The Expanse Program
Expanse’s community program mixes elements from theatre, improv, and team-building exercises to give each student the tools to thrive in a social world. Our theatre activities are designed for students to create, observe, and experience the full range of human emotion. Improvisational activities build our students’ skills at recognizing non-verbal cues and managing social anxiety in a safe and playful environment. Our team-building activities foster cooperation and conflict resolution, making students both mindful of others and assertive in their opinions.
We end each week with Announcements, Apologies, and Appreciations, the centerpiece activity of our community program. Cheers, laughter, and the occasional tear are common in the end-of-week Triple A. Our Community enables peers to celebrate each other’s success, taking full accountability for their actions and cherishing each other’s existence.
At Expanse, we encourage students to take charge of their own learning. That starts with Socratic, at the core of the middle school academic experience. Unlike a traditional English class, Expanse doesn’t have teachers who lead students to a particular understanding of a text or idea. Instead, our goal is to encourage students to pull out what they see in the texts we bring to them. The Socratic experience is led by a guide who provides encouragement, fosters discussion among peers and provides insight so that students are able to speak at length about what they see in the text. In doing so, students become educated—as National Humanities Medal winner Eva Brann stated, “interested where others are bored.” As a result, the student’s world can be accessed in a way that is meaningful, intentional, and significant.
Our texts borrow from rich primary sources whose authors are both ancient and contemporary. They were deliberately selected to challenge students to reflect on topics and experiences they encounter daily. We believe that in order to adequately address the issues of our time, timeless ideas must be hashed out in the classroom.
We focus primarily on:
- American and World history
- Poetry, for its dense imagery and meaning
However, we are not limited by these topics and will occasionally cover different subjects depending on current events and the particular interests of the cohort.
While the official schedule allows for 40 minutes of Socratic, we believe in granting Guides flexibility to rearrange the schedule, such that Socratic and Community, for example, can be longer. For more on our Core Principles, see here.
Writing assignments at Expanse are integrated with every part of our program. This makes writing assignments meaningful to and personalized for every student. By the end of the year, each student will have produced a varied portfolio of fantastic writing and will have acquired research skills that far exceed national standards.
We break writing down into four main pieces for middle schoolers:
- The Idea Journal. Students write about what resonates with them over the course of their day in or out of Expanse, including notes, aphorisms, or beginnings of a compelling thought.
- Discursive Essays. Students learn to express their support of or opposition to an idea discussed in Socratic or attempt to articulate a thought they’ve been developing in their idea journal. Importantly, they are not necessarily bound to the five-paragraph writing structure taught in traditional schooling. They do discursive writing weekly.
- Creative Writing. This alternative to discursive essays, while less bounded, is equally rigorous. Students will explore an idea or an experience without having to take a stance. They will be encouraged to sift through and explore insights they notice in texts and experiences around them with the help of prompts. In creative writing at Expanse, the student’s style is encouraged to flourish.
- Research Paper 2.0. Every student completes two research papers per year. They learn to find and synthesize sources, sifting through them to find truth and making meaningful connections. The result is either in an assertive statement about a subject or in a series of thoughtful questions encouraging inquiry beyond the paper.
At Expanse, we believe that students should take ownership of their own work and be proud to have their peers read it. They also learn to treat their peers’ work as if it’s their own, creating a deeper, richer community. Students who are behind in the mechanics of English grammar and style use this time to work on those aspects of good writing, achieving basic fluency.
Students follow the QuantumCamp curricula, which develops problem-solving skills in a cohesive narrative format aligned with standard middle school STEM content. This gives our students the understanding that mathematics was built up from ancient times to today; it allows them to engage with concepts in the context of math’s development as a domain, bringing math to life. (For example, over the course of several units, we progress from Pythagoras to Algebra, weaving together the story of how one brought about the other historically and mathematically!)
Rather than relying on lectures or endless videos, QuantumCamp takes a project-based approach to learning, giving students the chance to develop problem-solving skills rather than focusing on applying memorized formulas. This gives students the chance to explore their own route to a mathematical solution, making math their own.
