New Academic Schedule: Pilot in Action

One of the exciting features of Agnes Irwin’s academic programming in 2019-2020 will be the launch of a new academic schedule, designed around key research on how girls learn best. This new custom schedule — more than 18 months in the making — will provide our girls with deeper learning opportunities, including more space for interdisciplinary, experiential, and cross-divisional projects, and continue to place Agnes Irwin at the forefront of girls’ education.

This work flows from our bold Strategic Plan, Leading Girls’ Education, which we launched two years ago to guide the work of our school for the next five years. The strategic initiatives outlined by our plan inspired us to design an academic schedule that better realized our goal of Igniting Curiosity and Creativity in our students. As a result, a large group of faculty and administrators worked with Dr. Natalie Nixon, a design thinking strategist from Figure 8 Thinking, and gathered feedback from teachers, parents, and students, on what an ideal academic schedule would look like. After many hours of brainstorming and refining ideas, the committee converged on five design principles that are at the core of our new schedule. These principles are:

  • The schedule will be flexible;
  • Will provide opportunities for interdisciplinary work;
  • Will promote balance and wellness;
  • Will be developmentally aligned; and
  • Will provide opportunities for interdisciplinary learning.

This week, we piloted elements of the schedule for the first time in order to experience the schedule in action, and received feedback from our students and faculty.

Our teachers leaned into this opportunity and created deeply engaging experiences for our students across all three divisions. As we stopped by classrooms, science labs, art studios, and gathering spaces, we saw examples of how the new schedule provides for enhanced creative, interdisciplinary, and experiential teaching and learning. Fifth graders, who are studying ancient civilizations in their history classes, worked alongside our upper school Mandarin language students and learned about Ancient China and the foundation of drawing Chinese characters. Tenth grade chemistry students conducted an investigative lab experiment over the extended time, learning in authentic ways how true scientists undertake their work. In Lower School, prekindergarten, kindergarten, and first graders worked with their twelfth grade buddies on various design projects to help advance their science and engineering skills, ranging from Rigamajig and paper block building, to building spaghetti towers and designing beds for their favorite stuffed animals.

We have learned much during this first phase, which will continue to inform our work as we finalize the academic schedule. Middle and Upper Schools will test other elements of the new academic schedule on March 5 and 6, and all three divisions will follow the final schedule for a full week starting on April 1.

We are proud of our teachers, who continually seek out ways to apply the research on what is best for girls in their classrooms, who work creatively to design rigorous and meaningful learning experiences, and are dedicated to igniting curiosity and creativity — for themselves, and most importantly, for our students. We are grateful for our bright and curious students, who walked into school with an openness and eagerness to experience the opportunities our new academic schedule has to offer.

Every day, and especially this week, we made Agnes Proud, and we look forward to sharing more updates in April.

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