At Watershed, students never need to ask, "when will I use this in real life?" They spend all year getting outside the classroom, connecting with real people, and solving real problems.
Some call it hands-on. Others call it project-based, expeditionary, or experiential. In truth, it's simple: we just believe that learning is more engaging when students get out into the world and do something real.
The heart of a Watershed education is the Expedition course: an semester-long, interdisciplinary course, taught in a 2-4 hour block by two teachers helping students investigate an essential question.
All of the world's greatest challenges all exist at the intersection of multiple disciplines. What is the future of water? How does technology affect the brain? How can we create a profitable business that also improves the environment?
That's why all of our expedition courses explore issues with a pair of teachers coming from different disciplinary vantage points. A high school expedition on the American West, for instance, studies history, literature, and geology.
learning in the field
Expedition courses sometimes head out for overnight trips to investigate key questions in the field. Last year, a 9th and 10th grade expedition on "Good and Evil" spent a week in Selma, Alabama to study the history of the American Civil Rights Movement. An 11th and 12th expedition on Technology, Media, and Gender travelled to Silicon Valley to meet with top corporate leaders at HP and Google. 8th graders in an expedition investigating the future of water spent a week in Arizona meeting with community leaders at Glen Canyon Dam.
By going into the field, academic content becomes relevant and engaging - and students learn how to investigate real-world issues.
college preparatory Vigor
While a Watershed education is uncommonly engaging, all of our expedition courses are taught at an honors level. Students are expected to grapple with complex topics, engage in high-level readings, conduct both quantitative and qualitative analysis, pursue scientific research, and develop original arguments rooted in evidence. Our science program covers biology, chemistry, and physics, while our writing program prepares students to write at a college level.
Instead of just using a textbook, students get practice using math to solve real-world problems. Real-world applications include environmental studies, building catapults and predicting the distance of a projectile, and conducting analysis of demographic and economic trends. With small classes, students get one-on-one support and advance at the level appropriate for them.
Watershed offers Spanish as its on-campus language. Courses include beginning and intermediate Spanish, and students move to a full-immersion approach as they move past the first year. All of our classes emphasize listening and speaking over textbook work, with an emphasis on getting regular practice using Spanish to communicate. Real-world uses during May Term trips to Guatemala or Nicaragua, expedition trips to the Mexican border or with farmworkers in Colorado, and visits to local cultural sites allow for rich connections between the classroom and the Spanish speaking world.
Watershed is a community that values creativity and a variety of perspectives on the world. For that reason, we offer a robust art program and full art studio that allows students to take a range of visual art classes throughout the day. Arts courses at Watershed include Visual Art, Music, Drama, and Digital Photography. And since part of being an artist is having an audience, students present and discuss their work with the public twice a year during FAIR. At the end of a Watershed experience, students leave with the creative confidence to solve all kinds of problems in new ways.
FAIR and final projects
At many schools, the last week of a semester means cram sessions and multiple choice tests. At Watershed, it means students preparing business plans, prototypes, films, and solutions to community problems.
Both semesters at Watershed culminate in FAIR, the Festival of Arts and Intellectual Reflections. During FAIR, students present original work that demonstrates their understanding of the core ideas in each course. Students are expected to explain their thinking, respond to unscripted questions, and communicate the value of their work. We think it's both harder and better than a finals week.
During this public event, 250-300 people visit Watershed. The audience includes parents and grandparents as well as alumni, community members, graduate students, and visiting educators.