Academic Department Overviews

Skybridge is a private Austin junior high and high school offering academic and project-based classes. Our innovative courses are grouped by academic disciplines into the following departments. 

Department Overviews


Skybridge courses are grouped by academic disciplines into departments. Below you'll find an overview of each. To see which courses are offered in each department, click the View Course Descriptions links.


Arts & Media

Instructors
J
 

 

 

The Arts and Media department at Skybridge Academy aims to expose its students to new ideas, processes, and tools that will support their creative development. Through hands-on learning projects, the students are encouraged to step outside of their comfort zones, fostering a spirit of confidence and openness that carries into other academic subjects, as well as into their greater lives.

Art classes at Skybridge take an experimental approach to mark-making using traditional and nontraditional materials. This classroom embraces openness, innovation and play, striving for that rich moment when they allow themselves to be amazed by their own creativity.

Media classes take a similar approach, valuing play while teaching organization, collaboration, and real-life technical skills that will assist students with futures in multimedia design.

As our students go off into the world, it is our goal for them to be able to employ their creative problem-solving skills as they are confronted with the obstacles and challenges that await them—and in the meantime, to provide a supportive, nurturing and challenging space where their imaginations can take root.


Language Arts

Instructors
Ben Kopel
 

 

 

COMPOSITION AND LITERATURE

No matter what your goals—to go to college, to open a business, to go into non-profits—clear communication is essential. Skybridge Academy’s required composition and literature program equips students with the tools they need to articulate their great ideas clearly to the world.

Composition classes are taught through the lens of literature, steeping students in written language while granting them the opportunity to try on diverse new identities, challenge original and established ideas, and experience the breadth of the human condition across millennia.  

The essential goals of both the junior and senior high programs in composition and literature are the same: to challenge students to think critically and to build students’ confidence in themselves as writers. No matter when students enter the program, they’ll find a classroom with a bar set high and a nurturing environment to help them reach—and exceed—it.

Junior High School Program

Focuses include clear, persuasive writing, introductory analysis of texts, and personal identification with character. Students engage daily with new vocabulary and fundamental building blocks of grammar in the classroom, and begin to grow as critical readers through seminar-style discussion. On average, we read two books per semester and complete three projects: two academic (2-3 page papers) and one creative.

Past books include: the Odyssey, Hatchet, The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle

Senior High School Program

Continuing the work of the junior high program, senior high composition focuses include clear, evidence-supported writing; complex textual analysis; and drawing links between concepts encountered in literature and the wider world around them. Students continue to engage with SAT-geared vocabulary and advanced grammatical concepts in the classroom, and refine their critical engagement with texts through spirited seminar-style discussion. Readings draw from a mix of classics and relevant contemporary novels as students continue to bridge literature and the real world.

On average, we read two books per semester and complete three projects: two academic (4-5 page papers) and one creative.

Past texts include: the Odyssey, O Brother, Where Art Thou?, Brave New World, Feed


CREATIVE WRITING

The creative writing program at Skybridge supports students who want to explore creative avenues of writing, and who want further writing instruction outside of their academic writing and literature classes.

Junior High School Program

The junior high creative writing program will focus specifically on helping each student begin to explore his or her individual voice as a writer. Classes focus on helping students acquire the skills of organizing their thoughts, building plot and setting, creating multi-dimensional characters, constructing strong dialogue, reading critically as a writer, and beginning on the path of finding their individual voice as a writer. Classes are offered in many different areas of creative writing, from poetry and fiction to fantasy writing and interdisciplinary classes.

Senior High School Program

The focus of the senior high creative writing program is to continue developing each student’s individual voice as a writer, and to give them more advanced writing tools. The high school classes will help students further their ability to develop detailed plot and setting; explore situations through well-rounded, interesting characters; and create dialogue that goes beyond the basic and is both believable and essential to plot. Students will also strengthen their ability to read critically and, as a writer, will be expected to be more daring in their exploration of their individual voices. Classes are offered in many different areas of creative writing, from poetry to fiction to fantasy writing, as well as a range of interdisciplinary classes.


Math

Instructors
Adam Haumer

 

 

The aim of the Skybridge math program is twofold: to promote understanding of mathematics and instill a sense of comfort and confidence. Confidence and anxiety naturally have an inverse relationship, and the Skybridge math classroom aims to maintain the balance integral to that success.

The math classes, representative of the school’s philosophy, help students discover their learning styles. A typical class is comprised of students from different age groups, and maintains reaching all standards for that subject level. This self-paced program uses online math software paired with a focus on content mastery to target specific learning goals.

Junior High School Math Program

Students enter our program with varying degrees of math background, ability, and confidence. Most school structures insert the child into a certain grade level based on age, not math skills. Because of this, math anxiety quickly builds and ruins perceived ability in the subject. Placing students in a classroom based on skill level rather than age eliminates this anxiety and prepares the student to move forward into high school.

Junior high classes are taught following a traditional model, where lessons are taught to the class and students work cohesively in groups to discover solutions. We keep the class moving along each topic, but we can work individually with students when they struggle, making sure to keep the class competition-free. Here is how each year in the program is designed:

Year 1 – Pre-Algebra
Year 2 – Elementary Algebra

Pre-Algebra covers all of the fundamentals of number sense, just shy of diving into the world of variables.  Rather than emphasizing strict memorization, the Skybridge math program believes that students must understand how numbers work in order to have success in the future. In Elementary Algebra we work with variables, touching briefly on concepts they will encounter in high school math. 

