Flintridge Prep Launches Curricular Innovation Grant Program

Innovation has been a buzz word over the past few years, impacting not only industries like tech and medicine but also education. In keeping with a commitment to fostering innovation in the classroom, Flintridge Preparatory School (FPS) recently launched the Curricular Innovation Grant, which awards funds to faculty to help them enhance existing curriculum or create new curriculum.

Endowed by the Ford Foundation Grant for Professional Development, the pilot program provides two grants of $2,500 to support faculty members as they develop new approaches. After announcing the call for faculty applications back in January 2019, Headmaster Peter Bachmann, Dean of Faculty Vanessa Walker-Oakes and Dean of Studies Sarah Cooper selected Reid Fritz, physics teacher, and Eric Kleinsasser, physics and chemistry teacher, as the inaugural grant recipients.

Though it’s a coincidence that both awardees are science faculty members, their proposed projects evoke the grant program’s focus on interdisciplinary and collaborative learning and underline the intersection of Prep’s STEAM and leadership initiatives.

Fritz will take over 7th grade Algorithmic Thinking as Shane Frewen becomes the new STEAM coordinator, and Kleinsasser will teach Environmental Science, a senior elective. This will be the first year teaching their respective courses for both Fritz and Kleinsasser. This summer, they’re using the grants to conduct research, plan coursework and syllabi and discover new ideas to redesign the curriculum.

Designed to help 7th graders develop clearly defined processes for solving problems, Algorithmic Thinking provides students with the foundations of computer science and programming. But Fritz also sees algorithmic thinking as a “liberal art,” explaining that its approach to problem-solving is applicable across disciplines.

“You can program computers to perform certain functions, and that programming will be useful in building software and firmware and more. Students can apply this concept of algorithmic thinking to their other courses, like developing a written argument or executing a Community Impact project,” Fritz says, adding that Prep is one of the few schools that offers Algorithmic Thinking specifically geared towards 7th graders.

Inspired by field work experience in undergraduate and graduate school, Kleinsasser will incorporate student- and project-driven excursions into the Environmental Science curriculum and is currently scouting locations in the San Gabriel mountains that will help students explore science outside the classroom.

“It’s important for students to experience more than ‘look-see’ field trips,” Kleinsasser says. “With field work, they can learn about environmental processes in nature, within a structured setting that will help them develop their own research projects.” While most field work happens at the college or graduate level, Kleinsasser hopes the Environmental Science students will recognize their ability to conduct high-level scientific research while in high school.

Cooper notes how the grant program and the teachers’ projects provide a unique test bed for the school’s priorities. “We are moving more and more toward student-created, hands-on learning,” she says. “It’s not simply having a lecture and taking notes, but having that lecture plus a debate, or a gallery walk-through, or a group reflection. In Environmental Science, students are applying what they learn in the classroom out in the field in the San Gabriel mountains. In Algorithmic Thinking, they’re applying problem-solving skills and the language of coding to the work they’ll do at Prep.”

Stay tuned as FPS checks back in with Fritz and Kleinsasser throughout the year.

Flintridge Preparatory School, 4543 Crown Ave., La Cañada Flintridge, (818) 790-1178 or visit www.flintridgeprep.org.







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