Teacher Patricia Jordan is talking a mile a minute and expecting her fifth-graders to respond in unison just as fast.
"Matter is anything that takes up space and has mass," she calls out. The students repeat it. Sometimes she asks individual students to repeat the words.
She shows the students what words to highlight in their notebooks, has them draw items being discussed, and has them read so children with different learning styles can imbibe the lesson. It is clear they're catching on. The students ask thoughtful questions.
"Can you divide an atom?" one boy asks.
"Be a science detective and get back to all of us tomorrow," Jordan answers.
The students study Latin to promote reading, spelling and critical thinking. They can dissect a word with Latin origins if they're stumped by a word on test or in a book.
This is direction instruction, something Jordan says she didn't learn in college.
"It's is a hidden gem," she says.
The system is highly structured and scripted, and reveals who understands the lesson. It also allows students to say the right answer when they don't know it, which increases their confidence. The rapid pace keeps the kids engaged.
New teachers spend about three weeks learning this unique teaching style, and more time perfecting it.
Direction instruction emphasizes basic facts and skills, says Executive Director Colin Mullaney. It promotes critical thinking, a goal of state education.
"We make sure kids know how to take the tests, but we don't prep for TCAP," Mullaney says, referring to the state assessment tests. "We do analyze test results and adjust for weak spots, but our education is much broader than that."
Each class has a teacher and a teacher's aide. Kids are divided into classrooms based on their abilities for reading, math and spelling to boost individual instruction.
Parental support is important. "We are educating the kids on parents' behalf and get that message across," Mullaney explains.
Tricia Jesse, a school board member, says, "When parents have to drive by a dozen schools to get here, they are truly invested and involved."
Catherine Vigil, has two kids at the school, and spends time reading with them and helping them with homework.
She likes the rigorous curriculum says the school builds character. Her boys started reading novels in first grade, which she attributes to the instruction method.
"When I went to school, we weren't challenged. Here, expectations are very high. The philosophy is that every child can learn. And they do."
Last year, all 42 seniors graduated. Of those, 41 are attending college. They received more than $3.8 million in scholarship offers.
Cheyenne Mountain charter Academy & the Vanguard School
Students: K-12, 1,200
Free/reduced-price lunch: 26 percent
Minorities: 30 percent
Chartered in Cheyenne Mountain School District 12
Consistently among top scorers on state tests