Illinois Mathematics and Science Academy

To ignite and nurture creative, ethical, scientific minds that advance the human condition.

Learning Standards SSLs

Standards of Significant Learning (SSLs) communicate Academy expectations for all graduates. SSLs articulate valued habits of mind which contribute to integrative ways of knowing. We expect these ways of knowing to broaden and deepen over time as students experience IMSA's innovative and rigorous academic and residential program. The SSLs are interconnected and synergetic, emerging within and connecting across all learning areas, extending Academy learning expectations beyond specific course outcomes. SSLs exemplify the metaphor for learning as a journey, not a destination.

Program Purpose

I. Developing the Tools of Thought
The knowledge and skills highlighted by standards in this cluster are the foundation for academic achievement and success. Often students are hindered by deficits in these powerful tools of thought. However, students who have mastered essential procedural knowledge to automaticity are free to explore on higher cognitive levels. They question and probe effectively and are masters of their own learning. They look and really see; they capture accurate measures and descriptions of the physical world, and weigh the worth of information before accepting it as truth. These students are well prepared for more complex levels of inquiry.

IMSA students:
I.A Develop automaticity in skills, concepts, and processes that support and enable complex thought.
I.B Construct questions which further understanding, forge connections, and deepen meaning.
I.C Precisely observe phenomena and accurately record findings.
I.D Evaluate the soundness and relevance of information and reasoning.

II. Thinking About Thinking
These standards address metacognitive levels of thought. Students must recognize the filters that shape their conceptions and personal views of the world. These filters contribute to separate realities that limit intellectual understanding and exploration. When aware of these constraints, students are able to examine their world from multiple perspectives and address the ambiguities that surround them.

IMSA students:
II.A Identify unexamined cultural, historical, and personal assumptions and misconceptions that impede and skew inquiry.
II.B Find and analyze ambiguities inherent within any set of textual, social, physical, or theoretical circumstances.

III. Extending and Integrating Thought
Valued learning and deeper understanding are nurtured through a connected approach to teaching and learning. The rational model of a disciplined organization of knowledge serves to build a firm foundation. The learning experiences embodied in this cluster of standards take students beyond these ordered knowledge bases. It is when students reach beyond prior learning that they encounter the complexity that excites and fuels integrative thought.

IMSA students:
III.A Use appropriate technologies as extensions of the mind.
III.B Recognize, pursue, and explain substantive connections within and among areas of knowledge.
III.C Recreate the beautiful conceptions that give coherence to structures of thought.

IV. Expressing and Evaluating Constructs
The most brilliant ideas are lost forever if they are never tested and communicated. Ideas are tested through critical examination or experience. Ideas are communicated when they are understood and appreciated by others. This standard cluster moves us beyond the notion of knowledge attained to one of knowledge generated where learning, skills, and dispositions come together and find a voice, gaining power in the process.

IMSA students:
IV.A Construct and support judgments based on evidence.
IV.B Write and speak with power, economy, and elegance.
IV.C Identify and characterize the composing elements of dynamic and organic wholes, structures, and systems.
IV.D Develop an aesthetic awareness and capability.

V. Thinking and Acting With Others
These standards address the human experience and its interrelatedness. As adolescents, students learn about dimensions of being: as individuals, as learners, as community members, as citizens, as leaders. The integration of these dimensions contributes to the development of the Self as a responsible global citizen and personally fulfilled individual.

IMSA students:
V.A Identify, understand, and accept the rights and responsibilities of belonging to a diverse community.
V.B Make reasoned decisions which reflect ethical standards, and act in accordance with those decisions.
V.C Establish and commit to a personal wellness lifestyle in the development of the whole self.

Developing the Tools of Thought

I.A IMSA students develop automaticity in skills, concepts, and processes that support and enable complex thought.
Automaticity refers to students' speed of cognitive processing. Knowledge and skills are established in memory by learning the components of the skill, the critical attributes of the concept, and the steps in the process at the knowledge level. This new learning is then compiled into meaningful units by the learner. Through appropriate practice, cognitive rehearsal, corrective feedback, and over learning, these skills, concepts, and processes become automated in the mind of the learner. Once firmly embedded in memory, students execute skills, utilize assimilated frameworks, or retrieve knowledge automatically. New learning is constructed upon this foundation. Automaticity contributes to the efficiency of information processing and the effectiveness of learning.

Particular skills, concepts, and processes are necessary for basic computation, manipulation, observation, information retrieval, communication, problem solving, and critical response. They transcend the disciplines and have consequences for responsible living. Students who automate these skills, concepts, and processes can concentrate on more in depth processing of new knowledge. Concepts become established, elaborated, and interconnected in the mind of the learner.

