Meet Helen Reinecke

Our Head of Middle School Curriculum explains how her team blends core subjects and real-world topics to design “hard fun” cycle themes.

Emily Veno
• 
August 31, 2023

Prisma is the world’s most engaging virtual school that prepares kids for the ever-changing world of the future. Our team of educators have a diverse background of experience on the cutting edge of teaching and learning, whether they’ve worked in brick and mortar schools or dynamic online environments. In our Meet the Team blog series, you’ll get to read more about the amazing educators behind Prisma.

Helen Reinecke first joined Prisma in the spring of 2021 as a Curriculum Designer. In Fall 2022, she was promoted to lead our growing Middle School Curriculum team. 

Where are you based? 

I live in Seattle, Washington with my husband and two dogs. I was born and raised here in the Pacific Northwest. In 2020, after several years in Los Angeles, I finally convinced my husband that the wet winters are worth the unbeatable summers!

Tell us a little bit about your background in education prior to joining Prisma. 

In 2014, I had the opportunity to design and teach an entrepreneurship class in Zambia, Africa. This experience completely reshaped the way I thought about learning, and made me decide to pursue a career in education. From there, I moved to Los Angeles and received my Master's in Education while simultaneously teaching middle school math and science. After several years of teaching, I decided to pivot into curriculum design. I went to work for a gaming company, where my first assignment was to gamify math instruction. After a few other roles designing curricula for museums and non-profits, I stumbled upon Prisma and I knew I had to be a part of this magic! 

What's Prisma?

  • Prisma is an accredited, project-based, online program for kids in grades 4-12.
  • We exist to ignite a lifelong love of learning and prepare kids to thrive in the future.
  • Our middle school, high school, and parent-coach programs provide personalized curriculum, 1:1 support from educators, and cohorts where kids build community.

The middle school curriculum team is responsible for taking all of the skills & concepts kids should learn from grades 4-8 and blending them together into real-world, project-based themes that get kids excited about learning. What does that process look like? 

Think colorful post-its covering a wall, illegible whiteboards, sugar-filled snacks, and copious amounts of caffeine— it’s wild! We design themes starting from our five-year “scope and sequence,” which has gone through several iterations. The skills all Prismarians will gain between grades 4-8 encompass a combination of Common Core standards; skills from other subject frameworks like NGSS, IB, CASEL, and ISTE; and other future-ready competencies of our own invention like the Prisma Powers. We start designing each cycle by compiling the groups of standards (or competencies) we intend to cover, based on how often they are supposed to be done according to this scope and sequence. 

Next, we brainstorm kid-friendly topics that relate to the selected competencies. We frequently survey our learners to help us with this! Typically a natural front-runner emerges, and we have a theme! At this point in the process, we divvy up the curriculum components and start creating. Designers start with outlines, move to drafts, and get feedback every step of the way. Everything put in front of learners has been revised 3+ times!

One thing that makes Prisma different from regular school is that the curriculum team designs the curriculum, so learning coaches can focus on building relationships and giving feedback to learners. How does the curriculum team collaborate with coaches? 

This is one of my favorite parts of my job! I love that I get to have relationships with the coaches that I design for. The coaching team provides feedback on all curriculum components during the design process, and at the end of a cycle. I meet with all coaches before the cycle to ensure the content meets the needs of their learners. Additionally, throughout the theme, curriculum designers make it a point to attend workshops and check out learner work! This helps us get a sense of each cohort’s vibe and see what is working well for coaches. Our curriculum would not be what it is today without their input! 

What have been some of your favorite themes, workshops, and projects you’ve designed, and why? 

  • The Uncharted Territories theme (where learners explored ecosystems & adaptations by investigating outer space and the deep ocean) will always hold a special place in my heart because it was the first theme where I designed a project! It was special to watch an idea evolve into a final design. 
  • The Co-Lab Workshop for Unsolved Mysteries, where learners participated in a simulation solving a theft at a zoo through a "whodunit" scenario, was the perfect combination of challenging and fun! 
  • I also loved the Food Lab theme because it combined two of my favorite things: cooking and science! 

What are you working on currently? Can you give us a super sneak preview of some fun upcoming curriculum?! 

This feels like a trick question…we keep our themes under lock and key! How about this: 

🏺🪀 🧮 🔍 🧸

I love a good emoji riddle! 

What do you like to learn about, or what is something new you learned recently? 

I love to learn about all things food! I am always reading a cookbook, and I probably own more cookbooks than any other type of book. I am currently making my way through Oaxaca: Home Cooking from the Heart of Mexico by Bricia Lopez and am working on perfecting my mole sauce! 

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