Academics at Willow Creek
At Willow Creek, both our curriculum and our methods of instruction are intended to nurture the whole child. We do not define success simply as achievement or test scores; our mission is to help all children become confident and caring students who are well-prepared for middle school and beyond.
At Willow Creek, we strongly believe that students need to know how to think critically and creatively. We support their learning of thinking skills with extensive and consistent use of the Thinking Maps program. Thinking Maps provide visual representations of common thought processes, such as comparison and contrast.
Students are expected to show growth in their mastery of basic skills and in content associated with the Colorado Academic Standards. Information on these standards can be accessed on the Colorado Department of Education website. These content areas and skills lay a foundation for an excellent preparation for middle school and for eventual success as adults.
National media and technology standards are also interwoven throughout the curriculum in order to teach students how to access and utilize information. For more information about such standards, visit the ISTE Website.
Our instructional strategies are focused on supporting the achievement of each child. Careful planning and continuous monitoring help our teachers meet student needs.
At Willow Creek, we believe that delivering good instruction is only part of what is necessary for achievement. At every grade, we encourage the discipline and work habits that will help students become successful in education and life.
We believe in guiding students to help them become caring and respectful people. Through rewarding positive behavior and emphasizing the importance of good choices, we demonstrate the value of being a good citizen. In addition, our PTO and our Student Council sponsor a number of events and activities that give students a chance to help others, such as our Food Drive for Cimarron and the student coin collection to help endangered animals.
Colorado's state standards in science education seek to connect scientific knowledge to problems and innovations in the real world. Instead of teaching scientific inquiry, process skills, and content separately, the new approach integrates the three in order to teach the disciplines of physical science, life science, and earth systems science. The following quote prefaces the Colorado Department of Education's web page for the Science Content Standards.
"Science is facts; just as houses are made of stone, so is science made of facts; but a pile of stones is not a house, and a collection of facts is not necessarily science." — Jules Henri Poincare, French mathematician
At Willow Creek, we work to connect science to our students' lives, and as much possible, we make science learning hands-on and engaging. Several years ago, the district invested in FOSS Kits (Full Option Science System), which foster active learning. These kits were developed at the Lawrence Hall of Science, and many of our science units use these kits.
Units of Study by Grade Level
- Wood and Paper
- The Five Senses
- Chickens (with egg hatching)
- Physical science — Forces and motion
- Life science — Animals, plants, habitats
- Earth science — Weather and seasons
- Classifying living things
- Magnetism and electricity
- Sun, moon, and planets
- Earth science — solid earth and weather on earth
- Life science — cells, plants, and the human body
- Physical science — mixtures and solutions
Social Studies Standards
Colorado has standards in history, geography, economics, and civics.
Units of Study by Grade Level
- U.S. Presidents
- Our focus is "Families Near and Far"
- Organization of Society
- Tradition and Change
- Cultural Diversity
- Participatory Citizenship
- Global Perspectives
- Map Skills
- Native Americans
- Geography: Maps and Globes
- Financial Literacy
- Life Zones/Regions
- Colorado Symbols
- Early People
- Trappers and Traders
- Gold Rush and Mining
- United States history through the Revolution and Constitution
- The 50 States
- Civics and Economics: Young Ameritowne
Most career paths that today's students may choose will require solid mathematical knowledge and skill, particularly those in the STEM realm (Science Technology Engineering and Math). Because of this greater emphasis on mathematics learning, it has become increasingly important to ensure that every student is given equal access to rigorous mathematics content and quality instruction. That was the intent of the development of the Common Core standards that the state of Colorado, Cherry Creek School District, and Willow Creek Elementary implemented beginning in 2012. Please see the Common Core State Standards web page for further information and grade level specific standards.
