Yearly Integrating Lenses

The interdisciplinary content, multi-age groupings and system thinking aspects of learning at RVCS lend themselves to experiences viewed through wide, yearlong lenses that loop over a period of 2-3 years. These integrating lenses, explained in more detail below in the following pages, are intended to highlight the relationships among seemingly unrelated elements for a more holistic awareness of the larger, interrelated and interdependent systems that comprise the natural and human-made worlds. Each lens represents a biological process and/or relationship with the intention that, by studying all content areas and historical perspectives through this lens, students will come to see the correlations and analogies between the human and natural world experiences, therefore deepening their compassion for, understanding of, and connection to our planet and the entire Universe.

The cyclical nature of the lenses ensures that all students will experience the most important content over the course of their time on the team. Students can begin with any of the lenses when they enter a new team, rotating through all of them before moving on to the next team. For instance, a student joining the Galaxy Team might begin with Emergence, move to Transformation, and end their time on the team with Reciprocity.

“I love that we were able to learn about math AND language arts AND science like other schools do – but everything was fun and many things were self-directed.”

~Ridge and Valley Graduate

Stardust Team Lenses:


Infants and very young children are born with an innate connection to all things. They do not perceive a distinct separation between themselves and their environment. They are sensual beings – exploring the world through all their senses. Their inherent bond with, and attraction to, all things dominates their early experiences. This same allurement permeates all of us and everything. It has led to the emergence of stars and planets, water, rocks, air and life itself. This basic binding energy is evident in the human emotions of friendship, compassion and love as well as in the chemical, gravitational and electromagnetic interactions among and between atoms, organisms, planets and galaxies.

Children this age are still deeply connected to and immersed in allurement – the joy and intuitive fascination that exists everywhere in reality. They live in the moment, in their bodies, and are captivated by the world around them. By gently and thoughtfully guiding their dynamic attraction to and love of all energies and beings we can begin to help them gain fundamental understandings as well as draw intentional connections. During this year, children will explore the natural world and local foods as well as develop personal responsibility and individual/group relationships. We desire to cultivate their sense of wonder and awe and hope that they will maintain this open awareness into adulthood so they can always appreciate the magnificence of the universe and themselves.


What and where is one‘s place in the universe? What role do we play in the human, earth and star stories? What is our relationship with and responsibility to the natural world and all our neighbors? Niche is defined as the relational position of an individual and/or group within and to the whole. This lens considers the impact of and relationships between the whole and the parts, between the microcosm and macrocosm within any given system. Through this lens students will explore family, community, anatomical, ecological, solar, language and other systems. They will discover connections across systems such as how letters make words, sounds make music and language, organs make up their body, a wide variety of organisms make up an ecosystem, families make a community, stories and traditions make a culture and so on. By drawing awareness to the universal relationships and dynamics within the multitude of overlapping systems that are present in the cosmos, students will see themselves as an important strand in the larger unfolding web of the universe.

“Imagination does not become great until human beings, given the courage and the strength, use it to create.”

~Maria Montessori

Nova Team Lenses:


Listen to your heart beat. Listen to the sparrow‘s song. Attune yourself to the bee‘s hum, the approaching rainstorm, the crash of the ocean waves. Feel the changing sensations in your body in response to the subtle shift of the earth‘s seasons. Witness the bud, bloom, decline and decay of the flower or human. All of these are rhythms – examples of cycles and/or repeating patterns. Rhythms, be they auditory, biological, gravitational or cultural, to name a few, are fundamental to all beings. They shape us, limit  us, provide reassurance and move us to dance. They remind us of the greater mystery of which we are a part. While looking through this lens students will explore the rhythms of the water, life, weather, seasonal, musical, physiological, rock and solar/lunar cycles. By observing and identifying different qualities and characteristics students will recognize, predict and be able to continue repeating patterns found in nature, art, music, movement, language, stories and so forth. What are the rhythms that you see, hear, feel, smell, taste and intuit?


In the very first instant when the primitive particles rushed forth, every one of them was connected to every other one in the entire universe. At no time in the future existence of the universe would they ever arrive at a point of disconnection…Nothing is itself without everything else. (The Universe Story, Swimme & Berry)

Humans, like every other particle of matter and form of energy, emerged from the creativity of the Universe. To say that we are in relationship with the Universe and Earth and all their manifestations would be an understatement. We are completely dependent upon them for our existence and survival. We are them and they are us. The current anthropocentric view eschews our reliance on and responsibility to the natural world, denying its importance for our continued existence, yet the interdependence of all living and non-living things is an undeniable reality. This lens focuses on this kinship and the agreements, principles and natural laws that are the foundation for these relationships.

How do organisms (and how can humans) live in a mutually enhancing relationship within the systems of nature to sustainably nourish themselves, the earth and all its inhabitants? In exploring this concept students will study the organization of and interrelationships within biological, celestial, political and social systems. They will investigate food webs, organ systems, lunar phases, constellations, human culture and civics as examples of the analogous interconnectivity of all things.

“What we are teaches the child far more than what we say, so we must be what we want our children to become.”

