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EL Education

Polaris was founded in 2007 as Chicago’s first EL Education School. EL schools inspire the motivation to learn, engage teachers and students in new levels of focus and effort, and transform schools into places where students and adults become leaders of their own learning. We provide a model that challenges students – even those starting with low skill levels – with high level tasks and active roles in the classroom. This model succeeds in urban, rural or suburban schools and at every grade level. To learn more, please go to

Polaris Charter Academy structures its science and social studies curriculum around “learning expeditions.” These in-depth investigations are different from traditional thematic units. Learning expeditions are long-term investigations spanning one or more trimesters that are developed around specific Illinois State Learning Standards. They relate to real-world topics or concerns that make learning relevant to students’ lives. Learning expeditions provide a rigorous, stimulating educational experience that requires the application and mastery of a wide range of skills, including conducting research through interviews, surveys, books, and the internet. Students conduct fieldwork, learn from experts, work collaboratively and create authentic, high-quality end products for audiences beyond the classroom.

These long term, in-depth investigations begin with guiding questions, such as “What makes bread, bread?,” which is the guiding question for a current first/second grade expedition entitled Kneading Loaves of Fun. In the fall trimester, students studied the ground-to-plate aspects of bread, including agricultural processing, baking and marketing. This trimester, teachers are shifting the focus of the expedition to reflect standards around supply and demand, manufacturing and logistics, as well as the wants and needs of consumers. Students will be designing and making their own bread for “commercial production”. They will produce, market, and sell their bread at the Polaris Bread Bazaar this winter, with proceeds going to support the Greater Chicago Food Depository.

The Polaris Bread Bazaar is an example of a “final product.” Final products are an integral part of every learning expedition. These products demonstrate students’ understanding of the topic in a tangible and meaningful way. They are motivational, drive a need to know, and propel students to apply skills and understand learning expedition content and key concepts. Final products are designed to meet an authentic need that reaches beyond the classroom into the broader community. Expeditionary Learning’s program of professional development emphasizes active teaching and learning, student and faculty engagement, and a demanding and supportive school culture. Teachers work one-on-one with an Expeditionary Learning School Designer, receiving at minimum 24 hours of hands-on professional development each year. The on-site support is complemented with regional and national institutes, conferences, school-site seminars and educator Outward Bound courses where EL teachers and administrators from different schools across the country learn together. The Director of Academics and Dean of Curriculum integrate the EL model into self-administered development, providing teachers with approximately 15 days of professional development each year.


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EL Education