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Our Distinctives



Family School is unique in many ways. 

But perhaps our primary distinctives from traditional schools are our modes of engagement - the standards-based curricular components that make up the identity of Family School. While each classroom implements the modes in a manner unique to the teacher, they do embody the philosophy of Family School and its staff. They integrate the standards of various disciplines into one ongoing activity.

This integration allows for creating the most efficient manner of coverage over several grade spans of expectations. We believe that children learn best through the ability to explore, connect, discuss and deeply understand the world around them. The modes of engagement offer a consistent and successful way for children to engage in and own their learning on a daily basis.



Inquiry provides a unique opportunity and process for students to learn, practice, and perform the following educational standards: data analysis, algebraic equations, statistics and probability, spoken and written expressive language, research, patterns, functions and algebraic concepts, among others.  During inquiry, students are able to create, ask and answer their own questions through the process of discovery and subsequent analysis.  It is a time when children can use critical thinking and problem solving to discover answers for themselves to questions they may have been asking you, such as, “Why is the sky blue?”


At the core of Inquiry are the critical reframers, a series of questions designed to put a different lens on viewing the question being explored. The emphasis is on the design and communication of their problem solving, which elicits their own critical thinking in collecting, recording and analyzing data.  Students also develop criteria and ideas to form their own conclusions.  The students are then encouraged to analyze, connect and communicate their conclusions in both written and graphic forms.



At Family School, we teach math groups through a conceptual approach, emphasizing the use of manipulatives, such as base 10 blocks, and advanced questioning techniques.  In this way, children construct their knowledge of numbers and operations.  In the math progression, students transition into using traditional algorithms with pencil and paper calculation where ORKing (orderly recording of knowledge) is emphasized. 

We expect two things in math:  The first is accuracy where “silly mistakes” are considered “serious errors”.  The second is connective understanding as evaluated by their ability to express their thinking out loud.  In our multi-age setting, students are grouped by their math ability into small, fluid groups designed to meet the needs of individuals. 

We feel is important to teach a concept in its entirety before progressing to the next one: for example, all of the addition, from single digit problems to adding in other bases, is mastered before subtraction is begun.  We believe that this approach moves children most efficiently through number and operation skills.  Students need to show proficiency on a written test before progressing to the next level.  Below is the algorithmic math unit progression:

  • Anticounting

  • Addition 1

  • Addition 2

  • Subtraction

  • Multiplication

  • Division

  • Fractions 1

  • Fractions 2

  • Decimals/Percentages

  • Geometry

  • Algebra


The reading journals are a series of structured writing experiences designed to guide students through a critical reading process while at the same time teaching writing techniques.  The journals ultimately build the skills necessary for writing a thesis.  The students are divided into leveled reading groups where they meet and discuss portions of a chosen book.  Through reading, discussion, lessons, writing assignments, and feedback on the writing, students move from reading for pleasure to the ability to take pleasure in a deeper understanding of written works. 

They arrive at a deeper understanding of the text by exploring and writing about the manner in which the book is crafted (writing techniques such as dialogue, brushstrokes, foreshadowing) as well as the lens of the time, place, and societal values within which the book was written.  The reading journals progress as follows: retelling; personal commenting; writing technique; critical thinking; structure; and research.



Workshop is a time for students at different levels and grades to work collaboratively on research and learning which supports the classroom theme. There are a series of workshops throughout the year, each involving a different set of classmates, skills, cooperative learning goals and content knowledge. During these workshops, students move through the performance cycle (process, rehearsal, performance and reflection) as a framework for developing a group constructed knowledge base and demonstrating this learning.

Workshop is a time in which students bring together all of their skills from other modes to fruition toward constructing knowledge and understanding in the content areas of Social Studies and Science. This collaborative learning opportunity allows children to draw on individual strengths, build individual weaknesses, develop collaborative learning skills and learn in an independent, less teacher-led, venue.



Brainteasers (BTs) are whole group, multi-age activities designed to stimulate the students’ minds as well as encourage problem-solving in a cooperative setting.  At the start of the activity, children are given an opportunity to explore the unknown through math or writing. BTs can be posed either on the board for the whole group or on individual sheets. BTs are holistic; students must pull together from different areas critical thinking skills and new ideas in order to solve them.  Through BT, children learn to examine present knowledge, utilize prior knowledge, create new knowledge, and express it all in a cohesive manner. (Understanding, Strategy, Communication).  BTs are an efficient way to explore concepts in a multi-age classroom.

Children have the opportunity to make use of the “community brain” (the sum of all of the children’s experience and knowledge).  BTs are an experience where students can explore academic topics in the same way professionals do—by experimenting with patterns and relationships to explain how they define our world.  It is also a place where new ideas are introduced.

BT provides a setting for generalizing and globalizing strategies. 

In order to emphasize this, BTs are presented at a level beyond the students’ current knowledge.  BT follows the performance cycle: process, rehearsal, performance, and reflection (often referred to as debriefing). The latter is almost always done in a group setting.



Projects are a way for students to explore specialized knowledge about a content area and themselves as learners. Projects often are largely completed at home, but may connect to the classroom’s theme or be supported through learning experiences in the classroom setting.  There are three projects, which become a part of the final report card for the year: Goal, Specialized and a Final Inquiry.



Students and parent(s) determine an area of growth/exploration that they would like to pursue. Much like an Inquiry, Goal is a method of studying a question about oneself, working on improvement and analyzing the results. When culminating this project, the student presents their new knowledge of his/herself in this area in a small/large group setting, adding the additional experience of presenting to the full experience.



This project allows the student to work on a writing genre or project that exhibits grade level writing standards. This project is designed by the teacher and may or may not be facilitated at home.



An area in science is assigned by the teacher that the child researches and presents a lesson on to the class. The science standard come from the science standards created by APS and is appropriate for the grade level of the student.