The Common Core State Standards (CCSS) specifically define the scope and sequence of acquiring mathematical knowledge and skill by grade level, from kindergarten through high school. These standards provide teachers, parents, and students with a framework for what every student should know about mathematical concepts. The change from previous state standards to CCSS moved the focus from breadth of knowledge to depth of knowledge. Previous standards required students to know a little about numerous mathematical concepts. CCSS requires students to understand fewer mathematical concepts but at a much deeper level. This approach is far more appropriate for children, especially at the elementary level, where mastery of grade level content is the objective before moving students on to more difficult material. Our goal, as elementary school educators, is to move students on to middle school and high school with a solid mathematical foundation.
In addition to CCSS standards for mathematical content, there are standards for the practice of mathematics as well. The Standards for Mathematical Practice (SMP) describe the types of “behaviors” that students should exhibit to be successful mathematicians. These practices are essential for students to fully acquire the content of mathematics:
- Making sense of problems and persevering in solving them.
- Reasoning abstractly and quantitatively.
- Constructing viable arguments and critiquing the reasoning of others.
- Modeling with mathematics.
- Using appropriate tools strategically.
- Attending to precision.
- Looking for and making use of structure in numbers.
- Looking for and expressing regularity in repeated reasoning.
Willow Creek has a long tradition of excellence in teaching mathematics. Cherry Creek School District and Willow Creek Elementary responded to the needs for stronger instruction in mathematics by adopting the Bridges in Mathematics curriculum. This program focuses on helping students attain the deeper conceptual understanding of mathematics as outlined by the CCSS, as well as developing the behaviors of mathematical practice as defined by the SMP.
The Bridges in Mathematics program begins in kindergarten and continues through fifth grade. The program uses a variety of learning modalities and strategies to provide students with a rich experience with mathematical content and practices. The emphasis is on conceptual understanding by presenting multiple strategies and techniques to solve authentic problems.
Although the Bridges in Mathematics program provides a solid foundation of math learning and instruction, each grade level and classroom utilizes additional instructional materials to supplement the Bridges program to ensure conceptual understanding and solid mathematical practice.
In order to increase students' fluency with math facts, we have added Reflex Math to our instruction. Beginning in second grade and continuing through fifth grade, students will develop automaticity of addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division basic facts. Reflex Math is an engaging, game-based platform that students may use to practice math facts at school and at home.
Willow Creek relies on the use of flexible grouping patterns to differentiate student instruction in mathematics. Based on assessment results, students are placed in math groups designed to provide academic challenge. Intervention services for students, utilizing small-group instruction, begin in 2nd grade and extend through 5th grade. In the 3rd, 4th, and 5th grades, students are grouped in a continuum based on individual student progress. Math instruction at these grades includes the addition of the Gifted and Talented specialist to the instructional rotation. The Gifted and Talented teacher provides above grade-level instruction to identified GT students and select high-achieving students.
Student-Produced Math Videos
A group of our students recently produced videos of how they use some of the strategies they have been taught to do specific calculations. Please watch! Here are the links:
To meet or exceed Colorado Academic Standards, we believe that:
- All children can and should write.
- Teachers must help students find real purposes to write.
- Students need to take ownership, make choices, and take responsibility within their writing.
- Effective writing programs involve the complete writing process.
- Teachers help students to draft and revise writing.
- Grammar and mechanics are best learned in the context of actual writing.
- Students need real audiences and a classroom context of shared learning.
- Writing should extend throughout the curriculum.
- Effective teachers use evaluation constructively and efficiently.
Our writing curriculum is characterized as being balanced and comprehensive. We believe that writing is a craft. With this in mind, we prescribe to the following description of the writing process:
"A craft is a process of shaping material toward an end. There is a long, painstaking, patient process demanded to learn how to shape material to a level where it is satisfying to the person doing the crafting. Writing demands constant revision, constant reseeing of what is being revealed by the information at hand; in one instance the subject of the writing, in another the person learning to write" (Graves, 1983).
