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Thursday, 30 March 2017

EDUCATIONAL PROGRAMS

At the beginning of the 2009-2010 school year, DAS introduced its new dual language International Program. This program aims to ensure that DAS graduates can learn, work, and think effectively in both English and Arabic. An additional benefit of the program is that students are able to make use of up-to-date resources, methodologies, and technology in both languages throughout their school career.

The curriculum is the same for all students from pre-kindergarten levels through 8th grade (second intermediate), providing science and math and other courses in English and Arabic in alternative years. When entering 9th grade (third intermediate), the students must choose between two programs: 1) continuing in the International Program to earn an American Diploma through a focus on more English; and 2) switching to the advanced Saudi Muqararat curriculum which offers more subjects in Arabic. Both programs are accepted for gaining admission to universities in Saudi Arabia and abroad, since the Muqararat Program is authorized by the Saudi Ministry of Education and the International Program is accredited by the North Central Association Commission for Accreditation and Improvement (NCA CASI).

In the 11th grade (second secondary), the Muqararat students are required to choose between two streams: science or humanities. Whereas our boys’ school only offers the science stream, the girls’ school offers both the science and humanities streams in the years when it has enough students ready for both programs..

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.

B.        SOCIAL STUDIES

DAS has been making use of new materials and methods of instruction in social studies. For example, 10th grade social studies in Arabic is now organized around preparation for a full day simulation of Arab League (Model Arab League). Secondary students also take a course in English called Global Issues   which results in involvement of 11th grade students in a Model United Nations simulation in our school, as well as readiness to participate in multiple international events. Social studies in English in the intermediate grades are now taught with a new, internet-based program.  This program challenges students to use the tools of geography to view, analyze, and understand the world around them.  As an additional benefit, the program has been carefully designed to build students’ content area reading skills in English. Students do assignments at home and at school using the internet to research issues as they appear in different countries. 

 

 

D. LANGUAGES

While DAS has historically been an Arabic school and most subjects have been taught in Arabic, it has always had a strong English program that has been well supported for all age levels and expanded with extra reading, research and presentations. The school is now moving toward becoming a dual language school in which all students reach the level where they can learn, work and think in both languages.

Since research points to the importance of children studying math and science in their own language first, these subjects will continue to be taught in Arabic in the primary years but students will gradually have opportunities to study math and science in both languages in alternating years from the 3rd grade. The target will be to give all students enough of both languages that they are able to choose either of the two secondary programs, one focusing more on English and one focusing more on Arabic.

According to the new plan started in the 2009-2010 academic year, students in the primary level have from 80 to 120 minutes per day in English and the rest of the program is in Arabic. The amount of English increases gradually in the upper elementary and in the intermediate level. The full intermediate and secondary programs will not be reached, however, until the 2012-2013 school year. In the meantime, an increasing number of electives will be offered in English beyond the basic program and some secondary Muqararat students will be able to fulfill some science and/or math requirements in English.

In the 2007-2008 academic year, DAS started making it possible for some students to fulfill some English requirements through distance learning courses offered by Stanford University’s Educational Program for Gifted Youth (EPGY). Unfortunately, Stanford has now closed access to this program for international students.

In order to increase effectiveness of instruction in the two languages, DAS has invited international consultants to guide us as we undertake a major review of our language programs. Among other steps we have taken in relation to English, we have reorganized our instructional groupings and reduced their size thus almost doubling the number of English teachers in both the girls’ and boys’ schools. We aim at assigning at least one native speaker to each cluster in order to provide native accents. With new teachers and new books, DAS has also increased effectiveness of its assessment of student learning through use of internationally recognized standardized tests in English.

DAS considers the teaching of Arabic fully as important as English but is faced with more challenges because of the lack of good instructional materials and books to guide Arabic teachers. Therefore, it sent three leaders for a two year program of training as literacy coaches, They have been able to use what they learned for both languages As a result of the efforts led by these coaches, the Arabic program has been greatly enhanced through a number of steps including but not limited to the following: the ongoing training and support of teachers in the use of modern, research-based methods of teaching reading and writing; the presence of full libraries in each primary classroom in addition to the main school library; the classification of books according to reading levels; the improvement of materials and practices in the Student Support Unit to help the children who continue to struggle; and the analysis of results of a standardized test at the end of each semester in order to guide decisions for individual students and for the program as a whole. DAS is now sending six more teacher-leaders to attend a two-year program of training in literacy coaching, this time specifically for Arabic. They will be able to lead the continued development of our Arabic program at all age levels.

F. EXAMINATION AND MARKING SYSTEMS

Having undergone significant changes over recent years, the marking system is different for each age level. At the pre-school, primary and upper elementary levels, most grades are given through a system of continuous assessment which includes teacher observation, performance assessment tasks, projects, and multiple methods for analyzing students’ progress on a continuum of development in Arabic, English and math literacy.

In the plan that is required for the Ministry of Education for advanced Saudi secondary program (Muqararat), methods of continuous assessment are also used to give grades for Arabic (1,2,3,4), Holy Quran, life skills, administrative skills, family education, and career education. For other subjects, 50% of the semester grade is based on periodic tests, homework, classroom participation and class projects. The other 50% comes from final exams at the end of the semester. In this system, all courses are held 5 periods per week. The grades are not weighted. All tests and examinations are teacher prepared.

Starting in the 2010-2011 school year, the intermediate grades and the American diploma program began to use a standards-based system. In this system, the teachers of each subject area agree on certain summative tasks for each unit which are weighted according to importance within the entire course. Some courses continue to have final examinations but these can never be given a weight of more than 20% of the grade. All grades are weighted and given in percentage points. In the case that any required summative task or examination has not been completed at the end of the grading period, the student will take an ‘Incomplete’ until the work is made up under the supervision of a teacher. In this way, the marks given will be a clear indication of the quality of work done by the student under teacher supervision with no possibility of work being graded that has been done by others. A detailed behavioral report will be submitted to parents along with the final grades with a maximum of 10% of any grade going for attendance, participation and homework.

H. CO-CURRICULAR PROGRAMS

DAS considers its co-curricular program to be equally as important as the regular academic subjects because of its direct influence on students’ characters and personalities. This program is carried out through many means, including clubs (see below). It also includes homeroom groups through which the students discuss a variety of matters and undertake group research on topics of current concern in the world that they then present in school assemblies. They also elect representatives to their own Student Council which meets weekly with members of the school’s administration. Students also have the opportunity to show their talents through student publications, student exhibits, sports, contests and other events.