experiences  and share their learning with a panel that includes teachers, one or more peers, a parent, and an outside mentor. Based on dialogue from these presentations,  students revise learning plans for the next quarter.

Students engage Project Based Learning and Community Learning Traditions in a wide variety of environments.  Many days begin and end on campus, in “classrooms” specifically built to inspire creativity, collaboration, and mastery. 

A great deal of Island Academy learning takes place through direct engagement with the local community and natural environment.  Off-site, purpose-driven, experiential learning is at the heart of the Island Academy experience.  Project development, research, engagement with mentors, independent reading, memoir writing, and myriad other activities often take place outside the classroom: at a nature preserve, a marsh or marine habitat, museum or local business, community center, or food bank.  

Critical to the Island Academy philosophy is the belief that learning is a joyous, deeply human, life-long activity that reaches well beyond the walls of any classroom. Our learners develop the habits of a life-long learner by regularly learning in diverse and authentic environments.  


Project-based Learning

Project Based Learning (PBL) engages students in observation and question-driven, real world problem-solving. Rather than providing students with facts and answers, Project Based Learning  introduces students to real-world challenges; it empowers students to pose questions that drive inquiry, and it teaches students how to learn by allowing them to collaboratively engage and solve authentic problems.

The PBL approach (developed and implemented by educational leaders such as the New England Board of Education, Big Picture Schools, and edutopia - see links below) is the central component of Island Academy learning. The goal of Island Academy PBL is to create self-directed, intrinsically motivated, creative, and innovative learners who regularly engage the nuanced, ambiguous, and authentic challenges they will encounter as professional, social, and entrepreneurial leaders in the 21st century.  

As described by the New England Board of Education, PBL learning: “...occurs collaboratively in small groups, problems are presented before any formal preparation has occurred — the problem itself drives the learning — and new information is acquired via self-directed learning.”

Island Academy Project Based Learning is:

Student-designed: Students work alongside a mentor and/or teacher to develop and hone projects inspired by their interests and/or learning plan goals.

Ambitious: Projects are authentic, meaningful, and designed to encourage mastery of academic skills and content-specific expertise.

Multi-faceted: Consideration and use of multiple lenses is encouraged by teachers and mentors.

Designed to be meaningfully used, applied, taught, distributed, submitted, built, etc.: Created for an authentic purpose (beyond “proving learning” or “showing the teacher”)

Research by the New England Board of Education shows that compared with traditional lecture-based instruction, PBL improves:

Student understanding and retention of ideas.

Critical thinking and problem-solving skills.

Motivation and learning engagement.

The ability to work in teams.

The ability to transfer skills and knowledge to new situations.


Community Learning Traditions

Core learning traditions provide a structure and framework for Island Academy learning. These traditions are designed to build community, expand students’ awareness of the wonder and challenges presented by their world, and build skills needed for powerful project-based learning. Many of these traditions are authentically engaged in a bilingual, multicultural environment where students develop the ability to effectively communicate using English and Spanish.

Newspaper Breakfasts: Students, teachers, volunteers, and parents begin many of their days  perusing the New York Times and other age-appropriate media. Discussion of current events (political, natural, scientific, cultural) takes place over a shared meal. Themes and patterns are identified and recorded over time. Ideas from this learning tradition inspire and inform project-based student learning and lead to publication of a monthly current events blog created entirely by the students.

Self-selected reading and development of the Island Academy Book Review website: Island Academy learners read widely and voraciously. They think deeply about their reading and share their experiences through regular book talks and student contributions published on the Island Academy Book Review website.  Island Academy students embrace the theories of choice reading  and embedded comprehension as designed by internationally-recognized educator, Nancie Atwell.  Middle School and High School students also integrate active reading strategies outlined by Mortimer Adler.

Story-Based Big Spiral History: The history of the universe, from its beginnings through the 21st century, is explored through a series of stories and interactive activities. Learners in our multi-age community simultaneously engage the same historical moment, event, or theme by exploring different and age-appropriate versions of the same topic. Exploratory lenses include Geography, Economics, Politics, Government Systems, Religions, and Culture.  This learning tradition marries Kieren Eagan’s (University of Vancouver) Imaginative Education with the inspiring scope of Big History.   

Collaborative, puzzle-based math groups: Drawing from innovative approaches to mathematics learning  (James Tanton, Princeton University; Math Learning Center, Portland, Oregon;  Jump Math, John Mighton, Fields Institute) - Island Academy learners master mathematical skills while developing advanced mathematical thinking abilities.  

As Dr. Tanton explains, "...while mathematics learning in school is often about the memorization and rote application of techniques, equations, and theorems, mathematics for 21st century innovators must be “organic, creative, innovative, fresh, and human…”

As described by a senior software engineer at one of the world’s premier social media companies, “...early [math] education needs to be about critical thinking and building a solid foundation of math intelligence...the real value is in learning how to think critically about problems, work through proofs of various types from basic principles, communicate complex ideas in prose and raw math, collaborate on really tough problems, and ultimately work through proving the guts of what makes all the stuff we're normally forced to memorize actually work.”

Memoir and Autobiography Projects: Elementary and middle school students develop composition, communication, and self-reflective skills through regular contributions to their “Stories of my Life” portfolio. Students examine and record their lives using various genres as creative lenses. Nonfiction writing, persuasive writing, fictional and fantastic “what if’s”, poetry, and lyrical compositions are all woven together into a diverse mosaic of each student. As students enter high school, they begin their multi-year, highly individualized autobiography project which culminates in a book-length recording, examination, and imagining of themselves and their lives.

Culinary, physical health, and movement: Recognizing and nurturing our physiological selves is central to the Island Academy approach to learning, development, and community. Diverse physical activities, healthful food choices, skillful food preparation, and the critical importance of shared meals are naturally integrated into each day and week. Under the guidance of a bilingual culinary expert, students regularly prepare their breakfasts and lunches while collaboratively writing and publishing the Island Academy's " Young person's guide to food choices and preparation" cookbook series!

Creative Arts:  Drawing, painting, script writing, musical composition and lyrical writing, photography, and videography are employed throughout the curriculum as communication and exhibition tools. Local artists and musicians regularly serve as guest instructors and mentors!

Blended Learning : Through our partnerships with accredited and NCAA approved leaders in digital learning, the Island Academy supports students who choose to engage a wide variety of fully accredited college track, Honors, and Advanced Placement classes. This innovative option is available to the Island Academy's middle school and high school learners.