What is Inquiry?

“Education is not preparation for life; but life itself.”
– John Dewey

Inquiry is at the heart of New School SF teaching and learning. It is integrated into all parts of the curriculum, from science and social studies to literacy and math. We see inquiry as an approach that fosters our guiding principles and supports our mission and vision.

Our inquiry approach has clear and defined learning outcomes, aligned with Common Core and Next Generation Science Standards and the Civic, Career and College Framework, which require teacher plannin g. However, the inquiry process is driven by student choice and voice and strongly supports educators to implement these ideas, questions and solutions into the learning progression.

The inquiry arc involves three main stages: 

Three phases of the Inquiry Arc:


Exploratory is the initial period of inquiry and investigation of concepts. Students wonder, notice, ask questions, make predictions, test hypotheses and generally become immersed in the inquiry process.


As the inquiry progresses, students use a variety of resources to collect and record data, represent and explain results, and dig deeper to make meaning of the inquiry.


This final stage of inquiry provides a showcase for learning. Students use a variety of mediums and materials to apply their newfound learning, skills and strategies to share with a wider audience, solve a problem or take action. 

There are many benefits associated with inquiry-based teaching and learning.  Just to name a few….

Interdisciplinary teaching and learning: 

Students think critically about the interconnectedness of different content areas, subjects and topics.

Time for exploration: 

Students explore the topic at hand in alignment with their own personal interests.

Depth over breadth of content


Students learn best when they know the learning matters in the world around them.

Opportunities for authentic creation:

Inquiry Arcs culminate with an exposition that is an authentic demonstration of learning versus taking a standardized test.

The curriculum follows the Common Core and Next Generation Science Standards in an integrated way. Students will be exposed to all core content areas, including:


Utilizing the Common Core State Standards and Lucy Calkin’s Readers & Writers Workshop as guides we will have a balanced literacy approach that integrates reading, writing, listening and speaking standards into Inquiry Arcs. Therefore, literacy will be addressed explicitly during literacy blocks and in an ongoing fashion through all subject areas.  Reading instruction will include intentional development of decoding, fluency, comprehension strategies and analytic skills – all of which contribute to robust literacy skills for all children. Additionally, students will be exposed to a variety of genres and increasingly complex text over the course of their academic trajectories. We will utilize multiple diagnostic measures to understand each student’s strengths and areas for growth, and this data will enable teachers to personalize learning for each student. Most importantly, the literacy program will be designed to instill a love of reading in students.

Teachers will guide students through the writing process of pre-writing, drafting, editing and publication as well as word work focused on phonemic awareness, phonics, spelling, grammar, and vocabulary. We will support students to write – both for communicating academic content and learning, as well for personal expression and reflection. Students will have opportunities to write across genres through Inquiry Arcs broadly, and in writer’s workshop, writing will not only focus on skill development and the technical aspects, it will also be a vehicle for student voice and expression. Students will be encouraged to write about their own interests and be creative.


Mathematics and quantitative reasoning skills will be central at the New School of SF. At all grade levels, students will participate in engaging, inquiry-based, hands-on math experiences that require critical thinking, problem-solving, and conceptual understanding. We will hold high expectations for all students in math development, and will provide ample support for students to reach these expectations. California’s Common Core Content and Practice Standards along with Cognitively Guided Instruction will provide the foundation for work in math.

Our math program will be cohesive and incorporate all areas of mathematical proficiency such as fluency, conceptual understanding, adaptive reasoning, strategic competence and most importantly, a positive attitude and a mathematical identity. It will provide frequent opportunities for the use of academic language. Hands-on activities in the classroom, as well as in the Tinkering Studio at the Exploratorium, will help students appreciate the connections between math concepts and the world around them, and provide an opportunity to practice “math talk” in authentic settings. Similarly, math will be applied in various ways through Inquiry Arcs. In these Arcs, students will explore complex problems that require the use of quantitative reasoning and collaborative problem-solving skills.


Our science program will emphasize inquiry, curiosity, collaboration, and scientific literacy. Throughout their years at New School, students will engage deeply in scientific practice, developing a complex understanding of core ideas, familiarity with cross-cutting concepts, and vital critical thinking skills.