Over the last two years, our teachers have studied and deployed Lucy Calkins' Units of Study curriculum for teaching writing. Lucy Calkins is the Founding Director of the Teachers College Reading and Writing Project and the Robinson Professor of Children's Literature at Teachers College, Columbia University. Her program is based on three decades of work in thousands of classrooms.
Within a balanced and comprehensive view of reading and to meet or exceed Colorado Academic Standards, we believe that:
- Children, when reading, construct their own meaning.
- Effective reading instruction can develop engaged readers who are knowledgeable, strategic, motivated, and socially interactive.
- Phonemic awareness, a precursor to competency in identifying words, is one of the best predictors of later success in reading.
- Modeling is an important form of classroom support for literacy learning.
- Storybook reading, done in the context of sharing experiences, ideas, and opinions, is a highly demanding mental activity for children.
- Responding to literature helps students construct their own meaning which may not always be the same for all readers.
- Children who engage in daily discussions about what they read are more likely to become critical readers and learners.
- Expert readers have strategies that they will use to construct meaning before, during, and after reading.
- Reading and writing abilities develop together.
- The most valuable form of reading assessment reflects current understanding about the reading process and stimulates authentic reading tasks.
The staff at Willow Creek Elementary School utilizes a wide range of research-based instructional methods to teach reading, tailored to meet all students' needs. The methods are closely aligned with five essential reading components, including phonemic awareness, phonics, comprehension, vocabulary, and fluency, addressed by Colorado Academic Standards for teaching reading. Our reading program allows for continuity of instructional practices across all grade levels.
In the primary grades, our school utilizes multisensory instructional techniques focused on phonemic awareness and phonics. This is paired with guided reading instruction providing targeted academic challenge for each student. We use oral and beginning written retell formats at this level which focus on the essential components of story grammar and text structure. These practices are paired with a variety of genres of text.
At the primary levels, teachers utilize the Wilson Fundations program to assist students with an understanding of phonemic awareness, phonics, and spelling. The Fundations program is a multi-sensory approach developed to enable students to acquire an understanding of letters and sounds in relation to reading words and spelling. The Guided Reading program is also used throughout the primary levels as a method to differentiate instruction for students as they progress as readers. Our reading specialist provides extended programming for primary students in need of additional service in small group settings, utilizing Fundations and patterned readers for direct instruction.
As students progress to the intermediate grade levels, the program is expanded and elaborated on by units of novel study and the use of selected spelling/vocabulary programs. More complex genres and written response formats are taught, such as essay, compare/contrast, and persuasion. The intermediate-level teachers provide supplemental instruction in the form of before- or after-school Proficiency Centers to assist students in need of additional support.
In the intermediate levels, teachers work to individualize and differentiate instruction through the use of written response in novel study format. Beginning in grade 3, Willow Creek uses the MCP Phonics, word study, and a spelling program as a means to increase student competency. The learning disability specialist provides small group instruction for intermediate level students utilizing the Phonics Boost program. This program is designed to assist students in developing vocabulary, comprehension, and decoding skills in reading. The Gifted and Talented specialist uses a word etymology-based spelling program for advanced level 5th grade students.
We believe in early identification and intervention for children who exhibit reading difficulties. Prior to students reaching school age, we identify and provide service to those who are in need of support as pre-school children preparing for entrance into school. Our Pupil Services Team provides an individual readiness assessment to each child upon entrance into Kindergarten. Our school's Problem Solving Team, a group of professionals including the principal, Special Education personnel, program specialists, and classroom teachers, meets each week to discuss student referrals and to develop assistance strategies in a Response to Intervention (R.T.I.) model. Our school has a speech pathologist, learning disabilities specialist, occupational therapist, physical therapist, and a reading specialist who work together to provide support services and interventions for students.
Our school's licensed librarian has assembled an extensive collection of books in our library, supplemented by Renaissance Learning's Accelerated Reader program. Parent involvement is considered to be an essential component of our reading program and the library coordinates schoolwide efforts to encourage active student reading on a daily basis.