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Thank you for your interest in Double Helix. As we embark on our fourth year, I am struck by how lucky I am to have had so many families entrust their children's education to me. As a mother myself, I know how it is to wrestle with decisions about education. Please allow me to tell you more about Double Helix and myself to help ease concerns and hopefully spark excitement.
I have been in education in various capacities for fifteen years now. I’ve seen the profession change significantly over the last few years. I realized that my favorite elements — integrating curriculum, taking the time to really get to know my students, creating new and engaging curriculum, allowing my students to engage in creative problem solving — were disappearing from the regular classroom. We want our students to be innovators, but innovation and standardization are antithetical and the school systems were geared much more to the latter than the former. I wanted something different.
I decided to go out on my own and open up a school that allows me to teach the way I love, which also happens to be the way that research indicates works best.
We teach thematically at Double Helix. We start with a broad theme, then map the standards onto the theme. From there, we brainstorm experiences -- visitors, field trips, projects, etc -- that will support the students' learning. Although our academic classes are taught individually, the theme is central to each class in order to highlight the interconnectedness of all subjects. Each theme then culminates in a final project. Two examples: for our ocean unit, we designed a window display for Treehouse Kid + Craft; for a photography unit, we built pinhole cameras.
I am often asked “What is your curriculum?”. Usually comes with the follow up question: “So, are you basically Montessori?” (Short answer, no we are not.)
I usually can’t help but give the academic definition — that curriculum comes from the Latin currere, to run a course - and that it is the totality of the experiences of the child. So the fact that we have couches is part of our curriculum. The fact that there’s a tardy ostrich at the door is part of the curriculum as much as how I teach the Pythagorean theorem. That we allot time each morning for discussions about our lives is our curriculum as much as the novel selections are.
Often the response is, “Yeah, I don’t want the academic curriculum studies definition. I want to know what you’re going to teach.” But every aspect of that is related to how we teach and what we teach — and the totality of the experiences your child gains. So what differentiates us from other more familiar curricula?
We are creating the curriculum and we’re creating the model that delivers it.
You are not going to see a three year cycle “This is what we learn in year one”.
Knowing that we are creating the curriculum and the model is asking for a lot of trust. That’s why I post my CV on our website. You need to know that I’m qualified to do this.
First and foremost — Our curriculum is rooted in research. I have been researching the Common Core State Standards since before they had a name. I sat down with the head of NCTM to talk about the “nationwide standards” in 2007. I am also immersed in creativity research and art education research. My experience as a math teacher and curriculum writer aligns nicely with all of these fields. I have written book chapters and presented at professional conferences about what we do at Double Helix. We are fueled by creativity and innovation, but still grounded in the standards that students need.
Last year, we were able to add an array of electives to our daily schedule. Students chose from thirty different activities, including drawing, music and technology, graphic design, drama, Lego League, Science Olympiad, photography, rock band, Tae Kwon Do, social justice club, and much much more. We are able to attend to, if not emphasize, the arts and technology without sacrificing academics, as our test scores attest.
Double Helix, like all good educational ventures, is and will always be a work in progress. We are continuously learning, building, adjusting, and improving. We ask the same of our students. We hope you will follow us, visit with us, and join us as part of the Double Helix crew.
Karen Sweeney Gerow