The program will be guided by the Next Generation Science Standards: A Framework for K-12 Science Education: Practices, Crosscutting Concepts, as well as additional science and engineering resources such as Full Option Science System (FOSS) kits – an interactive science program. Throughout the science curriculum, students will move through the inquiry process by asking questions, using tools, developing models, carrying out investigations, analyzing and interpreting data, developing evidence-based arguments and using skills such as reading, writing, and math to explore science concepts.

Social Studies

The Social Studies curriculum will build students’ understanding of themselves and the world around them. Using the inquiry arc, the social studies curriculum will naturally build upon students’ prior knowledge and experience, and it will honor and celebrate their diverse backgrounds and cultures.

The Civic, Career and College (C3) Framework and CA Social Studies Grade level Standards will provide a foundation for student learning. The curriculum will include four main social science disciplines, including 1) History, 2) Geography, 3) Civics, and 4) Economics. Students will learn to distinguish fact from opinion, connect cause and effect, and examine history through a variety of lenses and perspectives.

Physical Education

Physical education (PE) is critical for student learning, and for maintaining one’s personal well being. The objective of the physical education program at the New School of San Francisco is for students to develop healthy life-long habits. Students will be exposed to a variety of physical movement activities that will suit diverse learning styles and skills.

We are partnering with Playworks, a wonderful organization that works to build teachers’ skills in delivering PE curricula, to train all our teachers in a variety of approaches. PE will take place daily during morning break and during park time. In this time, students will develop an awareness of their bodies and understand how physical fitness and exercise can contribute to their overall happiness and wellness. For example, students may learn how physical activity can relieve stress or help with focus. PE activities will also contribute to an integrated social-emotional program as students practice habits like cooperation, fairness, teamwork, and honesty through athletics.

Creative Arts

Exploratories in visual arts, music, and tinkering will take place daily and provide concrete time for students to engage in creative expression. The arts provide multiple ways for students to access and interact with content and learning, and help students become well-rounded, creative thinkers. Students will be encouraged to utilize the arts to communicate their learning in core subjects, as well as a platform for personal expression.

Lessons and topics of study in Exploratories will align to Inquiry Arcs so that students see interdisciplinary connections between core subjects and the arts in everyday life. Finally, excursions will be a regular part of learning, exposing students to the vibrant artistic culture in and around San Francisco.

Spanish Program

We believe that a bilingual education will build students’ skill set for college and the workforce, and through deeper learning experiences, help them engage with the wider community of San Francisco and beyond. In our first two years, all students will receive 40 minutes of Spanish Language & Culture every other day, which is delivered as a distinct subject area. The time allocated will follow the recognized pedagogical model of Foreign Language in Elementary School (FLES) as seen in schools in San Francisco Unified School District such as Rosa Parks Elementary and Clarendon Elementary.  The learning goals of the dual language program are as follows:

  • To acquire proficiency in listening and speaking Spanish
  • To acquire an understanding of and appreciation for Spanish-speaking cultures
  • To acquire 3rd grade level proficiency in Spanish reading and writing by 5th grade

In parallel with the Inquiry Arcs that guide instruction in literacy and math, Spanish unit plans will be structured around the processes of Exploration, Expression, and Exposition designed to prioritize depth of learning for students. Additionally, concepts and terms learned in Spanish will be woven into other parts of the day. 


Technology skills and digital literacy are integral to any student’s education in the 21st century. Students will utilize technology to bolster their creativity and innovative capacity, and progressively develop an understanding of how to use technology effectively to communicate, collaborate and conduct research. This means that students will use computers, the Internet, and other multimedia devices as learning and communication tools to better understand the world around them. Learning goals will include basic computer fluency, the creation of multimedia projects, demonstration of basic Internet research skills, and online collaborations.

Exploremos After School Program

The New School of San Francisco’s After School Program offers a fun, enriching, and safe environment for children.  All children will begin their afternoon with playtime and snack, providing the opportunity to wind down and talk to friends and teachers. The program runs from 3:45pm – 6:00pm each day at our campus. It is a sliding scale model to make it accessible to all families. Families can pay monthly (by the first week of the month) or annually.

Activities include music/singing, dancing, costuming/prop making, puppetry, different types of visual/performing arts, animation, games, holiday celebrations and more.  The program will be an extension of our core values of community, respect, equity, inclusion, celebration of diversity, and validation of each child’s unique voice, feelings and needs. 

For more information, please contact Denisse at exploremos (at) newschoolsf.org.