As a child, by the end of a typical school day my mind was numb and exhausted from endless busy work. When my parents asked excitedly, “How was your day?” and “What did you learn?” my answers were, “fine” and “stuff.” And I wasn’t the only kid who was bored by the standardized, factory-like education in which we played the role of cogs.
Well, change is here in the form of AltSchool, a micro-school in San Francisco that aims to revolutionize the way we educate. AltSchool was created by Max Ventilla, founder of Krypteian Systems and the social search company Aardvark, and co-creator of Google+. He raised a whopping $33 million in venture capital, with the help of Andreessen Horowitz and the Founders Fund, to take the learning experience to a new, life-integrated level by way of competency-based learning and “Personalization Learning Plans.”
Instead of organizing large classrooms by age, AltSchool organizes small groups by age range. Curriculum is personalized for each child, based on their abilities and interests, challenging them but not pushing them over the edge. Teachers compile individualized “playlists” to guide students on their learning path. Parents and teachers also use digital tools to observe and evaluate progress.
By far the most impressive aspect of AltSchool is the real-world application emphasis. My childhood classroom was not lacking in paperwork or math problems, reading assignments or grades; it was lacking the big picture. I would often wonder, why can’t this be put in a context that helps me understand how to use it? Instead of compartmentalizing each element of study, AltSchool teachers integrate them into one investigation, incorporating math, science, art, technology, language arts, and social and emotional learning, with attention to how students can apply what they’re learning.
At the similar School of One in New York City, teachers also use a customized approach to help students master the sequence of essential skills that build on one another (the “learning progression”). Instead of tackling each skill together as a classroom, students learn “at different places along the progression and move through it at their own pace.” So no one gets left behind and no one is lost.
Demand for competency-based education (also known as mastery) is growing. AltSchool and School of One are part of a personalized learning movement that I hope will result in many more such facilities, where teaching connects to children’s innate curiosity.
Posted by Haley Rogers
PLUS: For more thought-provoking insights into improving education, try these books: The Happy Child: Changing the Heart of Education, by Steven Harrison, and Instead of Education: Ways to Help People Do Things Better, by John Holt.