Expanded Curriculum

Project-based learning is a central component of The Island Academy academics. Projects are:

  • 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 and/or multidisciplinary: 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”).


Island Academy Mathematics, at the primary level, is designed to support a deep, meaningful, and developmentally appropriate understanding in the following concept areas:

  • Number sense
  • Arithmetic operations
  • Fraction, decimal, percentage relationships and conversions
  • Geometric shapes and relationships
  • Creating, balancing, and using equations to solve puzzles

At the middle and upper school levels, Island Academy Mathematicians engage increasingly complex puzzles as they systematically build mathematical skills through a series of accredited High School Level courses offered by Virtual South Carolina:

  • Pre-algebra
  • Algebra
  • Geometry
  • Algebra 2
  • Pre-calculus
  • Number Theory
  • Statistics

The youngest learners concentrate on counting and numbers as they relate to their lives with the purpose of developing a comfort level with whole numbers, parts of the whole, and addition and subtraction.

Younger learners keep illustrations of their number discoveries in math journals and write about them in their language notebooks:

  • Puzzle, pattern, or code target of the week/month (small group)
  • Complex, multi-step “puzzlers” created by teachers/older students/peers as challenge targets
  • Math learners identify skills/ideas they would need in order to solve the puzzle.
  • Skill mastery is pursued in order to progress in the puzzle.

Mastery Materials (used individually and in 3-8 student math groups) include:

  • Math Learning Center
  • Children’s Mathematics: Cognitively Guided Instruction
  • JUMP math
  • The Math Circle
  • Thinking Mathematics (Dr. Tanton Princeton University)
  • Pommershime (number theory)

A sequential, interactive skill building program chosen in collaboration with teacher, student, and family: Khan Academy, APEX math, SC virtual academy math.

Language Arts

Island Academy Language Arts supports an appreciation of language as the universal tool of communication. At the primary level, students develop proficiency in the following areas:

  • Fundamentals of reading and writing
  • Logical and sequential thought and communication
  • Memoir, fiction, and persuasive writing
  • Exploration of connections between visual, oral, and written communication
  • Identification, comparison, and evaluation of story elements
  • Writing conventions
  • Reading approaches

At the middle school and high school level, students become voracious, open-minded, critical readers and eloquent, imaginative, persuasive communicators. Students master the academic skills necessary to excel in upper-division university courses while building a life-long love of language.


At the primary level, learners concentrate on building contextual vocabulary and writing and illustrating their own books.  Beginning with the youngest learners, students participate in all-community Book Talks, developing an understanding of the elements of both fiction and non-fiction.  

Learners contribute to the Island Academy's Book Review blog, which is made available to other students around the country and world. This project consists of:

  • Small group reading instruction to build literacy skills
  • Self-selecting a number of wonderful books that are appropriate for reading level
  • Participating in teacher read aloud and discussion
  • Exploring of published book reviews to identify and understand book review structure
  • Drafting, revising, editing, and sharing reviews
  • Publishing reviews to the website
  • Reading classmates' reviews
  • Inviting other innovative schools to participate in the book review and recommendation website.

 Learners explore autobiography writing via:

  • K-8: Collected Stories of My Life through Narrative, Poetry, Graphic story, song, and persuasion.
  • 9-12: Book-length Autobiography project.   

Reading includes:

  • Self-selected books and independent reading across genres.
  • Newspaper Breakfasts (See social studies).
  • Teacher/older student group-read-aloud.
  • Book groups (increasingly common and increasingly analytical as student move through upper middle school to adulthood).
  • Individualized research related to interest projects.

Social Studies

Social Studies at the Island Academy develops in learners a multicultural and multifaceted connection to their world. Through a spiral approach to history and a consistent and authentic interaction with current events, students develop the analytical and evaluative skills to flourish in higher education and their increasingly multicultural world.

At the earliest stages and with an integrated approach with the Science curriculum, learners concentrate on physical elements of geography. They then begin to explore ideas of how geography is and has been the focus for meeting people’s needs since the beginning of time. As students progress, they draw maps, develop questions about other cultures, and begin to develop an understanding of the similarities among all people.

