Thursday, April 6, 2017

A VITAL Anniversary

In 2012, before the Strategic Vision for the future of Penn Charter was even unveiled, Penn Charter launched an exciting new model for faculty summer work that provides time and resources for research and collaboration that result in innovative curriculum.

This year marks the fifth anniversary of Valuing Innovative Teaching and Learning (VITAL), the professional development program developed to support excellence in teaching, which is Goal 3 of the Strategic Vision. By extension, the work teachers do to advance their professional practice also supports Goal 2 to advance the academic program.

Faculty collaborate on VITAL proposals, and a committee of teachers, staff and community members uses consensus to select between one or more projects a year. With the generous support of donors, VITAL projects have transformed curriculum in all three divisions. Recent examples of VITAL projects include:

2016 Creating Music: Theory and Practice. A music teacher and science teacher began a study of music theory and the physics behind the notes and tones of instruments. The teachers used 3D printing and laser cutters to construct instruments and laid the groundwork for student investigations of similar theories, ideas and methods. 

2015 Middle School Advisory Project. An intensive collaboration to create a succinct, meaningful and spiraling advisory program resulted in curriculum with lessons, queries and content that support the social, emotional, spiritual and intellectual growth of Middle School students.

2014 Tilapia Aquaculture Project. With the installation of a 110-gallon tilapia tank and aquaculture system in their Middle School science classroom, two seventh grade science teachers created innovative curriculum for mathematics and science topics, including ecology, environmental science and biology. Pictured above.

2013 Soaring to New Language Arts Heights. Faculty shared an intensive writing workshop experience to facilitate increased collaboration and cohesion across grades in the Lower School language arts program. 

2012 Content and Design. Art, science and technology teachers researched electronic publishing to support mastery learning and enhance student engagement in media-rich learning environments, resulting in two student-produced eBooks, The Philadelphia Bestiary and A Field Guide to Campus Trees

Ruth Aichenbaum, coordinator of PC’s Teaching & Learning Center, another exemplary model of faculty professional development, is excited to see the byproduct of five years of VITAL. “The participants in the first project have gone on to collaborate several times over,” she said, “and collaboration and innovation have continued and expanded well beyond VITAL.” 

As an example, Aichenbaum cites the IdeaLab, “which wasn't even on the horizon five years ago.”