Please meet Neelam Khanduri, Science and Math teacher in La Scuola International School’s Middle School. While Neelam has been teaching at La Scuola for a short four years, she is no newbie in the world of teaching Math and Science and brings 23+ years of teaching experience with her, specifically in the areas of International Baccalaureate (IB) Primary Years and Middle Years Programs.
I was able to sit down with Neelam the other day and ask her a few questions about the Middle School Math and Science programs, and what brought her to our school. Fortunately for us, she sees an organic connection between Math and Science, and therefore enjoys the opportunity to teach both. Please read on to learn more.
Q: What brought you to La Scuola?
A: I saw the position posted online, and it was everything I was looking for. I was also excited to maybe have the opportunity to move to San Francisco. In doing some research on the school and then having an interview with Valentina Imbeni (Head of School) and Sally Peterson (K-8 Director of Teaching and Learning), I already felt so connected to the school’s pedagogy and beliefs.
I learned about the One Hundred Languages, the Reggio Emilia approach, both of which I had never heard of. It was a new discovery for me, and I thought how beautiful and natural the combination of Reggio and International Baccalaureate are. To me, La Scuola was setting the trend for education in the future.
Q: Can you explain how the Middle School Math and Science curriculum works at La Scuola?
A: It is inquiry-based learning. As a teacher, I am expected to facilitate and guide the students, and they come with the questions. It is my responsibility to ensure that the project and learning moves forward, and that the outcomes are reached in a timely manner.
The discovery is done by the students. The students are doing the navigating. They are exploring, investigating, discovering, solving, and applying their learnings into real context. This is a process and what makes it so wonderful is that the students keep and create the tools for “lifetime learning.”
Q: La Scuola elementary uses the Singapore Math approach. Can you talk a bit more about that?
A: Mathematics in the IB-Primary Years Program (IB-PYP) at La Scuola introduces the Singapore Math methodology (number talks, hands on learning, mental math, visual models, algorithms and number stories), and the students bring it with them to the IB Middle Years Program (IB-MYP). It doesn’t fade out, and the students continue to use the mathematics learnings and concepts in middle school.
If students arrive at La Scuola’s IB-MYP Middle School Math program and have not attended elementary school, not knowing the Singapore Math concept will not significantly affect their learning. This is because the La Scuola IB-MYP Math program does not rely on the Singapore Math approach specifically, and instead incorporates a variety of mathematical concepts and approaches from different sources.
The IB-MYP Math program is designed to build on students’ prior knowledge and help them develop a deep understanding of mathematical concepts. La Scuola’s implementation of the program may have some similarities or connections to the Singapore Math approach, but this is not essential for success in the program.
Students joining in middle school will experience and appreciate a challenging concept-based curriculum. If a student does struggle with math at the La Scuola IB-MYP middle school level, there are resources available to help them catch up and succeed.
Q: Have you kept in contact with any of the graduating Grade 8 students? And, if yes, how are they faring with their Math and Science skills in high school?
A: Yes, I do! I am still communicating with La Scuola graduates from all three of our graduating classes. They have all told me how grateful they are about the way they learned mathematics and science. They feel comfortable to work on their assignments and feel well equipped with the tools La Scuola provided them. This is not only true for individual assignments they have, but equally true for their group work.
In fact, I feel that the La Scuola Middle School Math and Science curriculum does take our students to the high school level before they even graduate from Grade 8. We don’t restrict the students; if they want to keep taking a concept or a lesson beyond what is expected of a middle school graduate, we let them go there. The beauty of the program is that we are not preparing a child for “one exam.” As I mentioned before, we are helping to develop the skills to become lifelong learners.
Q: What happens if a middle schooler can’t get to the outcome you’d like?
A: At La Scuola, “failure” is not an issue. Children have control over their own progress. They are motivated to get to a solution/outcome, and they ask questions when they cannot figure it out. They are not afraid to fail and they learn from what they might have done wrong and retry and retry until they are happy with the result.
Q: Can you give me an example of “hands-on” learning that combines the Math and Science learnings into something the students can actually put into reality?
A: Oh yes! With pleasure. A few months’ ago we wanted to re-do the middle school classrooms. We gave this assignment to the students, and they worked in groups to create models of how the classrooms should look, from the position of the furniture, to the flow of the various grades, and they created models to scale that showed what would be the ideal learning environments for all three grades. This is where their math skills played a very important role. It wasn’t up to the teachers to decide how the classrooms should look, even though they had their own opinions, but it was up to the students themselves to make their proposals and it was a middle school community effort in landing on the right model, and then leading and executing the work so that the classrooms would be rearranged accordingly.
If you would like to take an in-person tour of La Scuola’s Middle School, please reach out to our Admissions team directly. While you are on campus, you will be able to meet fabulous Ms. Neelam in person!
There is also quite a bit of information on our Middle School program, which you can find on our website.
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