Difficulties arise within particular domains when students' knowledge bases are deficient and they have not mastered prerequisite skills. These deficits limit understanding, content mastery, and ability to make good decisions. For example, a weak grasp of number facts and basic mathematical principles can compromise students' future performance in mathematics. Also, weaknesses in decoding of text affect comprehension. In addition, these students have a low sense of self-efficacy as learners.

A note of caution:
Automaticity contributes to a holistic approach to learning, situated within a meaningful context and cognizant of students' learning styles. A concentration upon automaticity may interfere with understanding and hinder creativity because students' orientation to learning centers upon replication at the expense of understanding.

I.B IMSA students construct questions which further understanding, forge connections, and deepen meaning.
Students recognize intellectual discomfort when presented with anomalies, as well as new and problematic situations. They search for coherence and consistency of ideas as they try to integrate diverse elements, relations and values within and between disciplines, and within themselves.

Students form powerful and significant questions which extend their capacity to order and clarify experiences and make them intelligible. Through these questions, students reveal knowledge and insights; these questions may also lead to new insights.

I.C IMSA students precisely observe phenomena and accurately record findings.
Students, as observers, perceive, study, or examine anything that can be described or appraised through the senses, either directly or indirectly. In doing so, students ascertain the extent, quantity, dimensions, or capacity of this object, fact, circumstance, or experience. Students use a method or procedure as an established guide for action and agreement that is appropriate to the task and to the context. This context may be mathematics, the sciences, the humanities, the arts, or residential life.

From this observation, students create a record that serves to preserve the description or appraisal as evidence or as an account. This record could take the form of a sketch book, laboratory notebook, journal, videotape, audio recording, etc. It also conforms to established standards and may lead to common understandings between and among students and other individuals.

I.D IMSA students evaluate the soundness and relevance of information and reasoning.
Students examine and appraise data, facts, and processes, as well as draw inferences or conclusions from these sources. Examination entails ascribing value in terms of self-defined and externally defined standards of usefulness or importance. In order to achieve soundness, one must consider validity, reliability, justness and believability. Relevance involves consideration of pertinence, applicability, and suitability. The conditions under which this evaluation of soundness and relevance occur include: investigation (structured and methodical); exploration (focused, open-ended, and observation dependent); and interpretation (analytical and inferential).

The intent of evaluation of information and reasoning in this standard is both formative and self-correcting. Evaluation is formative because its focus is on the process of constructing knowledge from the sources encountered. Evaluation is self-correcting because it enables students to monitor and adjust information seeking and reasoning. Adjustment comes from examination and appraisal of the soundness and relevance of data, facts, and processes encountered.

Thinking About Thinking

II.A IMSA students identify unexamined cultural, historical, and personal assumptions and misconceptions that impede and skew inquiry.
Values, attitudes, perceptions, and misconceptions frame thought and contribute to the construction of meaning for all individuals. Students work toward an understanding of the sources and significance of these influences through reflection and an analysis of self in context.

Students move from a naive to a more sophisticated perception of meaning by identifying cultural, historical, and personal assumptions and misconceptions. This informed movement contributes to the development of a historical consciousness and an awareness of the evolutionary nature of ideas. Students recognize that facts and observations are imbedded in a complex network of relationships. This more comprehensive view of facts and observations may change the way students use them.

After students become aware of the restricting effect of unexamined assumptions or misconceptions on thinking, they are empowered to modify beliefs. Their perspective is broadened. They gain a view of human understanding that is capable of perceiving and dealing with anomaly. As a result, students come to recognize the limits of human understanding.

II.B IMSA Students find and analyze ambiguities inherent within any set of textual, social, physical, or theoretical circumstances.
A dynamic tension or an organic form is the essence of all thought. As suggested in SSL-III.B, all facts, observations, abstractions, and sets of data do not exist alone or in a vacuum. Rather they can only be understood and have meaning when interpreted within the complex web of political, social, economic, and historical relationships from which they have evolved.

Thus, ambiguity, uncertainty, or vagueness are inherent in every set of textual, social, physical, or theoretical circumstances that we encounter in our attempt to construct meaning. The failure to recognize, analyze, and understand these ambiguities results in an inability to construct meaning. We are then left with the sole option of believing whatever we are told rather than the more empowering circumstance of constructing valid meaning for ourselves through the recognition and analysis of omnipresent ambiguities.

Likewise, the acquisition of this ability keeps us from focusing on isolated facts and theories. Thus we save ourselves from the all too prevalent error made in contemporary education of offering superficial solutions to temporary and relativistic dilemmas. Through the successful acquisition of the skills involved in this standard we know that thought and truth are fluid and complex concepts, not static and simplistic tools designed to serve expediency.

