The Vision… Odyssey School of Denver students will:
- Take risks and innovate;
- Lead with integrity and compassion;
- Be civically and socially engaged;
- Push themselves to exceed expectations; and
- Embrace learning as a life-long adventure.
Founded by a dedicated group of parents and teachers in the heart of Park Hill, Odyssey School of Denver is an EL Education, open-enrollment charter school within Denver Public Schools. We opened our doors in September 1998 with classrooms serving grades one through four and an enrollment of 48 children at a temporary site in northeast Denver. After moving four times in five years in and around Park Hill, and a seven-year run in Stapleton, we have finally found a permanent home in the Phillips building. We are back in the Park Hill neighborhood that fought for the opening of this beautiful school.
Odyssey’s mission is to be a diverse, public, K-8 EL Education school. We teach students how to learn through a focus on academic achievement, critical thinking and social responsibility, preparing them for high school and beyond. We serve 234 students in kindergarten through eighth grade. We weight our lottery to ensure that at least 33 percent of our student population qualifies for the Federal free or reduced lunch program (FRL). Our mission thrives on the fact that our students experience more than just economic diversity. Whether that is through negotiating religious, racial, geographic, sexual orientation, or ethnic diversity, our students are taught that all our differences make us stronger as a collective.
The school draws its direction and strength from EL Core Practices, which provide a powerful framework for personal and academic student growth. The curriculum is designed around rigorous, purposeful, project-based learning expeditions tied to Colorado State Standards, Common Core ELA and Math Standards. The Odyssey School’s learning experience includes a focus on reading and writing through literature, a rigorous math program, computers to develop students’ research and thinking skills, the arts, documentation of students’ work through portfolios, regular fieldwork that takes place outside the classroom, and a robust adventure program. Over the last 16 years, we have grown as a school and now are considered to be a Mentor School for the national network of EL schools. We play a significant role nationally and locally in the research and development of what “best practice” looks like in an EL school.
Our Special Sauce! Odyssey School of Denver is relentlessly student centered:
1. How we learn is as important as what we learn
- We think critically.
- The way in which we teach develops strong learning habits that promote standards of character, intellectual achievement and social responsibility.
- We learn from our mistakes.
- We personalize learning.
- We ask students to engage in their world through relevant community-based application, use of experts and fieldwork, and a robust adventure program.
2. We insist on high expectations for learners.
- We are agents of our learning.
- We advocate for ourselves and one another.
- We believe every student can succeed.
- What is good for the student is good for the adult. Through our focused professional development, we walk the talk.
3. We live by our commitment to crew and community.
- We strive for a culture of trust and risk-taking.
- We encourage constructive communication where everyone has an opportunity to be heard.
- Our varied identities (including different socio-economic, race, sexual orientation, gender, and religious backgrounds) are an asset that creates a greater whole.
- We are a tight knit community that actively fosters strong relationships to ensure that everyone is known.
- We support each other in our successes and failures.
- When you walk among us, you feel our heart and soul.
Professional Development: What is good for the student is good for the adult. Through our focused professional development, we walk the talk.
The EL work plan framework guides our professional development. At Odyssey, these are planned to stretch over many years. We know that when we begin to learn as a community, no matter how narrow we think we have the plan, it always takes more time. So, we just plan for that inevitability.
- Student Engaged Assessment: 2007 – 2011
- Habits of a Learner: 2011 – 2013
- Implementation of Common Core State Standards: 2013 – 2015
Because of our deep adult learning, Odyssey is a designated Mentor School. As such, our work has had an Impact on a larger scale:
- Odyssey has a robust collection of Videos highlighting best practices in instruction.
- We conduct an annual Site Seminar focused on Student Engaged Assessment.
- We are partnering with the Gates Family Foundation and the Lake County School District in providing Literacy PD through in-house labs, our site seminar and coaching support
- We are currently leading PD for 30 other teachers as we were awarded funding to meet the math needs of other EL and Denver public schools.
- As a mentor school, we continue to support the network through on-going demonstration visits and other network support via emails or on site collaboration
Odyssey’s Implementation of Expeditionary Learning reflect deep understanding and knowledge EL’s Core Practices.
How Implementation of Expeditionary Learning has supported the Mastery of Skills and Knowledge at Odyssey:
We know that when students have purpose, when they can ask for what they need and don’t need as learners, and when they have a way to track their own growth they are engaged and successful learners.
Over the past 5 years, Odyssey has been researching, implementing, revising and refining the strategies and structures of a personalized learning environment for students. Our ultimate goal is to see our students in charge of their learning all day long. We see the power of student engaged assessment practices as a critical step toward personalizing learning for all students. Odyssey classrooms are alive with learning targets, rubrics, self-reflection, and descriptive feedback.
Rubrics & Self-reflection
EL Master Class: Descriptive Feedback
Students are willing and able to speak to their learning. When we took on the challenge of a school-wide shift to student engaged assessment practices 5 years ago, we moved the needle on test scores, but more importantly, found ourselves with more engaged learners. As a Mentor school for Expeditionary Learning, we now offer a yearly Site Seminar in order to help other educators learn about, and experience first hand, what student engaged assessment strategies look like in action. While we continue to learn about the subtle nuances of strong assessment practices, we also know that there is more to creating a totally student centered classroom. Our innovative educators are increasingly turning to a balanced blended learning approach as a way to improve student outcomes while adapting teaching and learning to the needs of 21st century students.
