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SPARK Units are inquiry based learning experiences that place science and social studies content knowledge side by side with social justice topics. Students are encouraged to develop questions, theories, and strategies as they engage in interactive learning experiences. These units provide a framework for integrated learning, encompassing multiple subject areas and encouraging students to make connections in order to apply their knowledge.

At Giddens School, we set out to intentionally weave social justice topics into our science and social studies instruction. We endeavor to promote the Giddens School mission, assuring that students are thinking critically while gaining relevant knowledge and skills in a social justice context. For each SPARK unit, we consider developmentally appropriate content in social justice, equity, and advocacy while relying on established standards for grade-band appropriate content. We look for units that complement standards from the National Association for the Education of Young Children, the Common Core State Standards, the Next Generation Science Standards as well as the C3 Social Studies Framework. SPARK Units are thoughtfully designed to both increase academic knowledge that meets these high standards and increase student engagement with the complex world around them.

The development of student engagement through exploration, questioning, and theorizing is also an essential element of SPARK Units. Students are prompted with complex ideas, phenomenon, or problems that form the context for their learning. For example, rather than a social studies unit on “Government and the Election,” our fifth graders are engaged in a “Elections and Voting Rights” SPARK Unit during which they experience the trials and tribulations of setting up a community based in democratic principles. Students actively engage with the tensions that arise in this process, developing empathy for the complexity of running a country and a critical eye toward how to improve communal decision making in their world.

SPARK Units also engage community connections and seek to build bridges with the world beyond Giddens. Students venture on field trips and experiences designed to establish read world understanding of complex topics. Often, guest speakers and presenters come to the school or join us via Zoom to help our students think more deeply about the topics or to be interviewed as experts in their field. These opportunities help students gain awareness of the vast resources available to them as they pursue lifelong learning!