The program is treated as a path, rather than a compartmentalization of mathematical concepts. Assessments are sporadically given to ascertain areas of struggle, as well as to mark progress.

High School Math Program

A large part of this program hinges on the philosophy of self-direction. In the inverted classroom model, it is crucial that the student is focused and self-driven in order for their learning to be effective. Here is how each year in the program is designed:

Year 1 – Algebra 1 OR Geometry
Year 2 – Geometry OR Algebra 1
Year 3 – Algebra 2
Year 4 – Pre-Calculus OR Trigonometry/Math Model Project
Year 5 – Calculus (if applicable)

In their first and second years of high school, students can elect to take Algebra 1 or Geometry in any order they see fit, as we believe neither is necessarily a prerequisite for the other. Algebra 2 is taken in the third year to reinforce concepts and brush upon advanced topics that could come up in later math curricula, should they choose to progress in that direction. Pre-Calculus is the standard math class for the fourth year, but students may elect on a case-by-case basis to take one semester of Trigonometry and one of a Math Models–type project for the last half of their senior year. Calculus is available to students who enter the high school program earlier.

Units of topics are pre-created for the students, organizing the information into a linear, scaffolding structure that builds upon previous knowledge before moving to the next concept. These units incorporate exercises from Khan Academy, outside resources, self-created problems, and online sources. Assessments are sporadically given to ascertain areas of struggle, as well as to mark progress.


Science

Instructors
Kate Van Den Bosch
D
an Daly

 

Science is, above all, a concerted effort to understand the world. A person who understands the world can more effectively navigate it. At Skybridge Academy our goal is to cultivate the next generation of world-changers. Skybridge science is based on the following ideas:

  • Scientific literacy is imperative for all people—not just those pursuing careers in science.
  • Junior high and high school science should be more about creating interest in science and less about memorizing details that students are unlikely to use.
  • The science disciplines (chemistry, physics, biology etc.) do not exist in isolation: most scientific phenomena involve many aspects of each of these.  Therefore, students should study science in an integrated, interdisciplinary way.
  • Science influences and is influenced by non-scientific subjects, such as art, culture and ethics. Science education should aim to find and encourage the ways that science overlaps with other fields.
  • Students are individuals and their science education should be designed to encourage their individual skills and interests.
  • Students should be given opportunities to test the theories put forth as scientific fact.
  • Making things is fundamental to learning about science. Students must be given opportunities to prototype, design, build, fail, redesign, and rebuild. Creating things is the most authentic form of learning.
  • An effort must be made to encourage underrepresented groups to embrace and pursue science.
  • Science is awesome.

Skybridge science courses are designed as interdisciplinary programs that explore scientific concepts within the context of a central theme, such as flight, farming or food science. This provides students with the opportunity to learn scientific principles with sense of greater relevance. Half of all Skybridge science instructional time is dedicated to experimentation, design, or other hands-on activities that directly relate to the content covered in the courses.

In addition to regular coursework, students will have the chance to observe, study, and participate in some of the incredible other learning opportunities that exist at the Stunt Ranch under the direction of Steve Wolf. Located on 20 acres, Steve creates stunts for commercials, films, and Hollywood movies using state of the art equipment and 30 years of experience. Blowing up cars, filming stunts for movies, and staging a plethora of pyrotechnic processes are regular occurrences at the Stunt Ranch and provide a rare and thrilling opportunity to learn about the science in the movies.

Skybridge Academy seeks to provide students with an exciting, integrated, and creative real-world science education. Students have tremendous opportunity to learn by trying, making, failing and succeeding in this uniquely challenging and nurturing setting.


Social Studies

Instructors
Tyler Merwin

 

 

Social Studies is more than just memorizing names, dates, people, and places. At Skybridge, we use social studies as a vehicle to understand the world around us, and in effect, ourselves. Our goal is to develop students’ critical thinking abilities through student-led research, teacher-student collaboration, and Socratic dialogue. By cultivating students who are their own self-advocates and are able to think independently, we are creating future leaders and upright citizens. Rejecting the notion that history should be taught from one perspective, we use a multitude of resources to give our students the ability to connect to the world in a way that best suits them. Learning and growing together, we transcend the limits of the traditional classroom, creating a community and an educational culture that is both fun and exciting. 

A primary objective of social studies is to create students who are enabled, capable and interested in expanding their knowledge. Research has shown that students are more efficient and engaged when they have an interest in what they are learning, which is why we are strong advocates of student-led research. For example, in our Current Events and Media Literacy class, I teach students to look at media in a critical way. Letting the students choose what issues and topics they explore, we work together as the students grow into citizens who are able to independently recognize hidden agendas and biases while becoming informed about the world. Students are encouraged to take a hands-on role in their learning, encouraging them to be more engaged and responsible learners. 

Capstoning our educational philosophies is education through Socratic Method. We give students a topic for research — climate change, free-trade, genetic modification of food — then we come together as a class to explore each other’s opinions through discussion, broadening our horizons and allowing us to think critically. This technique develops public speaking and listening skills, opens us up to dissenting opinions, and forces us to back-up our opinions with sound reasoning. 

Students in traditional classrooms often feel so removed from their teachers that they become disconnected from the learning environment. In contrast, our classroom is run as a community that thrives on mutual respect from both students and educators. Working together, the class will form bonds of trust and work in partnerships, bringing out the best in each other as we foster the next generation of informed, aware, and engaged world citizens.