AISU Frequently Asked Questions
What is “blended learning”?
At AISU, blended learning is a formal competency-based education program in which learning happens in part through teacher instruction and in part through online delivery of content, with students controlling the pace of their learning. AISU teacher instruction emphasizes skill-focused workshops and project-based learning rather than traditional classroom lectures. Teachers take on a stronger role as facilitators and coaches of learning rather than simply delivering content. Students take on a stronger role for the planning and pace of their learning rather than simply attending classes.
How does the AISU model improve on a virtual learning environment?
Virtual learning environments (VLEs) rely completely on computer-based courses with help provided remotely when needed. Besides presenting information and instruction, VLEs actively track student progress, identify learning problems early on, and promote self-assessment, all of which can lead to better motivation. But VLEs too often provide a passive, disconnected experience, leading to surface learning and lower retention. The AISU model takes advantage of the best attributes of a VLE, then adds both social and project-based learning to facilitate active acquisition and use of knowledge, leading deeper understanding and better retention.
What is “competency-based learning”?
Most schools set a schedule for a class, for instance a semester, then grade the student on how much work they completed during the semester, assuming all students learn at the same pace. Competency-based learning allows a student to work at his or her own pace and continue working until they achieve at least an 85% average for the course. AISU is replacing the time-based system with a set of practices that propel students toward mastery of college and career-ready skills.
Is grading different in competency-based learning?
No. Students receive a letter grade at the end of the course, just as they would for a semester-based course. The primary difference is that except in unusual circumstances, students would not have any Cs as B-level work is required for credit.
No. AISU transcripts will look the same as transcripts from any other Utah public high school.
Are AISU secondary credits transferable to other schools and recognized by colleges after graduation?
Yes. AISU course credits are based on the same standards as other Utah public schools, are completely transferable and will be recognized by colleges.
How is small group learning different than a traditional classroom model?
The traditional classroom model forces all students to learn a single lesson during a single class period. Some students master the lesson very quickly while others may not understand the material at all. Regardless, the class moves on to the next lesson during the next class period. AISU learning periods are organized around very small peer groups, normally 2-6 students that are learning at the same pace. The level of mastery students achieve, not the clock on the wall, determines the pace of learning. The learning periods are facilitated and monitored by subject-matter teachers and supported by on-the-spot tutors.
What are the benefits of small group learning over the traditional model?
Researchers report that, regardless of the subject matter or grade level, students working in small groups tend to learn more of what is taught and retain it longer than when the same content is presented in other instructional formats. Small group learning is equally positive for high, average and low achievers. In addition, group work provides students with “real world” experience, because most of them will be spending much of their working lives developing projects in small groups. In addition, cooperative learning practices have shown positive effects on school culture, with such diverse outcomes as improvements in student self-esteem, intergroup relations, and acceptance of academically handicapped students.
Why are blended age classes used in the AISU elementary program?
The mixed age group environment creates an atmosphere where children learn to help and be helped by other children, because they interact consistently with children whose age and abilities are varied. Children gain an appreciation for their achievement and the accomplishments of others, and are naturally challenged by the achievements of others.
Children also learn from each other. Older children learn to be patient and tolerant, and serve as role models and teachers for the younger children. When an older child teaches a younger one, it reinforces previously learned concepts and is actually an aid in complete mastery of concepts. Younger children learn about courtesy, manners, and conflict resolution by watching the older children in the class.
What is “project-based learning”?
Project Based Learning (PBL) is a teaching method in which students gain knowledge and skills by working for an extended period of time to investigate and respond to a complex question, problem, or challenge. Elements of the AISU PBL program include significant content to improve skills learned during course work, 21st century competencies such as critical thinking/problem solving, collaboration, and communication, and creativity/innovation, a rigorous, extended process of asking questions, using resources, and developing answers, and a process for students to use feedback from teachers and outside mentors to consider additions and changes that lead to high-quality products. PBL activities at AISU will include academic studies of real-world issues and internships for older students.
AISU has a flex schedule at the beginning and end of the day. All students may begin arriving at 7:45. Flextime is the period between 7:45 and morning meeting. Morning meetings start at 8:45 for the elementary grades, 9:00 for the middle school and 9:30 for the high school. Students must be on time for morning meeting, where attendance is taken; students will be marked tardy if they are not on time for morning meeting. Students may use flextime for personal study, small group work or to get extra assistance from a teacher or tutor. There are always be adults present during flex time.
What will a typical student day look like?
All students at AISU begin the day in a morning meeting with their “crew”. The crews are multi-grade groups of students headed by a teacher or a Success Coach. Following morning meeting, the day is broken into two 2-hour learning blocks separated by a midday period for lunch and reading and recharging. One of the 2-hour blocks will focus on core curriculum and credits while the other will be dominated by learning projects. The content of the learning blocks varies based on grade level. More information about these learning blocks can be found in the descriptions for each program overview (early elementary, upper elementary, middle school, high school).
If students move at their own pace, how can I be sure they will earn the proper credits to graduate and be ready for college?
