ECS: What Makes Us Innovative
Our Philosophy and Mission
As the world changes and becomes increasingly more complex, global citizens will need to be equipped with skills that allow them to be flexible thinkers, creative problem solvers, and effective leaders.
ECS offers a program that develops students into critical thinkers, thoughtful innovators, and well-rounded scholars. We provide students the tools and educational foundation to become tomorrow’s global citizen, and we strive to teach students how their choices impact the world around them. By using environmental content as a lens for instruction, ECS provides students a context in which to explore ideas and observations, to practice inquiry and to actively problem solve. Throughout their academic career at ECS, students build core skills across all disciplines, and then actively apply these skills to support the impact of learning.
Using the Environment as an Integrating Context (EIC), our Lower School (K-3) and our Upper School (4-8) provide a vertically-aligned program that builds developmentally in providing place-based, inquiry-centered learning.
As students explore, discover, question, and learn through the lens of a scientist, the curricular areas of reading/language arts, mathematics, social studies, and the arts and humanities are increasingly experienced through connections with a child’s sense of place and through authentic learning experiences in the field. An integrated approach to instruction provides students with a more holistic understanding of the natural, social, and built systems that define our community. Using the urban landscape as an extension of the traditional classroom becomes a natural asset to daily instruction, to integration of environment and ecology standards, and to the educational experience of every child.
To support science content over the course of the school year, ECS uses three core approaches to engage students in rich learning experiences:
Science Classroom – Students visit the Science classroom for 90-120 minutes of weekly environmental content instruction. School-wide units drive overarching themes and continuity between grade levels. Although all students are working within a similar theme, grade levels focus on a segment of content and an essential question to drive inquiry and learning experiences. The school-wide units consist of a quarter-long, in-depth study of content aligned with the Pennsylvania State Standards for Environment and Ecology, as well as the Science, Technology and Engineering Standards. The ECS school-wide units include:
Quarter 1: Local Living Things and their Homes: A Study of the Local Living World
Quarter 2: Designs, Dilemmas, and Development: A Study of Human Interactions and the Built Environment
Quarter 3: Everything Up and Down: A Study of Earth and its Atmosphere
Quarter 4: Cocoons, Cycles, and Cultivation: A Study of Cycles and Change in the Environment
Students in the middle grades receive daily science instruction, with the following progression of study:
Science Six. Science in grade six builds on the process skills developed by students in the K-5 Environmental Science coursework. Using a hands-on approach to refine science process skills and build content knowledge, students examine the core principles of physical science. Content strands include: Force and Motion; Simple Machines; Matter and Mass (Atoms and the Periodic Table of Elements); Energy and Waves; and Optics. Each strand includes discussion of science affecting current events, engineering and design choices, and global impact on the environment. Students also gain exposure to career choices in the field of physical science throughout the course of study.
Science Seven. Science in grade seven focuses on Life Science. Students review the core concepts developed throughout the elementary science program, and build new knowledge around Life Science. Labs, outdoor investigations, and other hands-on explorations with scientists in the field build expertise and knowledge throughout the course. Units of study include: Cells, Heredity, and Unicellular Life; Taxonomy and the Classification of Life; Ecosystems and Interactions (A Global Investigation); and Human Biology.
Science Eight. Science in grade eight examines Human Ecology through various systems. As a unique capstone course to the program, students examine global systems and identify ways humans interact negatively and positively within each. Students engage in research, interviews, and field experiences to gain knowledge and create meaningful connections between science and other disciplines. The capstone science course requires students to become ambassadors of science education both within the school community and with the larger region. Final project work includes a presentation focused on content acquisition, reflection of the student’s engagement in science literacy throughout the ECS curricular program, and clear use of the science process skills. Units of study include: Human Water Systems; Energy Production and Use; Human Food Systems; Trash and Wastewater Treatment Systems; and Impacts of Human Systems on Wild Systems.
