From defining the path from “grass to glass,” to pondering, “Would you like fries with that?” Exploratory Class at Rockford Middle School-Center for Environmental Studies has become a highlight of their students’ week.

The grade 5-8 school is a science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) magnet school. When designing the Exploratory Class program, the school’s mission statement to empower students to become innovators “through engaging, authentic, and developmentally appropriate opportunities” served as the guiding force.

MREA awarded Rockville Middle School’s Exploratory program with the 2015 Profile of Excellence.

Each Exploratory class incorporates one or more STEM standard, with teachers selecting her/his own topic. This helps students see their teachers employing lifelong learning with interests and abilities outside of school.

From grass and glass to fries, fish populations, and forensic science methods, classes are guided by a driving question. The questions do not have one “correct” answer, instead empowering students to integrate their personal interests and perform at their ability level. Students present their projects to authentic audiences, are graded using a school-wide rubric, and rotate every quarter to a new class. Students who attend RMS for four years will be exposed to 16 classes during middle school.

Collaboration is critical. They have established relationships with the sheriff’s office, a dairy farm, airport, food shelf, thrift store, and soil and water conservation district to ensure authentic, relevant learning experiences.

In an era of high-stakes testing and accountability, it can be challenging to generate support for new programs. RMS was very deliberate in demonstrating that Exploratory classes tie directly to Minnesota Academic Standards.

Learn more about the Profile of Excellence.