Our courses are rigorous, relevant, and relational

Learning Pathways & Academics

Our Approach

Framed by the outcomes and values of the three Learning Pathways, classes and courses at Upper Mississippi Academy incorporate a “teacher as designer approach” to promote student achievement and academic growth as well as to create an optimal environment for interdisciplinary instruction and multi-dimensional learning experiences.

Classes and courses are rigorous, relevant, and relational and, curriculum is built around the elements of experiential learning. Students engage in projects that:

  • are interdisciplinary, self-directed and long-term;
  • are connected to the local community;
  • involve community experts;
  • provide an opportunity for experimentation, failure, reflection and improvement;
  • ask students to seek, create and/or transform knowledge;
  • allow a final product with many potential forms;
  • document the learning process; and
  • are presented to the community by the creator(s).

The Three Learning Pathways at UMA

Each Pathway is a framework of understanding that ties into every other class in the school, creates real-world, hands-on learning experiences and allows students to focus on important life skills.

Design and Engineering
Incorporating the processes of design and engineering, students collaborate with one another to take their ideas from paper to product. Students utilize the design process to work through problems and create solutions.

Essential Components
“The whole is greater than the sum of its parts.” Essential components break down the parts of the whole and how they work together to create the products and systems around us. Students will explore the interactions and connections between ourselves, our environment and our materials.

Is an investigation of community: community in both the scientific and social sense. Students explore the social, cultural, historical, and geological aspects of their environment in order to understand the connection between people, places, and resources.

The Pathways Curriculum 

Each class will focus on specific, age-appropriate skills they will need for their Senior Capstone and beyond. The classes will incorporate all three pathways through projects that focus on their specific skills. Each Pathways class will also plan its own community day for the high school. 

Pathways Grade 9: Wilderness Romp

Course Description: 9th graders will be reintroduced to UMA’s 3 pathways in this required course.  Through collaborative and independent learning tasks, students will gain skills in problem solving and persistence as they employ the design and engineering process, seek to understand the essential components of the problem, and the connections between humans and their resources.

Essential Skills: 

  • Building Confidence
  • Critical Thinking
  • Problem Solving
  • Scaled challenges 
  • Build intrinsic motivation to struggle productively

Vision for Pathways Grade 9: 

We envision graduates of UMA to be effective collaborators who are capable of confidently solving problems. To develop these skills, Pathways 9 will be a teacher-directed course utilizing physical, hands-on activities to help students learn to collaborate and solve problems effectively. In these activities, students will approach problems, struggle productively, reflect on the effectiveness of their solutions, and then iterate in order to find additional and improved solutions. Throughout the course, the challenges students face will become progressively more difficult, culminating in a larger-scale project at the end of the year and a planned community day, outdoor excursion for the highschool.

Pathways Grade 10: Professional Productions

Course Description: In this required course for 10th graders, students will focus their efforts on communicating their independent learning through an array of presentations.  Students will learn how to design products such as posters, podcasts, table displays, and video, with a strong emphasis being placed on understanding the essential components of a professional end product, and iterating until those standards are met.

Essential Skills: 

  • Developing Products
  • Communicating learning
  • While choosing their own topics they will learn to present their information professionally in the following methods (each method is its own unit)
  1. Video
  2. Slideshow
  3. Speech
  4. Podcasts
  5. Infographics/ Posters
  6. Table displays 
  7. Build a model 
  8. Teach a class for a community day (connect to all 3 pathways)

Vision for Pathways Grade 10:

We envision graduates of UMA to be able to communicate their own learning through a variety of mediums, and to do so with high levels of professionalism and personal style.  Consequently, our goal for Pathways 10 is to teach students diverse ways of sharing their independent learning with authentic audiences.  In Pathways 10, students will be able to learn about topics of their choosing, but communicate their learning through common end-products assigned by the teacher.  Each unit will consist of students conducting their own research, learning the necessary techniques and skills for producing the assigned end product, then presenting their product to an authentic audience that goes beyond the walls of their immediate classroom.

Pathways Grade 11: Service Learning

Course Description: Students will use their deepening understanding of UMA’s Pathways to guide them through service learning projects in this required 11th grade course.  Juniors will collaborate with peers to identify community needs and engage in the design process to address those needs. 

Essential Skills: 

  • Topic >Awareness Campaign
  • Collaboration 
  • Networking 
  • Community Service : Big School Community Service event on Community Day 

Vision for Pathways Grade 11: 

We envision graduates of UMA to be able to network, collaborate and organize with members of their community to solve real world problems. To develop these skills, students will work in groups to identify a community need, design solutions, and ultimately provide a service to their community by implementing their design.   With the end goal of serving their community, students may develop awareness campaigns, host events, raise funds, provide resources, or any number of ways to help others, all while gaining a deeper understanding of community problems and their root causes.  Ultimately, students will provide evidence of learning through public presentation of their service.

Pathways Grade 12: Senior Capstone

Course Description: Senior Capstone is an integrated component of the Humanities 12 course that supports students in using skills, resources and passions to develop a culminating project or experience.

The best way to learn more about UMA? Stop by for a tour.

Upper Mississippi Academy

Upper Mississippi Academy is a public charter school providing high-quality education for students in grades 6-12 in the St. Paul-Minneapolis metro area. Located in downtown St. Paul, UMA’s experiential, collaborative environment encourages dynamic teaching and learning through an interdisciplinary and multi-dimensional instructional approach.



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