Friday, May 6, 2016

All about PEAK

PEAK: An Overview

Liberty Public Schools has two PEAK sites: Ridgeview and Alexander Doniphan. Students from Lewis and Clark, Ridgeview, Franklin, Warren Hills, and Lillian Schumacher attend the Ridgeview site, where I’ve had the privilege of spending the year as an EIP intern. PEAK is a world all of its own, and requires some time to figure out. To save you some time, and to prepare you before going in, here’s a breakdown of what PEAK is, what it means to be a PEAK teacher or student, and why PEAK kids rule.

What is PEAK?
The Peak program is an accelerated program for high achieving students.
  • How does a student qualify for PEAK?
    • There is a flow chart describing the 3 different methods a student can test into PEAK through: that's how extensive the screening process is. Put simply, there are several qualifying exams; including iReady, Gates, and even an IQ test. Students can qualify as young as second grade.
  • Do students go to PEAK every day?
    • Sadly, no! Each student goes to PEAK once a week.  
  • Are PEAK kids all geniuses?
    • Though this was one of the first questions I asked last fall, if you were to ask my teachers this, they would chuckle. No, not all PEAK kids are geniuses: they make mistakes and struggle, just like normal kids do. There’s a stigma that surrounds PEAK that all Gifted kids are perfectly behaved, Einstein-like drones working tirelessly.  This couldn’t be further from the truth. In reality, PEAK kids are not smarter: they just think differently. That is one of the most essential foundations of PEAK. It isn’t there to be a smart kids club: it is a separate educational model for students who learn outside the traditional methods.
  • If PEAK kids aren’t geniuses, are they at least different?
    • That’s a very strong yes. Gifted kids are some of the quirkiest kids you will ever meet. Some are the traditional school loving, hard working kids you would think of. Others prefer experimentation, and love anything hands on. A majority of them have the astounding quality of absorbing knowledge like sponges, constantly spewing whatever facts and information swirl around their brain that day. They each have a new, innovative way of looking at the world and solving problems. Though, because they think so drastically different from other children, they also come with their own set of behavioral issues. Many PEAK kids are introverted, and have trouble communicating their ideas to partners or teachers. Failing is difficult for them, too. Most of them are the stars of their home classrooms, rarely missing a question. When they transition to PEAK, especially the first year, many of them encounter their first real challenge with understanding content. Their high self-esteem can be crushed when they learn they aren’t as perfect as they thought they were. They aren’t used to working hard in school, and often want to give up. One of the many challenges of being a PEAK teacher is encouraging the students through their struggles, while motivating them to keep trying.

What do you do in PEAK?
Peak’s school day schedule is different than a normal classroom. There are three different parts of the day: including Theme Study, Centers, and PGD.
  • Theme study is specific to each grade. The second graders study scientists, third graders study countries, fourth graders study inventors, and fifth graders study the brain. This can be done through a wide range of activities, including taking notes from books and online resources, doing projects, and creating presentations.
    • Side note: notes for PEAK are done a very specific way. Students decide the aspects, or categories, of the topic they want to research, which become their headings. These are the notes they are looking for while reading, which they write down on notecards. The heading the note relates to goes at the top of the page. The page number the note is found on goes in the top left corner, and the source number is written in the top right. They have to paraphrase the information from the book, and write it in “caveman language”, removing all but the necessary words. ‘
  • There are three different centers: science, math, and topic study. These can be done in a variety of ways. Some days, the teacher will have the entire class work on one center together. Most days, though, the room is divided into sections, and students work independently on their school work while the teacher circulates and answers questions.
    • Science: Every grade does something different in science. Second grade studies simple machines, while third grade studies electricity and circuits. The fourth and fifth graders study the scientific method, eventually designing and executing their own experiments.
    • Math: For second and third grade, the math curriculum is divided into lessons. Each lesson has a packet of problems, which students work through a page at a time. When they finish a page, if the problems are correct, they get a star on their math ticket, which they can redeem for prizes when it’s filled. Fourth and Fifth grade choose from either the basic or advanced track, which give a set list of problems from a workbook to complete.
    • Topic study: Every student chooses his or her own topic study from a presented list. Second graders have a list of five different options, while the third graders have ten or fifteen. The list expands each year, adding more options. Each topic study has a matrix that connects to an activity for each one of Bloom’s Levels of Learning.
  • PGD stands for personal growth and development. This part of the day helps to solve the problems mentioned above pertaining to gifted children. In PGD, students think about thinking, analyzing how their thought processes affect their learning and academic performance. Once again, each grade studies something a little different. Second grade studies what to do when they get stuck, and third grade studies different kinds of thinking. Fourth grade studies more in-depth psychology terms like Occam’s Razor and self- defeating behavior. Fifth grade studies personality, and use the knowledge of the workings of their brain to their advantage in their studies.
Each grade has a schedule they follow. Third graders do theme study in the morning, followed by centers, with PGD before they leave. Rarely do the teachers change the schedule, and when they do, they have to constantly remind the kids to be flexible. Change is really difficult for PEAK kids. They are with the same class of kids every year, and with the same group of teachers.

Why is PEAK important?

My PEAK classrooms are my favorite place. The learning environment is what I would describe as creatively contemplative. The kids love what they do, and constantly wish they could come to PEAK everyday. The main different in PEAK is the purpose of it. Home classrooms teach students their base level of knowledge, beating thing like the alphabet and multiplication tables relentlessly into their brain. PEAK, on the other hand, is about application. Because of the work the home classrooms go to, students can come to PEAK and use that information in critical ways. Think of it the students like runners. Their home classrooms are their gyms, exercising and preparing their muscles. PEAK is like a race, fast paced and strenuous. PEAK takes the highest-level learners, and exercises their brains in ways that they learn the best. PEAK trains kids to think critically and preserve, which is invaluable in and out of school. I see the condition the students come in as second graders. I compare that to the young adults I see going on from fifth grade to middle school this year, and I am amazed by the difference PEAK has made in the level of learners they’ve become.

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