Our approach: integrated learning
The significant problems facing the next generation are multi-disciplinary. They will require highly agile ways of thinking and communicating to solve. It is of paramount importance that we show young people how to ask questions that burst the boundaries of how we organize what we know, and that we give them inspiration to apply the answers in their own lives.
The research supporting integrative learning shows that it is equally effective at teaching the standard skills we expect of our young students. But it is far better at teaching the global perspective and creative connections that are now so sorely needed. It leads to better application of skills to real situations. It results in faster retrieval when students must remember what they learned. It increases depth and breadth in learning. It offers more quality time for exploration. It brings students to a more positive attitude toward learning. And of course, it forms more connections among areas that have traditionally been taught in isolation.
Deep practice of integration is much more than a way to organize curriculum. It demands that students look at themselves and each other and the relationships in their lives. How are we ourselves participants in the world that we are studying? What choices do we make? These are the kinds of questions that produce change makers.
Integrative Studies at Tru is organized into a three-year cycle of themes which are purposely broad and philosophical: Beginning, Living, and Becoming. These themes are applied to every area of study and provide a unifying influence to the entire school year. They ask questions that lead us to better knowledge of ourselves, simultaneously on a global and individual scale: Where do we come from? How do we exist in this world? How are we trying to change?
The skills of communication and persuasive speaking are highly valuable in almost any field or profession. The ability to speak clearly and confidently can open profound opportunities. Stage performance teaches children many complex skills of self-awareness and presentation. It tests their attention and concentration amid many distractions. They must memorize not only the content of their part, but the ways in which their part fits with the whole activity: when to speak, how to speak, where to move, when to enter and leave the stage. They learn to follow a careful sequence—a skill that matters in science, mathematics, and academic research.
A performance is highly collaborative. It cannot be successful when the players focus only on their own roles. They must interact, respond, and adapt. The students learn to listen for the reactions of others and modify what they do accordingly. They develop a projected sense of self-confidence, even if that confidence is not completely felt. They become aware of body language and vocal projection.
Every year Tru engages all students in two major performances. These are scripted shows, one to two hours in duration, with memorized lines, costumes and props, music and video, and a public audience. The first is Science on Stage, a dramatic presentation of their original experiments as well as stories of past great discoveries. The second is a story-based play related to each year’s integrative theme.
The goal of mindfulness is a state of relaxed and positive mental and emotional equilibrium. It is happy, but calm—not wild and excited. Children (with all their natural exuberance) can come to appreciate this peaceful state. For many children, the realization that they can consciously change their state of mind is profoundly empowering. The reminder to focus on breathing in moments of stress can become an anchor in the stormy seas of the day or just a way to feel good about life.
The use of mindfulness training in schools is rapidly gaining ground as a simple way to support basic mental health and learning readiness in students. The benefits of mindfulness are very well documented. It can improve attention, emotional regulation, well being, sense of control, interpersonal relationships, empathy, immune functioning, memory, mental flexibility, and processing speed. These effects are so broad and fundamental that we believe all children should have regular exposure to the practice throughout school.
What does mindfulness look like? Children sit calmly, close their eyes if they are comfortable enough, and still their bodies. They may visualize a peaceful scene, guided by the teacher’s words. They watch their breaths. They notice sensations in their body or sounds in their environment. The teacher may play a chime so they can listen to the sound as it gradually fades.