Activities include:

  • Morning Newspaper and Breakfast conversation
  • Mornings begin with quiet and calm newspaper exploration time (juice/tea/coffee)
  • Magazines (Ranger Rick, National Geographic Kids, etc. for younger learners). This is followed by 25-45 minutes of breakfast and discussion.
  • Creation and distribution of a community “Current Events Update” newsletter (with Op-Ed section). Students create a monthly briefing for those in our community who do not have time to keep up with current events. Process includes consistent immersion in and discussion of current events; analysis and evaluation to determine which events to include; decisions about “slant” and “bias”; outline, drafting, revision, editing; layout decisions; publication and distribution; collection of letters to the editor.
  • Big Spiral History story exploration. History from beginning of the universe through current events, into thinking about and envisioning the future. Three cycles of four years. Each four-year cycle explores the entire scope of Big History.
  • Collection of stories introducing selected history.
  • Country/region exploration (primary and middle school)/Literature groups (High School) introduce and expand upon critical human themes including: poverty, water crisis, political unrest, technology, and religion/philosophy.     


Spanish language learning at the Island Academy is authentic and immediately useful. Spanish is woven into experiences throughout each day, and families are encouraged to intermix Spanish language into communication at home. Emphasis is on immersion in authentic and emotion-laden experiences.

Active listening in experiential situations leads to limited, authentic oral output for purpose of communicating needs and ideas. Spanish reading follows oral communication. Older students create illustrated Spanish readers for younger students - Younger students illustrate and then use for read-aloud.

Core Activities includes:

  • Spanish immersion, building and crafting
  • Spanish immersion, cooking
  • Spanish immersion naturalism
  • BIG BOOK Creation, read aloud, and illustration (Older students create Spanish Language BIG Books intended for illustration and reading by younger students.)
  • Books reviewed by Skype Pals in Puerto Rico. Island Academy students review Books created by Puerto Rican Students)
  • Contributing to Island Academy Spanish language Library, created over course of semesters/years
  • Optional Bilingual tutoring with mixed Spanish language/English language students. (Island Academy, la Isla, and outside students). Tutoring followed by once per week shared community dinner (parents from all groups invited)
  • Advanced Spanish study through small-group and independent projects

Science and Engineering

Science and Engineering at the Island Academy develops students who habitually, intuitively, and rigorously employ the scientific method when engaging their world.

At the primary level, curiosity and creativity, married to the scientific method, drive exploration and innovation. Content specific, small-group courses introduce learners to biology, chemistry, physics, earth science, psychology, mechanical engineering, and electrical engineering. Individual and small-group projects support in-depth science learning.

At the high school level, learners continue to broaden their scientific worldview through group activities, develop true expertise through individual projects with expert mentors, and receiving support with outside courses (online, Public, USCB).

Activities include:

  • Community and Small Group Science Seminars, fueled by TED of the week, weekly science podcast
  • Engaging our Natural world: Science through exploration, observation, record keeping, question-posing, and experimentation. Learners of all ages engage in deep and habitual observation of the natural world. Rigorous and highly detailed nature journals lead to testable questions, hypotheses, experiments, data recording, and the forming of conclusions
  • Content specific research projects, content specific skill-building, and outside courses. Independent projects and seminars lead to authentic need/desire for students to develop knowledge and expertise in content areas.
  • Inventing station (K-6)/Engineering solutions (7-8)/Social Entrepreneurship. A garage-like space filled with wood pieces, nuts and bolts, twine and ropes, jars and bottles, “treasure from Pickney Island”, metal scraps, rubber bands, gears and pulleys, wheels, electric motors, etc…..All of this is organized into different sections and bins. Work stations, chalk boards on the walls, several architect’s design tables, Machining and power-tools in secure cabinet - students draw up plans and place orders for custom parts.
    • Younger students begin by “tinkering”. Their natural growth toward engineering solutions to problems and building “toys” is encouraged, as is their progression toward creating invention plans/blueprints. Invention presentations become the norm. Evolution into larger projects which often require detailed project proposals in order to earn approval/funding (use of project proposal template).

    • High school students move toward social entrepreneurship. Senior thesis project requirement: apply for patent/market and distribute pro-social invention/product/service.