Instead of using textbooks to teach math, how about bringing an apple to class, cutting it into halves – then quarters or fifths, and so on – to demonstrate fractions?
Or take the same apple and combine it with other fruits for a science class. Does the apple turn brown when paired with certain foods? Does it taste sweeter alongside others?
And maybe one way to introduce third-graders to critical thinking is to have them figure out a way to protect an egg on all sides so it does not crack when dropped.
“That’s engineering,” said Melodie K. Baker, one of the founders of the proposed Charter School of Inquiry, for students in kindergarten through sixth grade, which organizers hope to open in September 2015.
A series of forums for parents and community members will be held this month to share information about plans for the new school.
Organizers would like to locate the school on the East Side of Buffalo, but a specific site has not yet been determined, said Helene H. Kramer, leader of the group.
Kramer was a Buffalo School Board member from 1994 to 1999 and served as president in 1999. She also was the founder of Read to Succeed Buffalo, a nonprofit organization aimed at increasing early childhood literacy and third-grade reading scores.
The Charter School of Inquiry model is based on a hands-on approach to learning.
The charter group wants to design a school that is focused on literacy to ensure that children can be readers and thinkers by third grade, supporters said.
It will also will focus on engaging parents.
“The model is … something any child can succeed in,” Baker said.
What makes the school different from others is that it’s inquiry-based, Kramer explained.
“It’s more about children asking questions, exploring, analyzing, doing their own research,” she said.
“We know children are naturally curious. We see that every day. They stick their fingers in light sockets. They continue to want to know about the world and the things around them,” Kramer said.
She said her “general frustration” with the Buffalo Public Schools motivated her to plan a new school.
“Children are not getting educated in the numbers they should be,” she said. “This is a social justice issue because we keep watching these children fail when there’s something we can do about it.”
The Charter School of Inquiry is a departure from traditional teaching, Kramer said, offering the criticism that too often students become passive learners who listen while a teacher talks or instructs them and then occasionally questions them.
In contrast, she said, students at Charter School for Inquiry will be active learners and the approach to learning will be “directed but not scripted.”
“It’s not like giving a lesson to a child. It’s more about giving them the tools if they are curious about something and letting them think through it themselves to get the solution,” Kramer said.
Teachers at the new charter school will teach the Common Core standards that spell out what children are required to know at each level. They will have a half-day of planning each week to create and integrate a curriculum around the standards that will be interesting to students.
For example, if students decide they want to build a garden, that’s an opportunity to introduce math and science, Kramer said.
“You have to measure the square-footage and know what you can put in that square-footage. You need to know what plants grow straight up, how much sunshine they need, what kind of bugs reside in them,” Kramer said.
Ultimately, the new school will serve youngsters in kindergarten through sixth-grade, but the first year will focus on kindergartners and first- and second-graders. Each grade will have two classes with a maximum of 25 kids in each, Kramer said.
As part of the state application process for a formal charter, organizers will host three forums to share plans and get feedback. The sessions will be held:
• From 6 to 7:30 p.m. Jan. 14 at the Boys & Girls Clubs of Buffalo’s John F. Beecher Clubhouse, 180 10th St.
• From 6 to 7:30 p.m. Jan. 21 at the Boys & Girls Clubs of Buffalo’s Babcock Street Clubhouse, 282 Babcock St.
• From 6:30 to 8 p.m. Jan. 29 at the Rafi Greene Jr. Masten Resource Center, 1432 Fillmore Ave.
For more information, call 866-3876.