Extending and Integrating Thought

III.A IMSA students use appropriate technologies as extensions of the mind.
Students use technologies to survey, explore, model, manipulate, focus, and communicate. In doing so, they recognize the scope, limitations, and appropriateness of these technologies. These include, but are not limited, to technologies available today. Currently, technologies range from print-based to computer-based technologies; from word processing to modeling software; from graphing calculators to super computers; from still-frame photography to DVD and multi-media; from microscopes to mass spectrometers; from telephones to the World-Wide Web.

Future leaders must be able to navigate an ever-expanding sea of investigative possibilities. Whether searching for existing information or constructing new knowledge, technological confidence and competence are essential. This includes a mastery of various types and models of equipment and software. These skills serve as a foundation that facilitates positive transfer to new and emerging technologies that take students beyond classroom walls.

In addition, students learn essential information-management strategies in order to effectively search for relevant, valid, and reliable information. Students demonstrate appropriate critical thinking and problem-solving skills as they access, evaluate, compose, store, and share information. Their products demonstrate an integration of information sources and ways of knowing, as well as innovative presentation possibilities.

III.B IMSA students recognize, pursue, and explain substantive connections within and among areas of knowledge.
Students seek out the interrelationships of ideas from diverse contexts. Interrelationships construct a web of connection within and among disciplines and life experiences. Connections serve as powerful and flexible means to solve problems and to acquire a deeper appreciation for the consistency and beauty of areas of knowledge. These connections can be expressed by means of structures such as concepts, themes, or significant issues or problems which enhance understanding.

Connections are substantive when they disclose fundamental relationships by revealing similarities, contrasts, logical, or causal relationships; apply broadly and pervasively in multiple contexts; and provide an element of fascination to provoke and sustain intellectual interest. Substantive connections enable the learner to construct integrated wholes and to construct meaning in multiple contexts.

Each of the Standards of Significant Learning provides a window for capturing evidence of understanding connections of important ideas within and among academic disciplines and other life situations. Students demonstrate their understanding of interrelationships in multiple ways.

III.C IMSA students recreate the beautiful conceptions that give coherence to structures of thought.
Sense can be made of a work only if its parts are connected in a meaningful way. The extant connections are in themselves so startling, mysterious, and evocative that they produce an aesthetic response in those with deep understandings. Such conceptions are beautiful to the extent that their elegance, simplicity, or power produce an aesthetic response in the learner. A beautiful conception provides the knower with a feeling of seeing past the surface structure to the wellsprings of a phenomena.

One common response to the recognition of one of these "beautiful conceptions is "How could it be any other way? A person with a stock of beautiful conceptions interacts with the world as a participant rather than a dissecting analyzer. Respect and appreciation rather than dominance becomes the guiding principle.

Some ideas are such powerful organizers of understanding that individuals who don't have them are somehow diminished and less capable. The only way to achieve this standard is for individuals to construct such conceptions as part of their world view. The power and usefulness of such a world view is directly dependent upon the completeness and richness of the "beautiful conceptions" possessed by the individual.

Expressing and Evaluating Constructs

IV.A IMSA students construct and support judgments based upon evidence.
After precisely observing phenomena and accurately recording findings, students piece together critical and necessary documentation to form judgments. Students evaluate the completeness, accuracy, and quality of the data; and from this data, they create and articulate reasoned decisions.

Students begin to identify norms, values, and criteria inherent within the judgment being made. They cite evidence to support or refute various possibilities and consequences of the impending judgment. Also, they distinguish between preferred and less preferred procedures. Their reasoned decisions and connected support structures constitute the judgment. It should be noted that sometimes learners arrive at a conclusion which is misleading, incomplete, or inadequate. At this point they need to revisit their earlier thinking.

IV.B IMSA students write and speak with power, economy, and elegance.
Power: To write and speak with power is demonstrated by an ability to influence others by constructing and delivering compelling, accurate, and forceful oral and written communication grounded in truth and appropriate for the audience.

Economy: To write and speak with economy is demonstrated by focused, organized, and parsimonious oral and written communication. Statements are constructed to avoid excess. This implies careful planning, appropriate vocabulary, efficient use of time and space, and an appreciation of the purpose of the communication.

Elegance: To write and speak with elegance is demonstrated through oral and written communication that exhibits clarity, richness, and a graceful style. The communication is direct, free of overstatement and embellishment. This allows for both the author and the audience to be true to their voice.

In general students' communications:

  • Get to the point.
  • Stimulate insight.
  • Make an impact.
  • Do this with distinction.

