A. CURRICULUM AND INSTRUCTION
With the introduction of its new International Program, DAS has had the opportunity to gradually revise all of its curricula.
The first step was to agree on a revision of our standards. The DAS standards for English and Arabic are based on those in Delaware in the USA. Science and math are also based on Delaware standards, as well as on the recommendations of the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics, National Science Teachers Associations, and the American Association for the Advancement of Science. The curricula for geography, history and social studies are being developed on the basis of the AERO standards designed for international schools. Religion standards are being developed in the school on the basis of the school’s Targeted Characteristics for its students (see DAS Mission, Vision and Targeted Characteristics).
As standards, scope, and sequence are becoming clarified, teachers are revising their curriculum maps and the design of their units. Now in our third year of training on backward design, through the use of “Understanding by Design” by McTighe and Wiggins, teachers are collaborating to revise all our units in this format. Many of these have been uploaded onto Rubicon Atlas and shared with other schools in both English and Arabic. Although we still have a long way to go to complete and fine tune all our units, the impact on the School’s program of using backward design has already been significant. Instruction has become more focused on big ideas, deep understanding, the application of higher level thinking skills, the relationships between academic disciplines and between the units of study and real life, and the gradual development of learning skills. Further, this approach to planning requires that the design of assessment is based on student application of skills and knowledge needed for the twenty-first century.
Inquiry and research have played a growing part in our approach to student learning. All students at all age levels are involved in learning independently and collaboratively through use of the library, internet, and their own projects. Teachers are trained and encouraged to use many learner-centered strategies such as cooperative learning, literature circles, service learning, and others in order to ensure a focus on thinking and learning skills as well as collaborative skills and a link with real life. Technology is integrated into the normal instructional process as well as being a separate topic of study.
C. SCIENCE AND MATH
DAS has always been focused on the teaching of math and science. Starting with pre-school and continuing all the way through elementary and beyond, teachers are well trained to help students digest math concepts by using especially prepared “hands-on” materials for “minds-on” activities. This is the reason why DAS students have always been known for doing exceptionally well in math examinations and in the current international competitions. (See Student Achievements).
Similarly, science is taught through participation in experiments and inquiry activities. The elementary stage focuses on learning the scientific method and applying thinking and research skills to figuring out the answers to real questions.
At the intermediate and secondary level, students are asked to apply their knowledge in projects to explain or research answers to questions. Some physics classes incorporate the use of robotics, as was explained in an action research report presented by DAS teachers at a conference at Effat College this year in Jedda. This project reflects the enthusiasm, especially in the boys’ school, for participation in our weekend robotics program. More than seventy boys of different ages are coming regularly with their teachers on Thursdays and, as a result, our teams have represented Saudi Arabia at international competitions in many countries, including Japan, Turkey, Holland, Norway, Jordan, and the US. At the meet in Japan, they won the award for “Most Creative Project” over teams from the Far East and in Turkey, they won over teams coming from Germany, England as well as many other countries for best scientific research project in connection with robotics. Their teachers are especially proud that our teams have also been recognized repeatedly for the excellence of their teamwork. (For more information, please see the list of Recent Student Achievements.)
DAS teachers design other science courses in both Arabic and English that result in group or individual projects that are worthy of competition in international science fairs. As a result, DAS girls and boys have consistently done well in the Kingdom’s various science competitions. They have been chosen each year to represent Saudi Arabia in the INTEL International Science and Engineering Fairs in the US as well as in other fairs in several locations, inside and outside Saudi Arabia. Several age groups also participate and place highly or win each year in science fairs at the American University of Beirut. (Please see the list of Recent Student Achievements for more information.)
Based on their showing in these events, DAS is among the strongest representatives in the Kingdom for participation in the summer activities inside KSA and outside, organized by King Abdulla’s Program for the Gifted and Talented (Mowhiba), Almost thirty have already been chosen for the summer of 2012 for Mowhiba and KAUST. Several graduates have also been selected for special scholarships to universities from the King Abdulla University for Science and Technology (KAUST).
E. STANDARDIZED TESTS
In the 2011-2012 school year, DAS will build on its experimentation with some standardized tests, and embark on a new plan for standardized testing at all levels and in both languages. The results of these tests will be used by teachers, parents and students to guide decisions about instruction, curriculum, individualized work and remediation.
English teachers will be assisted through the use of the DRA2 in the primary years and then will use the MAP tests for reading and math. In the high school years they will use the PSSS and PSAT to help students prepare for SAT I and II and TOEFL in their last two years.
Since there are almost no standardized tests available in Arabic, DAS has developed its own Arabic literacy and math tests, making use also of Arabic translations of the PIRLS and PISA practice tests. At the secondary level, students take the Saudi college entrance tests – the Quderat and Tahseeli. In the Quderat, our boys have been the first in Saudi Arabia for six years and our girls have been the second. They have also been among the leaders in the Tahseeli. (Please see the section on Recent Student Achievements.)
G. THE STUDENT SUPPORT UNIT (PREVIOUSLY CALLED THE EARLY INTERVENTION PROGRAM)
The Student Support Unit (SSU) aims at early identification of students who learn differently from others. It offers a variety of services that both encourage them and assist in removing barriers or giving the extra or specialized tuition needed for the special needs student to move forward in Arabic, English and mathematics. This program is undertaken by specially-trained staff at the elementary level and, in a few cases, at the intermediate level. It utilizes both pull-out and push-in, both individual and small group patterns of assistance.
I. COMMUNITY SERVICE, CLUBS AND ATHLETICS
All students from third elementary and above are involved in club activities and community service projects during normal school hours. These activities are aimed at helping youth discover their talents and interests, develop skills of leadership and group work, and learn more about the world through involvement in projects of service to their school, their community, and other places in the world. Further, they aim at implanting both a habit and enjoyment of being of service to others. We want our students to see themselves as effective contributors to efforts to make the world a better place.
Younger students are encouraged to choose different projects or activities each semester in order to have a variety of experiences. As they get older, they are more likely to stay with a project for a year or more. Most students are involved in at least one semester-long or year-long service project each year. The current list of service projects and club activities varies slightly from year to year but can be found each semester on the website.
Among the new club activities popular among the students are the Model United Nations and the Lego Robotics Activities. DAS teams have come home from national and international competitions with prizes and awards of various sorts (please see Recent Student Accomplishments). Also popular are the clubs that focus on science projects that will compete in national and international science fairs. DAS teams have won nationally each year and have, therefore, represented the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia in the International Science and Engineering Fair held in the US organized by Intel (ISEF).
Athletic activities are always popular, of course, especially with the boys. There are activities during school time, during recesses, and sometimes there are after-school practices and events. DAS boys participate in on-going tournaments for several sports, such as soccer, basketball, volleyball, tennis and others. Selected teams of boys also travel to other schools and cities for friendly competitions and championships.
Other boys are involved in the Dammam Private Schools Athletic League which was organized by DAS and includes private schools of many nationalities. This league has seasons for different kinds of games and holds championship tournaments through which they focus on teaching life skills as well as sports.