Telluride Mountain School launches IB program
By AMY M. PETERS, Planet Contributor
While all students at Telluride Mountain School (TMS) returned for their first day of class on Tuesday, upperclassmen are participating in something particularly novel in this new school year.
After 3.5 years of planning and teacher training, TMS officially launched its International Baccalaureate (IB) curriculum — and all juniors and seniors are enrolled.
It is the only independent school in Colorado to offer the program.
Associate Head of School Andy Shoff said that although subject matter has not drastically changed under the IB banner, the program does offer an increased awareness of shared educational principles and a more formal structure for assessment.
“The IB does not dictate a prescribed curriculum,” he said. “Instead, it offers concepts and goals and suggests different avenues to achieve them.”
In the process of implementing IB, Shoff said, he learned to think more “holistically” about education. The system is based on a so-called Learner Profile, which lists 10 traits of IB learners, including being “reflective,” “knowledgeable,” and “communicators.”
Shoff said that the profile offered a lens through which TMS has examined its entire curriculum.
“IB is exciting, and it helps to refine and improve our program,” Shoff said. “There’s a lot of interest in authentic learning and authentic assessment. It’s an official — though not radical — change.”
Sixteen students, some of them new to TMS, are now enrolled in grades 11 and 12 — a record number. Shoff credits this, in part, to the launch of the IB program.
History teacher Jesse McTigue described the program as a “prescribed template” around which instructors make choices to satisfy overarching criteria.
“I wouldn’t say I’ve changed this year’s curriculum,” McTigue said. “I’d say I’ve added and modified — more case studies, more focus on evaluating sources and on seriously implementing student-led assessment and learning, which we’ve always done. I think (IB has) allowed us to hyper-focus on things that have always been important to us, and it’s given us an excuse to put priority items in the forefront of our practice.”
Over the past couple of years, teachers have been trained in the IB curriculum and have piloted IB principles in their classrooms.
Spanish teacher Ross Perrot attended Rice University for a four-day IB workshop where he interacted with 35 or 40 other Spanish teachers from around the world.
“Some had been teaching IB for quite a while, and some were brand new to it,” Perrot said. “We all exchanged curriculum guides, files, ideas and resources.”
Perrot has been implementing IB strategies and teaching methods for the past couple of years, knowing that IB was coming.
Math teacher Paul Hearding completed his comprehensive IB training program online.
“You participate in discussions with people around the world who are doing the same thing,” Hearding said. “One of the eye-opening things in math training is the grading scheme that they use for mathematical solutions. I think it’s going to help me prepare students better for the exam by grading them consistently.”
All juniors and seniors will take traditional academic classes in the IB program: math, English, history, science, Spanish and arts. In addition, they take several core classes unique to the IB program: creativity, activity and service, The Extended Essay and Theory of Knowledge.
Shoff said that roughly 75 percent of students who take IB tests earn an IB diploma, and emphasized that not earning a diploma is not a failure.
“Students still take a tremendous amount away from the learning,” Shoff said. “We’re not teaching to the test. We believe these are good assessments. This is not something to be avoided or feared.”
Hearding views the assessments as an opportunity.
“We’ve got a great group of kids at this school,” he said. “I think this gives them an international stage to show the world what we’ve got here.”