Students move at their own pace but they are also expected to achieve competency in the courses necessary to advance a grade in the middle school or to be on pace to graduate in the high school. Each student has a personal Learning Guide. The Learning Guide meets with the student at the start of the year and maps out their strategy, then helps them make a more detailed plan for each trimester. During the trimester, the Learning Guide meets with the student every week, face-to-face, to track their progress. The student has a “Student Dashboard” that shows their progress; besides the student, parents, teachers and Learning Guides watch the dashboard and help students stay on track.
How will my child’s progress be tracked and monitored?
AISU elementary students (K-5) will use a portfolio-based approach for tracking their progress. At the beginning of each year students will be construct a portfolio that clearly identifies their learning goals for the year. As they master the material and apply core concepts to quest-based projects, they check off against the learning goals for the year. Elementary teachers at AISU carefully monitor progress students are making on a daily basis.
AISU upper school students (6-12) will construct a yearlong learning plan with the help of their Success Coach, which include required courses, electives and personal learning goals. An online Student Dashboard combines progress monitoring from online courses and teacher input on a daily basis. Once a week, students meet with their Success Coach to discuss their progress against the plan.
How will my child’s progress be communicated to me?
Elementary students bring their portfolios home at least weekly so that parents are abreast of both the quality and quantity of work along with teacher’s notes. Teachers will also communicate regularly with parents.
For the upper school students (6-12), the Student Dashboard is available online and contains the latest information about student progress. Success Coaches send a weekly communication to parents, as well.
What learning standards are used at AISU?
AISU follows the Utah Core Standards for all subjects. More information on Utah Core Standards is available here.
What technology will be used by students to access online courses?
Students will use laptops to access AISU online courses and will store their course work and most project work online. So, no lost assignments or keeping track of worksheets! Students may use their own laptops or they can check out a Chromebook at AISU. If students want to take the Chromebooks to use at home or would simply like the convenience of not having to check out a computer each day, AISU will offer the Chromebooks for sale at the same discount AISU receives from its vendor. Chromebook prices range from about $200-$275. AISU will be using Dell Chromebooks, which are a bit sturdier.
What is the international aspect of AISU?
In conjunction with its private school partner, AISU will strive to maintain a high school student population in which 20 percent of the students are from overseas. These students will pay tuition and will help create a dynamic, international learning community.
AISU will also use various programmatic initiatives to help students become globally aware and engaged.
Foreign language offerings will feature full-time instructors for Mandarin and Spanish. Student interested in other languages will have the option of taking online courses, often with some on-site support (but not from certified teachers or native speakers). In grades 6-12, students may choose Spanish or Mandarin as an elective. Generally, native speakers will lead these classes.
Beginning in 2015, AISU will seek to provide the optimal articulation for students completing dual-immersion programs at the elementary level in Spanish or Mandarin, including core classes taught by a visiting international teacher-in-residence. These courses will rotate each year, giving students an opportunity to take several courses during their high school years.
Also, students will have the opportunity to participate as exchange students at AISU-affiliated schools overseas.
Will AISU have an active student community?
AISU will have a very active student community, led by student-elected representatives and after school clubs. The students will plan and participate in a wide range of extracurricular activities, including sports, dances, clubs and fundraisers. While the AISU faculty has specific plans to support the National Honor Society and other traditional student community organizations, the students themselves will decide on the activities and direct the actual planning and support based on their interests.
What after school classes, clubs and activities are offered?
In keeping with the philosophy of students exploring their talents and passions, AISU will support a wide variety of after school programs based the interests of the student community. These programs will be established once we understand the interests of our learning community.
Will there be sports?
AISU will field middle school and high school teams in cross country, volleyball, basketball, soccer and cheer. Depending on student interest, other sports such as tennis, golf and swimming could be added. If AISU does not offer a varsity sport (e.g. football), students are eligible to participate in that sport with the school district to which they are geographically assigned.
Will there be activity fees?
AISU middle school and high school will have a student activity fee similar to those at other local public schools. Additional fees would cover participation in sports and other extra-curricular activities.
What kind of performing arts programs will you offer?
Under the umbrella of a rigorous and immersive performing arts program, students will collaborate with fellow artists in community-building ensembles (choir, orchestra, jazz band, dance company). In addition to performing in the space provided by the school, these groups will “tour” to other schools, rest homes, and arts organizations in an effort to establish meaningful connections within the broader community. Students may also have the opportunity to participate in flexible internship experiences or to help organize school-wide (or even community-wide) arts festivals.
Will some classes be taught by professionals that are not certified teachers?
Absolutely. Guest professionals can share a wealth of knowledge and expertise with students. Professionals experienced in education, performance, technology, outdoor sports and activities, and the environment (music, dance, drama, art, engineering, outdoor sports, and more) will work with students at AISU during special class sessions and two-week intensives. Such classes will be monitored by an AISU teacher.
Will there be a library?
AISU will have specific literacy libraries and book collections for elementary students. In addition, AISU will have an extensive digital library complemented by a wide variety of hard copy books to support literacy development and promote reading. Community Builders, the AISU parent organization, will maintain a library of rotating hardcover books and e-readers in the central atrium. Students are encouraged to stop by and borrow a book, or even donate one!
Will AISU have uniforms?
AISU has a “Dress to Learn” code, which can be viewed here, but not uniforms.