Odyssey uses STAR data to monitor students’ achievement progress toward the Common Core Standards.
How Implementation of Expeditionary Learning has supported the development of High Quality Work at Odyssey:
In the Designing Projects and Products section of the Core Practices book, it states:
In Expeditionary Learning schools, students are engaged in skills-rich projects that result in high-quality products or performances for audiences beyond the classroom. Projects are a primary structure for in-school learning, teaching core skills and content through classroom lessons, discussions, labs, and work sessions, as well as through student research and fieldwork. Projects are used to teach literacy and math skills, critical thinking, collaboration, and problem-solving. The products of student projects are typically modeled on real-world documents and artifacts, with professional models guiding student work. Products are critiqued by professionals and contribute to a real-world audience (e.g., a whole-class scientific study of a local pond, resulting in a water-quality report for the city board of health).
We ask students to create published books, send opinion papers to senators, share their water quality research with local scientists, develop business plans to sell at a Market Place and put on Health Fairs. That said, we believe that it is when we set high expectations for quality everyday, we can develop the vision and the skills that promote high quality from within the student.
Advice from Earthworms – by Odyssey’s 1st Grade Crew 2014-2015
While there are specific times when we ask students to create products that feed an authentic audience outside the school, the primary development of high-quality work comes within the context of what happens everyday, all day. Students at Odyssey care about their work; the work that students do, from their daily work to creating final products is authentic and meaningful to them.
High Quality Work – 8th Grade On Demand Writing
High Quality Work – 6th Grade Scientific Conclusion
High Quality Work – Socratic Seminar Synthesis
Revision is one of Odyssey’s Habits of a Learner and is foundational to what students do every day. Students not only use revision to improve the quality of their work, but are also able to articulate how the process of revision supports their achievement.
High Quality Work – 4th Grade Monologue Character Profile
In January of 2015, the Leadership Team engaged in the High Quality Work Protocol. We took a sampling, K-8, of Final Expedition Products. The protocol was illuminating for the team as well as affirming. The most important insights that came from this process is that we saw evidence in students’ work- from the early research or drafting work to the final published pieces- that Odyssey students show a great deal of investment in their work. They understand what they are working towards and they care about what they are creating.
This protocol also affirmed and raised new questions for us in the area of Complexity, specifically the description of transfer of understanding. While we saw rich, deep thinking in students’ work across the board, we also noted some areas of inconsistency in how well students were demonstrating a transfer of their understanding. In some cases, the products were scaffolded so much that it was difficult to see whether students were able to transfer what they learned into a new context. In other cases, we saw students were able to demonstrate understanding of what they had learned more independently, but we again had questions about whether they were able to show that same level of understanding in a new context. This is an aspect of High Quality Work that we would like to push on next year as teachers deepen their fluency with the Common Core Standards and design literacy rich Expedition Products. We also noted that there are many examples of strong products at Odyssey that have not yet been submitted to the Center for Student Work. We identified some products that might be candidates for submission.
Work Used in the Protocol
- K-1 books
- Wellness products
- Science Lab
High Quality Work Summary Sheet & Protocol Notes
Additional Student Work Artifacts: First Grade Fruit and Vegetable Mystery Cards
How Implementation of Expeditionary Learning has supported the development of Student Character at Odyssey:
We believe that Habits of a Learner are key to a student’s academic success.
Habits of a Learner or just ‘Habits’ are an important aspect to Odyssey’s mission and vision. Embedded in our curriculum is support and instruction toward our Habits. By the time kids are in 8th grade, they are working toward mastery of all six habits: Responsibility, Revision, Inquiry, Responsibility, Collaboration & Leadership, and Service and Stewardship. We also believe that we must separate academic grades from habit grades. A student should not be awarded an Accomplished on a knowledge target in expedition because they tried hard or showed a lot of responsibility. Instead, the teacher should report on the final academic grade and then in a separate place report on the habit. In this way, families get accurate information on their child’s level of achievement and how their habit development may or may not be supporting their academic success. Often, when a student isn’t doing well in school it is because of a gap in one or more of these habits.
Purpose of Passage
At the same time, instruction to and assessment of these habits takes place in the classroom in much the same way that academic instruction and assessment takes place. Documentation of these habits, including formative/summative assessments and descriptive feedback, are necessary for all students to develop the skills and habits that we feel are important.
Responsibility in 2nd and 3rd grade
Collaboration in 6th grade
Odyssey Graduates on Habits
- Teaching Habits: Liza Eaton & Cyndi Gueswel for High Tech High’s journal
- Teaching Habits: Article submission to Phi Delta Kappen by Liza Eaton and Cyndi Gueswel (PDF)
- Progress reports on Habits (PDF)
- National Conference Master Class Website: Liza Eaton and Cyndi Gueswel
- National Conference Master Class on Habit of Inquiry in a math classroom: Corey Goodrich and Ali Morgan
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