That said, we continue to focus intently on math practice. Students are given practice problems for every concept they come across, and extra resources are given to students who either fear mathematics or often struggle with it. Advanced students are given more challenging, sometimes open-ended problems to explore, exercising their reasoning skills.
Because math at Expanse is project-based, students are not bound by the limitations of their teachers. Instead, Guides act as sounding boards for student challenges, enabling them to go as far as they’re able. Students benefit from weekly office hours with a QuantumCamp teacher during which they are able to ask any specific questions about the curriculum. (Expanse Math Guides will be there at all times for student practice.)
All are coached on effectively learning mathematics using principles of Barbara Oakley, author of Learning How to Learn.
Our science program also emphasizes project-based learning in a narrative format. Students perform experiments made famous by pioneers before them to discover, among other things, the shape of the atom and the speed of light. Subjects as varied as entropy, biochemistry, the Periodic Table, and atomic theory are tackled in depth, encouraging wonder and a desire to discover the origins of their world. Furthermore, experiments conducted in this way allow for the same collaboration experienced in Socratic; labs are conducted often in groups with occasional guidance, allowing students to work together towards a clear, measurable goal. In this way, they also learn to confront data they collect, trust it and their findings, and interpret their findings to (cautiously) make statements about the world and, eventually, their place in it.
Families receive kits in the mail, which students then use to conduct the experiments.
Particularly for students who have spent their lives in traditional schooling, the chance to define their own goals and expectations with the guidance of a mentor is a remarkable and exhilarating experience. Mentorship is the foundation of our individualized attention in this program, giving students the chance to create and shape their lives. Students are allowed to build a trusting and extended relationship with an individual outside the family structure whose job is to respect the student and push them to set the high expectations they deserve. The mentor also helps students face their fears—of mathematics, for example—and encourages them to develop grit, a characteristic noted repeatedly as a metric of later success.
Expanse focuses on the Life Design approach from Stanford University, providing an array of tools intended to accommodate structured and unstructured minds alike, in helping them transition from initially vague desires and wants to very clear, measurable, meaningful intentions that are neither imposed on them nor bland and cookie-cutter. The sky’s the limit!
We also allow the mentorship segment to be a place where students can articulate personal setbacks and successes, whether personal or academic. At Expanse, we believe in making accommodations when a family member is having difficulties, or when there are stressors in a middle schooler’s relations with other students that require special attention. We want to be present for students as they constructively overcome what they experience in domains outside of, but deeply connected to, their time in the classroom.
Whether your student is passionate about hosting concerts, building the next billion-dollar app, or becoming the world’s greatest therapist—or has no idea just yet—Personal Project time allows them to start and continue work on things they’re learning they love to do. (As any passionate adult knows, these interests will find their way into the rest of the day!) They are able to collaborate with peers having similar interests or just explore their individual passions in depth. It’s also time for them to get curious and discover curated content on our platform that will expose them to an ever-growing array of cool and exciting ideas, professions, experiences, narratives, and interests that will excite them and nurture the sense that they can do whatever they put their mind to. We will include free content that they can do to build their skills in everything from coding to geomorphology—whatever captures their hearts! Projects in history, science, technology, and media, among many others, enhance awareness of the range of options out there in the world.
International Project-Based Learning
Nobel Explorers, a global STEAM bootcamp, engages your child in options for project-based learning with motivated students from around the globe. In order to have the full international experience, students may prefer to meet on Saturday mornings so they can work with peers in Kenya, France, the Ukraine, and elsewhere. Nobel is focused on covering many of the soft skills we apply daily in Socratic, courses such as website development, financial literacy, and other rarely covered subjects in traditional schooling but essential to growing up and becoming a great adult.
Art at Expanse emphasizes openness, creativity, and exploration. Rather than expect students to do as the art teacher does, ample leeway is given for proficient or talented students to explore their subjects of choice, while emphasizing certain techniques and approaches in the projects they’re working on for that week or month. Students who have never drawn or done art in their lives will be guided towards mastering basic techniques, while working in peer groups and sharing their work with one another and the Guide. The Guide works with all students according to their levels.
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