Learning Approach

Learning Approach

Classes and seminar lessons at Peace Valley School will be primarily inquiry– and project-based.  Each lesson is based on an over-arching cultural universal and individual learning paths are directed toward that universal as well as personal interest. We begin by finding out where each student is, then determine where they want and need to go, and finally set up support and guidance to get there. (We have just divulged to you the ancient mystery of effective teaching and learning.)

  1. Where do we begin?
  2. Finding and mapping the learning path
  3. Are there standards?
  4. Outline of how it all works
  5. What we can do together
  6. Sample project: Build a house
  7. So, the kids do all the work?


Where do we begin?

The first few weeks of school will be spent on a big question or problem to solve.  During that time the teacher will assess through observation in different tasks, and conversations with parents and the students, where each student is socially, emotionally, and academically. From this observation period, learning goals will be set for the school year.  The learning goals will be a list of content knowledge, skills, and practices (also known as standards) which will be the beginning of the student’s learning path and will be based on the student and not on the student’s age or any other physical attribute unless there is a physical gift that needs to be nourished in some way. top^

Finding and mapping the learning path:

This will allow the teacher both the flexibility to change learning paths based on the student’s interest and progress and also allow for the time and space to assess (without testing) basic skills and abilities to on which to build.  After co-authoring the learning goals with student and parents, the teacher will differentiate for each student based on each individual’s academic needs and personal interests.  We dislike the term level and from here on out will describe everything in terms of each students learning path. top^

Are there standards?

Yes.  The scope and sequence of the curricula (what the students learn, when and in what order) are largely inspired by International Baccalaureate MYP standards as well as other more appropriate or specific standards based on the achievement goals of the student after Peace Valley.  However, all curricula will really depend on the student and his/her place in the planet of knowledge and individual academic, social, and emotional needs.  The resources are hand picked by a highly qualified educator, and will take many forms (graphic organizers, paper publications, interactive etexts, an app on a tablet, audio books, YouTube videos, Ted Talks, interviews, good old worksheets, interactive workbooks, etc.)  The big questions and themes will draw on real-life needs (cultural universals) and the world around us (the current political atmosphere, events in the news, birth, death, farms, cities, Oregon, people of note, religious holidays, community conflict, this day in history, etc.) See Student Feedback for more on how outcomes are measured within this model. top^

Outline of How it all Works:

Cultural Universal: Housing

school_house side 

Big picture: How to build a house–this can take several weeks and go a lot of different directions.  It is a practical knowledge set, and puts students in touch with a lot of social justice issues involving race, class, urban/rural life, and geographic resources.

Inquiry–What is a house?

Here’s how we can integrate and differentiate with this question, depending on interest and previous knowledge a student could…

  • Study different types of dwellings across cultures,
  • Look at the impact geography has on housing
  • Discuss housing materials, their sources and reasons for use.
  • Look at architecture throughout history,
  • Discuss the social, economic, and cultural impacts on the changes in architecture over time and around the world.
  • Take a field trip to look at urban vs. rural architecture.
  • Do a case study of Filippo Brunelleschi and the Duomo
  • Study sod houses in the pioneer days and newer uses of the same materials
  • Contrast ancient with modern architecture
  • Look at the Alhambra and the impact of religion, monarchy on architecture
  • Explore dwellings in art and practice discussing art and photography
  • Look at engineering as a career over time, look at women and minorities in engineering
  • Discuss the importance of architecture or any art in society
  • Read learning path-appropriate fiction and non-fiction of interest
  • Write a narrative, short story, play, poem… about the perfect house
  • Host a Socratic seminar about the importance of affordable housing and the responsibility of the Government
  • Look at land-use laws and eminent domain and its impact on affordable housing
  • Discuss pollution from fracking and industry and look at its impact on human dwellings around the world.
  • Talk about “house” vs “home” and look at displacement and Diaspora throughout history
  • Take a sociological look at the use of space in different communities


…and so much more!  The real beauty behind inquiry based learning is that the student can think up a question and go down his/her own learning path, and our job is simply to put together tasks and assignments which practice the skills and content knowledge laid out in the student’s learning goals. top^

What we can do together:

1st:  A huge part of our teaching philosophy is that people learn best by teaching others.  All students of mixed age and level of mastery will be paired up to teach each other.  The end result will be a presentation by the learner and questions for both teacher and learner from the class.


2nd: Group projects (Please note we are talking about realistic group projects, which use the skills necessary in today’s workforce, not a 45-minute poster-making exercise where the one with the “good handwriting” does all the work!) are essential to practicing communication skills and for use in the real world.  Life in community is interaction- and group-based, not isolated artificial practice involving multiple-choice exams.  Also, one must practice public creativity to do it well.  To that end, each big picture will have a big project. Note: Students will learn all skills necessary to reach academic goals, including how to succeed at multiple-choice exams such as the AP Exams and SATs. For more on that see: After Peace Valley. top^

Sample Project: Build a model house

Here, students of different learning paths can work together using basic math and more advanced geometry and algebra, choosing materials, design, and build a model house using the information they are studying on their individual learning paths.  Using weights and measures they can write up a lab report testing the strength of the walls and how much lode the house should be able to bear once it is in place or put the house up to a stress test with fans and water…fun stuff that involves goggles. Looking at the costs of materials, working within a budget, deciding on aesthetics, and presenting the completed project including reflection on interpersonal relationships among the team members during the project are all key skills practiced in this process.

For another sample project, aligned to standards with a grading rubric included, please see: Sample Project. top^

So, the kids do all the work?

Yes. The role of the teacher in this school is to design the task with input from the students and set boundaries (like a budget or deadline).  The teacher will also monitor and provide feedback on all aspects of the task to all members of the team, teach communication skills in the moment, guide discussions, provide resources to help answer questions which come up during the process.  The teacher will discuss the validity of resources and design the individual background curricula (algebra explanations and practice problems, engineering and architectural resources, how to create, write and present a scientific inquiry, ideas to think about when designing space…etc.)


During this process all students will be getting consistent and frequent feedback in many forms, both formal and informal. See Student Feedback for a little more insight into that process for Peace Valley. top^