Signature Programs & STEAM
Distinctive paths to learning
At Agnes Irwin School in Philadelphia, we expose students in every division to unique opportunities and ways of learning that challenge them to reach for new experiences and higher levels of knowledge. Designed to expand on grade-based curriculum, our Signature Programs reinforce the interdisciplinary nature of our girl-centric approach to authentic learning and distinguish our educational practice. For example, in Upper School all sophomores and juniors participate in one-week and two-week school-sponsored programs, called Special Studies Program (SSP). The SSPs give girls the opportunity to have hands-on experiential learning through real world scenarios, such as the Forensics SSP pictured right.
We continue to be a leading proponent of STEAM – Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, Mathematics – education for girls. Utilizing the advantages of the all-girl environment to its fullest, our program seeks to make successful entry into technical disciplines a real possibility for our graduates.
SCIENCE - In each division, we strive to convey the importance of science in everyday life through
developmentally appropriate laboratory investigations and opportunities for experiential learning.
TECHNOLOGY - Computers and programmable smart phones dominate our culture. Our offerings in computer science prepare our girls to understand what makes those devices “think” and, if they so desire, to pursue future work in the exciting world of information technology.
ENGINEERING - Our robotics program addresses the engineering aspects of STEAM. From LEGO kits in Lower School through robotics courses, clubs and competitions in the Middle and Upper Schools, our girls learn to confidently navigate this male-dominated universe.
ARTS - Arts education is a key to creativity, and creativity spurs the innovation necessary to create the new solutions and new industries upon which our future economic well-being depends.
MATHEMATICS - When do girls start believing that math is not for them? At Agnes Irwin, the answer to that question is “never.” From Lower School through grade 12, our collaborative, hands-on program fully prepares students to comfortably navigate the world of numbers.
Femme Tech Fatale, our robotics team, is comprised of Upper School students and faculty advisors Dr. Thomas Weissert and Robotics teacher Greg Scott. The team spends six intensive weeks turning sheets of metal, electronic parts, spools of wire, motors, pieces of wood and lengths of plastic tubing into a working robot. At the start of the 2013-2014 school year, the Robotics program, including the Middle School Lego Robotics, moved into new quarters in the newly created Innovation Lab from its specially designed space in the Arts & Science Center.
Agnes Irwin’s robotics team is one of only 20 all-girl teams participating in an international program (F.I.R.S.T. Robotics) involving hundreds of teams all over the world. Typically participating in two or three regional competition events from Philadelphia to Washington D.C., Femme Tech Fatale has garnered many awards in its 13-year history and continues to introduce girls to real-world, hands-on science and technology.
Beginning in first grade, Lower School students construct and program with LEGO Robotics. This is a wonderful collaborative experience that introduces the girls to construction concepts, the logic and sequential steps of programming and, as they become more independent, the Engineering Design Process. Grades 1 through 4 each complete a six-week session of robotics, and many of students choose to pursue robotics as an elective in the Middle or Upper Schools.
In conjunction with the year-long theme of “home,” eighth graders study the topic of immigration in English, history, science and the arts, helping them gain an understanding of its impact on the past, present and future. Subsequent to being divided into geographically diverse “family groups,” students research the religion, history, economy, geography and conflicts of their assumed countries to identify what “push” factors would cause them to emigrate from their home, and what “pull” factors might have drawn them to the United States.
On a class trip to New York City, students role-play the experience at Ellis Island by passing through “inspection” stations set up in the Great Hall by their teachers, who portray medical doctors, psychiatrists and immigration officials. Students also visit the Tenement Museum in the Lower East Side to see where an immigrant might have lived during the immigration wave, and tour the Eldridge Street Synagogue to learn about Jewish immigrant community life in the city at this time. Students connect to their Earth Science curriculum by visiting Central Park and examining rock formations. Students also attend a Broadway play relating to immigration, and after the trip, they create documentaries in English classes to reflect on their experiences.
One of our treasured traditions at Agnes Irwin is the Senior Assembly. Each senior is required to prepare and present a 10-minute speech before the Upper School student body and faculty (approximately 300 people) on a topic of her own choosing. Generally the topics are consciousness-raising, and often are discussed afterwards by both students and faculty. Our students prepare for this moment starting with "show and tell" in Kindergarten, with class projects, and in public speaking classes in seventh grade. During the seniors' presentations, virtually all of which include multimedia, it is remarkable how poised and articulate the speakers appear - portraying a confidence and ease that belies the nervousness they might feel.
Special Studies Program (SSP) offerings are as distinct as the girls’ personalities. All sophomores and juniors participate in one-week and two-week school-sponsored programs, as well as Independent SSPs. Students can stay with a single SSP the entire time or try a different program each week. We offer a variety of both local and global experiences. Students naturally gravitate toward the community service projects. Whichever SSP they choose, Agnes Irwin students have long believed the program is one of the most rewarding experiences of their school careers. “We check in every year with our students to find out if SSP is worth it,” shares the program director. “Every year, without fail, the girls say it is.”
SSP-9 begins the process of incorporating the 9th grade into the Special Studies Program. SSP-9 will parallel the 10th and 11th grade SSP programs and share many aspects of SSP, but will take place entirely on campus for the 2016-17 school year. Through project-based learning, students will enjoy the experiential and immersive qualities that all SSP programs share. For its inaugural year, students will choose two of the offered ten SSP-9 courses; these classes are co-curricular and range from creating wearable electronics to learning the basics of archaeology.