Our teaching practice at Wingra centers around the understanding that areas of knowledge are interrelated. Wingra teachers integrate instruction, covering several academic subjects in the context of a theme.
Themes are rich and broad to incorporate many disciplines. A unit on a topic like "oceans" lends itself well to the study of science (marine life and the effect of oceans on climate), social studies (how oceans have shaped history and affected the lives of coastal people), language arts (reading literature about the sea, writing on related topics), and math (calculating the volume of bodies of water and distances in nautical miles vs. land miles, knots vs. miles per hour). Frequently, music and art are integrated into the unit, and vocabulary learned in Spanish may parallel the vocabulary of the classroom theme.
Wingra teachers consider students' interests when designing thematic units. An important curriculum goal is to teach children to share responsibility for their own learning and to promote a lifelong love of learning. We have found that planning theme study around the interests of children serves both of these ends.
Students in our program have the opportunity to participate in a rich variety of theme studies. Information is presented in a different context for students of different ages. For example, students ages 5 to 8 may do a unit about the human body that familiarizes them with the names of body parts and organs. At age 10, students may do a similar unit that covers anatomy and body systems. Students ages 11 to 14 may continue their study of the human body with a unit on genetics or human biology.
Centers and Group Activities
Units of study are presented in two main ways: guided choices at centers and group activities
The use of subject centers allows students to make decisions about time management, level of difficulty, depth of study, and method of gathering and sharing information through a selection of guided choices with clear expectations. A variety of activities are offered to accommodate students' varied learning styles.
Group activities allow students to experience and practice speaking in and facilitating large groups; to work with a variety of people to make collective decisions; to work productively in small groups; and to engage in real, meaningful, democratic discussions. Students learn to processs and share information in a range of ways.
Social and Ethical Growth
Teachers always consider the possibilities for meaningful group work when selecting and designing units. Group or whole class projects reinforce concepts while building classroom community. Ethics and responsibility are emphasized at all levels. In the older classes in particular, teachers frame unit topics so as to bring ethical considerations into the classroom dialogue.
Recent Classroom Units
- Change of Address: Identifying attributes of self and community, interviewing and getting to know each other
- Happily Ever After: Storytelling and literature study with a focus on "Cinderella" stories, exploring illustrations and characterizations, analyzing and comparing multicultural fairy tales, making choices and changes in our own lives
- Fossils and Rocks: Scientific study of fossils and various types of rocks, working to investigate and identify samples, archeological understanding, a look at evolution
- Kid Choice: Students used a process of brainstorming, webbing, and democratic decision-making to choose the unit of study
- Growing Up: Life and death cycles, roles and relationships, nutrition, the human body, autobiography and memoir, and issues of childhood
- Consumer Choices: Trends and fads, product quality and testing, impact of purchases, recycling, economics and budgeting
- Shape of the Land: Uses of land, pollution, architecture, development and neighborhoods, historical land issues
- Kid Choice - Mythology: Students selected an area of mythology to study and prepared a class play
- It Ain't Easy Being Green: Growing seeds, the water cycle, weather and climate, farming, agriculture