Integrated Project-based Learning

Example: Surveying the Residents of Martinez on How to Coexist with Beavers

Yesterday’s field trip was an unbelievably bright group of beaver-savvy children who told ME the story of the Martinez Beavers and asked smarter questions than I hear from most adults.”

–Heidi Perryman, Director, “Worth a Dam”, Martinez, California


Helios’ curriculum framework and program development is informed by program standards developed by the National Association for Gifted Children.  These standards draw on years of research in the field of gifted education documenting the most effective approaches to curriculum planning and delivery for gifted learners.

The curriculum is developed around themes that are chosen for their ability to integrate interdisciplinary studies, meet Common Core Standards, ignite the imagination, and engage students, staff and families.  

Helios New School is highly sensitive to the role of motivation in effective learning. We earnestly strive to create compelling topics that set the stage for life-long learning strategies.   Rich themes provide extensive opportunities for integrating standards into relevant and meaningful activities within the sciences, social studies, music, language arts, technology, and art. Math is integrated whenever relevant and is additionally taught in ability groups in a separate, dedicated block, as is Mandarin.

View an overview of a typical three-month, theme-based project.  The arc of a typical learning adventure is as follows: 

  • Immersion The learning adventure begins with an immersion experience that introduces the theme
  • Investigations  Students conduct two to three in-depth investigations
  • Application  Following the investigations, there is a prolonged application of the skills and knowledge gained
  • Culmination   Each learning adventure culminates in meaningful presentations and/or products that provide the platform for students to develop quality work

This approach to learning includes all members of Helios New School in a living/learning community that participates in the theme investigation.  The launch of engaging topics inevitably leads to accessing passionate experts, the production of quality products, revealing fieldwork trips, the discovery of fresh resources, and the building of  students’  “sense of mastery”.     

The level of in-depth learning was exemplified recently through the fieldwork site trip to extend the learning on nature’s engineers by examining beaver activity, learning from experts and surveying local citizens.