Weaving a Tapestry
"Since 1982, MPA has known that in order to be a successful citizen—whether that means having a good job, or being an engaged member of society, or simply being happy—you have to have a rich understanding of all areas of knowledge," said Kari Kunze, director of studies. MPA wholeheartedly embraces STEAM and adds the humanities to create a tapestry for our students known as deep learning.
To do this, exceptionally creative faculty draw upon multiple disciplines to teach a flexible curriculum. In Lower School recently, an Innovation Lab project brought together a literacy unit on fairy tales with a science unit on weather and air. Students worked in teams and followed the design thinking process commonly used in business and technology—empathize, define, ideate, prototype, and test—to create an air system that would save Jack after the giant chopped down the beanstalk and he was left stranded in the clouds.
"Without even realizing it, my students were using vocabulary and reviewing information learned across subject areas," said Kari O'Keefe, first grade teacher. Students used multiple skills and intelligences to learn multiple objectives, scaffolding their learning by building their knowledge of one subject area upon another.
According to O'Keefe, "Once the challenge was introduced, the students' wheels immediately began turning. As they worked through each stage, the students showed increased motivation and were challenged to cooperate and persevere throughout the entire process."
"Learning is a tapestry here. If subjects are taught in one dimension, the kids only see one dimension. But that's not very interesting. At MPA, education is in 3D. That's what creates the richness of the understanding," said Kunze. "These connections help them understand the greater purpose behind the academic rigor."
MPA's intimate size, close community, and commitment to collaboration makes this easier. Connections happen over lunch in the cafeteria and through quick conversations in the hallways, often including the students. "We know what one another is teaching and we know how to bring these concepts together. When we weave it together, the kids love that. They feel more confident learning a new topic when they have background knowledge that clearly applies," explained Kunze. Students benefit from faculty intentionally pooling their efforts to maximize relevance and connections among content areas.
In Middle School, science teacher Bill Madigan stresses upon his students that science isn't just about discoveries and theories. "There is math that gets you to theories and then you need to communicate your findings and results. Science is everywhere, just as math and English are," he said.
In his eighth grade science class, students recently learned about the eruption of Mt. Vesuvius that destroyed the cities of Pompeii and Herculaneum. As an assessment of their understanding, Madigan asked them to write a newspaper that covered the events of that fateful day. "Every day students here are communicating their findings, learning, and discoveries through analysis questions and discussions."
Our culture is increasingly focused on the STEM subjects and many of the careers of our future may in fact be in those areas. "That said, in order to be successful in those areas, if you don't have a background in the arts and humanities, what you do with that knowledge is not going to be creative. It may not be interpreted correctly. And it will likely not be used in ways that positively impact our world," said Kunze.
Holding all subject areas with the same regard—in a holistic way—is a principle upon which MPA was founded and one that truly prepares our students for the future. "The arts allow students to see the world in new and different ways, and that new vision will allow them to apply their science, technology, engineering, and math knowledge with the creativity and innovation our 21st century world needs," said Daniel Ethier, Middle School math teacher.
This approach cultivates students who can and want to do it all. At the Upper School level, the schedule is designed so that students are able to take three or four electives each year. Students do not need to choose between choir and engineering design or between ceramics and advanced argumentation. Our students can be mathematicians, scientists, and artists simultaneously. That is the time-honored and time-tested MPA way.
Upper School math teacher Wendy Sullivan explains, "Our students are curious and interested in a wide variety of things. Many of my math students are really into robotics, but they also love band, choir, and ceramics as other ways to express themselves. I believe this is a result of them being exposed to all of it in Lower and Middle Schools and not feeling pressure to pursue one strength over another. In my math class, this means that the students bring a wide array of experiences into the discussions. They see connections that go beyond math," she said.
Realizing how interconnected our world and its problems are typically comes much later in life. However, MPA students learn this early and often. "As our students work collaboratively, present their ideas to peers, and listen carefully to what others have to share, they are preparing for the complexity of future challenges. As effective communicators, they will be ready to work in an environment where many people need to come together to share knowledge and ideas to make progress towards innovative solutions," shared Hannah Sullivan, Upper School science teacher.
"If you add the humanities to STEAM, making it STHEAM, that is what the academic portion of whole child education has meant to MPA since the beginning," said Kunze. "MPA is continuing to bolster all areas of our academic departments and always looking for ways to make them even more integrated and less isolated." MPA's students— and more importantly, our world—will continue to benefit from the resulting tapestry.
MPA CREATES BRILLIANT, CONFIDENT, EXPRESSIVE, AND EMPATHETIC STUDENTS THROUGH STEAM.
CLASS OF 2007
The skills that I gain from MPA's approach to STEAM are thinking outside the box ... even thinking like there is no box. It helps you be able to come up with new, original ideas.
CLASS OF 2023
I think creative thinking builds tolerance with ambiguity, and allows for building connections and successfully communicating and partnering with others. I have no idea how to teach my child this, so I am grateful it is being introduced at such a young age. It will simply become part of her foundational thinking as she prepares for who she will become out in the world.
LOWER SCHOOL PARENT
The arts help our students see the world as others see it, and that empathy is critical to applying science and technology in an ethical and moral manner.
MIDDLE SCHOOL MATH TEACHER
I think that the A in STEAM is what makes MPA MPA. I have said this to as many people who will listen!
UPPER SCHOOL MATH TEACHER
KIDS LOVE A-HA MOMENTS. AND THROUGH CROSS-DISCLIPINARY LEARNING WE, AS TEACHERS, SET THEM UP TO HAPPEN.
DIRECOR OF STUDIES