IV.C IMSA students identify and characterize the composing elements of dynamic and organic wholes, structures, and systems.
This standard deepens the experience of ideas, works of art, theoretical models, and organisms, to move students beyond "rigid application of algorithm" into an experience of internalized performance. For example, in order to achieve deeper meaning or knowledge and affect in music, students need to be able to identify and characterize melody, harmony, rhythm, tone color, texture, and form. The music critic Carl Meyer asserts that Embodied musical meaning is... a product of expectation. A listener who has considered the work in the way in which a performer would, anticipates the listening experience. This listener becomes one with the music in the listening. To listen without this prior experience is a more superficial endeavor.

Similarly, the particular, temporal elements of a specific mathematical problem need to lead students to an experience of the generalization, formula, or theory it represents.

IV.D IMSA students develop an aesthetic awareness and capacity.
Aesthetic awareness is the capability of distinguishing the sensuous, emotional, or intellectual from the aesthetic: Students recognize that experiences are never wholly intellectual or emotional, but rather a mixture or a marriage of the two. It is this combination that brings to bear the tools necessary for aesthetic literacy. As in critical thinking, meaning is deepened via analysis, synthesis, and evaluation. Further analysis and re-evaluation leads students to valuing and intellectual/emotional ownership.

In recognizing this we develop aesthetic capability, and are therefore able to more readily find, and create things of beauty.

Note: This standard is the natural next step to SSL-IV.C: "Identify and characterize the composing elements of dynamic, organic wholes, structures and systems." It is only when the unity or totality, as well as the variety or multiplicity of the composing elements mentioned in SSL-IV.C are simultaneously perceived and experienced that aesthetic insight can occur.

Thinking and Acting with Others

V.A IMSA students identify, understand, and accept the rights and responsibilities of belonging to a diverse community.
A community can only function well if the majority of its members behave in accordance with the community ethos because they voluntarily heed their moral commitments and social responsibilities.

Students are members of an evolving and diverse community. Students are individuals who bring distinct qualities to their community. A community is a group of people with a common characteristic or an interest in living together within a larger society. As members of a diverse community, students are expected to recognize their rights and responsibilities; to be thoroughly familiar with the characteristics of their rights and responsibilities; and agree to undertake those rights and responsibilities. Students are justly entitled to certain rights. Responsibilities are the moral, social, and legal accountabilities students have to their community.

Students are expected to demonstrate a commitment and sensitivity to their diverse community. Students prove, or make certain by reasoning, commitment to their community and sensitivity to the needs and emotions of others within their community. Students understand: that individual rights are limited by the rights of others and the needs of the community; that social responsibility is based on the connections among individuals; that rights presume responsibilities; and that an inherent relationship exists between rights and responsibilities.

V.B IMSA students make reasoned decisions which reflect ethical standards, and act in accordance with those decisions.
Students test by questioning personal moral principles and values to determine soundness and relevance. Students also test by questioning the ethos of the group of which they are a part to determine the moral nature and guiding beliefs of that group. Students identify areas of dissonance between their personal moral principles and values, and those of the community. Determining ethical positions is a philosophical process that requires the "examination of human behavior, the proper [appropriate] relation of one person to another, and the ultimate ends of human life." (Invitation to Philosophy) This process develops over time and continues to develop beyond adolescence.

Ethical decisions and behaviors are those which enable students "to live in harmony with themselves, other human beings and the physical world." To live in harmony with oneself students develop a degree of self knowledge. To live in harmony with other human beings, requires some sense of social limits and responsibility. (IMSA Mission Clarification Document)

V.C IMSA students establish and commit to a personal wellness lifestyle in the development of the whole self.
The development of the whole person is essential in order to lead a productive and balanced life as an adult. Therefore, concept of wellness focuses on five major dimensions:

Physical: Wellness focuses on health-related fitness components, motor skills that prompt participation in lifetime activities, and nutrient and lifestyle choices that enhance or harm physical well being.

Emotional: Wellness includes awareness, acceptance, and capacity to manage feelings about oneself, others, and life. Managing stress and conflict and pursuing healthy, satisfying relationships are vital to productivity and satisfaction in this area.

Intellectual/Mental: Wellness focuses on sound decision-making skills as a means of enhancing capacity to analyze choices. It also includes the importance of stimulating one's creative and inquisitive nature in academics and beyond.

Social: Wellness encompasses the need each individual has to well being and social skills, graces, and insights that enables one to live in harmony with self, others, and environment.

Philosophical/Spiritual: Wellness involves seeking meaning and purpose in human existence, clarifying values and beliefs, and learning to live interdependently with a greater understanding of what it means to serve others and community.