How We Teach
Working with gifted students is our specialty, and we differ in several significant ways from a traditional accelerated program. Joule is not a competitive or grades-focused school environment. We have a strong focus on developing empathy, autonomy, and excitement about the lifelong learning process. Enthusiasm for school is the hallmark of our program, and we have a strong record of re-igniting the love of learning that may be lost in traditional education.
Some of the hallmarks of our school are:
Ability-Based, Not Age Based
Students at Joule are placed in subjects based on their individual strengths. We do not require students to be in a certain grade - it is perfectly fine to take 4th grade English and 6th grade Math, if that is appropriately challenging for the student. Likewise, we allow students to graduate up when they are ready, not when a school year ends. Students are allowed to advance as far as they need to, and the flexible format does not require them to skip grades to do so.
Joule uses multi-age class groupings in the Montessori style. Because we are a microschool, the dynamic is more similar to a large homeschooling family than a traditional academy. Students have significant opportunities to build friendships and network with students at a variety of age levels. There is no artificial stratification by age here. Some of the closest friendships at the school are between kids from different age groups.
Kinesthetic, Inquiry-Based Education
Joule is a completely hands-on school. Our entire school day is spent building, re-enacting, debating, and/or setting things on fire. All classes from primary through 8th grade are interactive. As such, Joule is a great fit for students who need to move and create during school. If your child has ever disassembled something to find out how it works, they'll fit right in.
Many people refer to our methodology as project based learning. Unfortunately, project-based learning has earned a poor reputation because most projects are assigned only after material has already been learned through traditional methods. Often, a project is just something added to the end of a traditional lesson. Classes are typically taught via conventional methods such as lecture or worksheets, but at the end of a unit, parents have to help their children create a diorama or poster. A "project" just means a midnight run to the store for popsicle sticks and food coloring - it doesn't help kids acquire new knowledge and skills.
A better way is to teach material through interactive, tactile experiences, allowing students to get messy and make mistakes while they learn new information. At The Joule School, our classrooms are engaging and interactive - not a textbook in sight! There's no need to add a project to the end of a unit to keep students engaged. We do use hands-on projects to guide inquiry, and we do not simply throw projects into a traditional classroom.
Likewise, Joule is a movement-based school, but not what you might expect if you have seen other movement-based classrooms. A common mistake in some schools is having students engage in physical activity without connecting it to the concept being studied, like having students do jumping jacks while reciting their multiplication tables. While many students will enjoy getting out of their desks, this is more of an opportunity to tire students out than to teach in a hands-on way. Moving around without a purpose rarely helps students retain information, so instead, our classroom time is dedicated to authentic exploration of core subjects. Lessons are built from the ground up to ensure that children are making progress towards subject mastery by creating and exploring, not just wandering and wiggling. We've spent our class time acting out the voyages of Magellan in South America and building divergent plate boundaries with burritos. The tasks involved, such as a kindergartner cutting open a boiled egg in order to understand the idea of a solid core in the center of the Earth, help abstract concepts become concrete.
Strong Socioemotional Focus
Many parents of gifted kids have met the Perfectionism Monster a time or two. Gifted kids tend to be harder on themselves than necessary, and unfortunately, many school environments actually encourage the perfectionist mindset by praising high grades and profiling top students.
In high-pressure environments, gifted kids risk learning to equate their personal identity with their academic achievement, rather than viewing school as a neutral place where they simply learn new things. That is not necessary, and it is avoidable. School is a place to be challenged and stretched, without riding an emotional roller coaster about straight As.
Joule does record grades and give report cards (we have math tests like any other school) but we do not stress grades. Students move forward when they have mastered material, and can skip or retake classes in different subjects. We do not have an honor roll assembly or a "best GPA" award. The emphasis is placed on a student working at their Personal Challenge Level, and avoiding comparisons and competition with other kids.