Back to Catalyst Night - Setting the Intentions

On Wednesday, parents of Catalyst students came to our new campus in beautiful Agoura Hills to meet the educators and learn about our plans for the year. We prepped a gallery walk and encouraged parents to peruse, read a bit about the different classes, and generate some questions. Afterwords, we came together and had a lively conversation!

While preparing for the evening, the educators put their heads together to answer this question: how do we best represent our vision for each class? We wanted parents to have a concrete understanding of what students will be learning and doing in each class, yet our curriculum design process is intentionally inclusive and fluid (in order to adapt to students’ interests and personal needs and an ever changing world). This makes it a bit harder to definitively answer what will happen week to week. Traditionally, a teacher is expected to have a detailed ‘scope and sequence’ attached to standards and assessment plans. The result is a teacher who ‘knows what he is doing’ but who is less likely to collaborate, innovate, adapt, or take risks. The curriculum suffers, the culture suffers, and ultimately the students’ learning suffers.

Therefore, we decided to highlight high level intentions for each class. Below you will find photos of some of the intentions...






As I alluded to earlier, there are many benefits to focusing on intentions (as opposed to skills or standards). First and foremost, an intention quite often points directly to a standard or skill. For example, in Art, one intention I have is for students to be able to see, talk, use (and eventually break) patterns in art. These patterns help answer the question, “what is worth looking at?” and lead to interesting discussions about the psychology of perception, the role of culture, and the historical context that gives the art meaning. This analytical skill is highlighted in California and National Art standards as Visible Thinking (or See/Think/Wonder). Rest assured, many of the intentions are directly informed by the standards and skills necessary for that subject.

Further, understanding intentions is very intuitive (since it is language we use everyday). As a result, students and parents alike more readily understand this language and engage with it. We hope that parents feel more able to talk about the direction of their child’s learning without having to resort to lengthy documents or somewhat technical language in standards or learning objectives.

Lastly, and most importantly, the intentions serve as an anchor for the educators to build a fluid curriculum while still staying true to the spirit of the class. For example, I did not plan to focus so heavily on anime and manga in first weeks of Art. However, it became clear to me that it was something that many of the students were passionate about and engaging with daily. So I set out to understand it better and figure out how to adapt my curriculum. I ended up using anime as a way to explore composition (or how a piece of art comes together to look appealing). As a result, the students felt like I was listening to them and respecting the art that they love. And we still were exploring a critical art concept (plus I learned some things about anime!).

Back to Catalyst night was a blast. I enjoyed engaging with the parents and being part of a community willing to have a lively conversation around these topics. And at the core, our goal is to raise excellent humans able to thoughtfully engage with the world around them. Our process and the fluid curriculum that comes of it is a reflection of this intention.

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