Acera School in Winchester MA Redefining Literacy in the Modern Age

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Prize-winning MIT scientist teams up with independent elementary school teacher at the Acera School for Creativity, Technology, and Leadership to create a classroom learning experience that is preparing the next generation of students to be innovators in the new technology economy.

With help from higher education partnerships, the Acera School is changing the role of teacher in the classroom, redefining literacy in the modern age, and preparing the next generation of students with the 21st century skills they need to succeed in a global innovation economy.

This week, the Lower Elementary school students at the Acera School for Science, Creativity, and Leadership are performing experiments that teach them how to separate nanoparticles, led by visiting MIT professor and prize-winning scientist Angela Belcher. Belcher has partnered with Lower Elementary lead teacher Katie Semine to help create a new learning plan that delves deeper into atomic science. Says Semine, “Just last week, I had prepared a different lesson for today, but after our lesson on atomic matter, the students were so excited and asked me so many questions that I was inspired to go home and create a new lesson plan; thanks to Angie’s help we are exploring science at a level that most students don’t see in first grade.”

Acera teachers like Semine are driven by a mission to allow students’ natural curiosity to lead the direction of classroom learning. To accomplish this, Acera collaborates with passionate scientists and systems thinkers who represent bioengineering, microbial evolution, cardiology, engineering, astrophysics, genetics, and nanotechnology. All hailing from MIT, Tufts, Museum of Science, and Harvard, these collaborators create lessons tailored to fit each students’ unique hunger for knowledge. The partnership between Semine and visiting MIT, prize-winning scientist Angela Belcher is one such example. Belcher is a firm believer in Acera’s approach to learning and comes to teach at Acera frequently. In addition she has helped the Acera mission by writing grant requests to institutions like the National Cancer Institute, the success of which enables Acera students to have access to advanced equipment like digital microscopes.

With regards to redefining literacy, Belcher says it “is about allowing our students to take ownership of their learning . The real takeaway of this week’s lesson wasn’t teaching the mechanics of nanotechnology, but rather teaching these kids at a very young age how we can manipulate these pieces of our universe to achieve a desired result...teaching them to approach discovery from multiple perspectives.” Thanks in part to her partnership with Belcher, Semine will spend the summer studying at an MIT lab, so she can bring back what she learns to next year’s learning plan. At Acera, she does not play the typical role of teacher, but is given the freedom to be a strong, creative entrepreneur in her own right . Semine emphasizes that the culture of learning at Acera is better preparing the innovators of tomorrow: “The problems society faces today are divergent; there are no answers in the back of the book. We give our students the space and the safety needed for them to grow, to embrace thinking differently, and to find multiple ways to solve problems using creativity, technology, and their own resources. Those are the qualities the world demands from innovators.”

Currently, Massachusetts ranks last in the nation for serving the needs of gifted students including zero dollars spent in funding programs for gifted education. Courtney Dickinson founded the Acera School for Science Creativity, and Leadership—an independent STEM school—in 2010 to address the profound needs in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) education in the United States, particularly for high ability learners. At the time, Ms. Dickinson was struggling to find a school that could meet the unique educational needs of her son.

“Redefining literacy in the modern era by developing a culture that focuses and teaches the mental dexterity to cross between disciplines, think at a systems level, and innovate creative solutions to pressing problems is a core part of the Acera mission,” says Founder Dickinson. “We are taking a stand in our belief that young students can understand big ideas far earlier than they are typically allowed access to them, and by early exposure to passionate scientists and deep thinkers and cross disciplinary thinking, we can cultivate a generation of thinkers and innovators prepared to do great work in the world.”

Due to rapid growth the Acera School will be moving to a bigger location in Winchester, MA in September 2013. Acera’s next information sessions will be held May 13th at 7:30 PM and May 28th at 9:30 AM. For more information, visit http://www.aceraschool.org

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Kate Rocheleau

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