~Joseph Chilton Pearce

Constellation Team Lenses:


Why does a snake sun itself on a rock? Why do we like certain foods? Because it feels “good” or “right”? What does that mean? Organisms are complex systems living within larger complex systems in which they are continuously seeking a “feel good” state of equilibrium. Internal and external factors indicate what items are needed to perpetuate this state by filling the organism‘s needs – be they physical, emotional or cultural, innate or learned. Homeostasis, or this state of equilibrium, is the dynamic regulation of the components of a system, in response to change, in an effort to maintain a constant, stable condition. The snake sunning itself on a rock, the pancreas‘ release of insulin to regulate blood glucose, the geological discharge of pressure through plate tectonics and earthquakes, the impact of the carrying capacity of an ecosystem on the populations of predators and prey, a cell‘s intake of nutrients and release of waste, the environmental effects of and responses to climate change, the political and cultural changes caused by a shift in leadership, as well as the “rising up‘ of a group with a focus on change (biological, political, cultural, etc.) and the resulting return to balance are all examples of the dynamic nature of homeostasis.

Change is inevitable and often uncomfortable. Most change occurs on a biological and/or physiological level requiring no cognitive thought or intention but rather relying on the wisdom of the living system for resolution. Other changes result from instinctive and/or conscious choices made by an organism within a given circumstance. Either way, the fundamental tendency of homeostatic regulation exists on all levels of systems and guides their unfolding as they seek to achieve internal and external stability. Through this lens, students will explore the cycles of conflict, change/growth/choice and resolution/homeostasis within different systems by examining things such as the following: the complex interactions within and between the systems of the human body; the impact of natural laws and principles as they apply to motion, force and energy transformation; the geological and geographical evolution of their bioregion (Big Bang to current day) and its corresponding effects on, and opportunities created for, local populations (including humans); and the dynamic equilibrium evident within the unfolding of the universe, the earth, bioregional ecosystems and individual organisms.


Abundance vs. scarcity, needs vs. wants, wealth vs. poverty, haves vs. have-nots. This lens examines the potential for shifting the current human paradigm from scarcity and limits, which creates economic, political, environmental and social conditions in which some have and many go without, to the perspective of abundance, biodiversity and quality of life. By recognizing the sheer profusion and inherent significance of the energy, matter, complexity and diversity present in the universe, humans can make the choices necessary to live a fulfilled life in harmony with the natural world. Through this lens, students will study the composition, physical characteristics and changing dynamic of matter and energy, the interactions and implications of Earth‘s dynamic systems (geosphere, hydrosphere, atmosphere, and biosphere), and the economic, environmental, political, social and cultural stories that are the basis for human‘s understanding and experience of abundance and/or scarcity. They will be encouraged to take on projects that work for change, celebrate the abundance of the universe and promote social, environmental and economic justice.

“Teaching children about the natural world should be seen as one of the most important events in their lives.”

~Thomas Berry

Galaxy Team Lenses:


Many of the inventions of the natural world arose out of beings meeting the constraints of the universe with creative responses. (The Universe Story, Swimme & Berry) As humans grow and develop they become more aware of their power to transform – themselves, their environment, their relationships, their community, country and the world. The realization that even small shifts in behavior and choices can have larger, systemic consequences results in individuals who know that they can make a difference on both a personal and a global scale. Understanding the proliferation of transformations that has occurred from the beginning of the universe up to this point and whose sequence created all that is today, as well as those occurring on both micro and macro levels at any given moment, the limitations and opportunities caused by such, and that the students themselves are only one instance of such change, gives students the perspective necessary for responsible, respectful decision-making.

This lens explores this continual, ever-changing unfolding of the universe, earth and human through the study of chemical reactions; the concepts of biodiversity, genetics, adaptation, evolution and extinction; the immense influence of the invention of writing; the appearance of color from light; the characteristics and transformation of energy in its many forms; the use, and evolution, of mapmaking as a way to represent and perceive the earth and the subsequent effects on human migration, exploration, trade and usage of the earth; as well as the systemic view of human and planetary history during the period of classical human civilizations (3500 BCE to 1500 CE).



Interdependence. Give and take. Justice. Ethics. Morality. All of these ideas are integral to reciprocal relationships, whether they are between beings of the same or of different species.   A social phenomenon that allows for the existence of systems and organizations, reciprocity refers to the interrelationships, commitment and energetic dynamics between the members of any system, be they ecological, political, solar, physiological, cultural, etc.

Through this lens students will study the interactions and relationships of atoms, molecules, elements, matter and energy; the global human story from 1500 CE to current day (Rise of Nations), specifically in terms of political and cultural systems; the mutually supporting cycle of respiration and photosynthesis; the individual characteristics of, and interrelationships between, the members of our solar system as well as the Milky Way‘s place within the universe and its  story; the transformational impact of certain scientific discoveries and theories on human‘s story, understanding and treatment of the earth; the give and take of economic systems.



How is it that a single cell can become a complex human being? How does a bee colony function as a community? What is the process by which new words are created and become part of a language? Each of these examples demonstrates emergence – the self-organization that takes place as a result of a multiplicity of relatively simple, sometime seemingly unrelated, interactions which leads in turn to the creation of complex adaptive systems. Within any emergent system the whole becomes greater than the sum of its parts. By exploring the components of multicellular organisms, the geological and weather processes that act to shape the earth and tell its story, the parallels between the birth and evolution of the universe and the birth and evolution of humans (2.6 million years ago until 3000 BCE (through the Neolithic period)), and the self-organizing properties of different human systems such as the Internet, stock market and grassroots organizations, as well as those of biological and geographical systems, students will understand the complexity inherent in and continually arising from emergent systems.

This exploration is intended to cultivate not only a sense of wonder and awe for the intrinsic intelligence of the universe, but also a deep understanding of the impact of humans on the earth and a corollary sense of responsibility for one‘s choices.