Inquiry Block and Integration – Each grade level supports environmental content in a daily Inquiry Block. This instructional block of time is dedicated to building inquiry and exploration while delving into a cross-disciplinary project reflective of the school-wide units. Driven by an essential question, students explore environmental concepts while building content in social studies, science, reading, and math. The Inquiry Block often includes activities such as hikes in the park with an instructional focus, field trips around the city to gather data, service learning projects based on student findings, and case studies to provide students context to a larger concept.
In the middle grades, the Inquiry Block builds in complexity. The Integrated Studies Block is an integration of experience and knowledge about human endeavors, human relations, scientific thinking, and environmental context designed to foster informed and ethical participation in society (adapted definition from National Council for Social Studies). Students engage in content, thinking, and experiences around a core question, and then reflect on the question from multiple perspectives. Although the content reflects a journey through history, geography, and the global environment, the core question transcends one time period, and students confront their own belief systems and viewpoints throughout the year.
Integration of environmental content is intentional. When appropriate and meaningful, science and environmental content is supported in the Reading/Writing Workshop or the Mathematics Block. Science texts support content development, and data gathering, analysis, and application allow students to understand the relationships and to see the connections across content areas. As ECS continues to develop knowledge around best practices in integration, more specific definitions about the types of integration that can occur throughout instruction help us to build internal dialogue about what it means to effectively merge content areas.
Meaningful Partnerships – Moving away from “one-hit wonder” field trips or educational experiences, ECS works with environmental education institutions to connect curriculum and external programming. Often, educators at partnering institutions and teachers at ECS meet several times before an experience for children to ensure that activities are meaningful and connected to what students already know. As our partnerships develop over time, the educational experiences between ECS and partnering institutions have continued to evolve into rich opportunities for both institutions.
Our Commitment to Progressive Education
ECS is committed to providing a thoughtful, innovative, and progressive educational program for students and parents in the Pittsburgh community. Our program continues to push forward in piloting new programs that center academic excellence at the core. Often, shifts in our way of approaching academic excellence reach beyond work in the classroom.
Research-based Endeavors – ECS partners with universities and academic institutions pioneering research-based programs to support academic excellence, teacher effectiveness, and technology integration. Carnegie Mellon University, the University of Pittsburgh, and Allegheny College are among the institutions working with ECS to build, evaluate, and refine the education program at our school.
Outdoor Instructional Experiences – ECS commits to providing multiple outdoor instructional experiences to students each week. Instructional experiences in Frick Park, the Regent Square neighborhood, Nine Mile Run, and other local areas in the East End of Pittsburgh go beyond traditional recess time provided daily. Students hike, make observations, collect data, gain inspiration for writing journals, run tests, inventory native plants, practice bird identification–and complete a variety of other instructionally-based activities in the outdoors each week. During the 2010-2011 school year, ECS logged nearly 1,000 outdoor instructional experiences with students!
School Lunches – Connecting students authentically with curriculum means “walking the talk.” At ECS, an innovative school lunch program provides students daily opportunities to taste local foods, to talk directly with local farmers and businesses providing food to students, and continue the conversation about knowing where food comes from. Through our partnership with Springboard Kitchen (www.lsswpa.org/springboard) students receive locally-produced lunches that support our mission and shared-values. From local marinated beets to hummus vegetable wraps, students learn the importance of good food choices and connect Farm to Table principles to daily food decisions.
Recess First – Research around the importance of recess for students is clear–unstructured play is a critical component in rejuvenation the mind and spirit, and can correlate to student achievement. Students at ECS receive 35-40 minutes of daily outdoor recess before lunch. Recess before lunch allows students time to expend energy and active play before sitting down to refuel bodies for the remainder of the academic day.
School Wide Positive Behavior Support System – Positive culture supports an academic program. ECS values the importance of character development with our student population, and we spend considerable time and effort in developing a culture of kindness and respect. At the start of each day, students meet collectively in the auditorium to review school norms, celebrate student successes, and set the tone for the school day. At the classroom level, daily community meetings build in practice and supports around positive talk among peers, Olweus Anti-bullying techniques, and developmentally appropriate conflict-resolution strategies.