New Designs for School
New Designs for School

We’ve all had the experience of truly purposeful, authentic learning and know how valuable it is. Educators are taking the best of what we know about learning, student support, effective instruction, and interpersonal skill-building to completely reimagine schools so that students experience that kind of purposeful learning all day, every day.

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Practitioner's Guide to Next Gen Learning

This Expeditionary Learning school redefines mathematics instruction through Problem-based Tasks and has developed a system to assess deeper learning.

Two Rivers is a PreK-8 school located near Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C. that serves a diverse student body of close to 700 children from across the city. The school is part of the NGLC Regional Funds, supported and incubated by our partners at CityBridge Foundation.

An EL Education Credentialed School

Two Rivers was in the first cohort of schools to be named a national EL Education Credentialed School—the highest honor for a school affiliated with the expeditionary learning model. Community meetings, advisory, expeditions, and project-based learning are key components of the model. What perhaps distinguishes the school from others is that the curriculum is joyful, engaging, and rigorous.

Two Rivers has adopted a simplified model for defining deeper learning, utilizing four broad areas to describe the outcomes the school expects from every student:
1. Traditional core content and basic skills
2. Critical thinking and problem solving
3. Character
4. Communication and collaboration.

This whiteboard sketch demonstrates how Two Rivers defines deeper learning.

A Joyful Culture of Problem-Based Math

Two Rivers has redefined mathematics instruction for students, teachers, and even for parents. The entire community has multiple opportunities to grapple with real-world problems, to wrestle with concepts through a heavy reliance on manipulatives, and to use common terminology to describe mathematical phenomena. At the heart of this approach is a lesson model called Problem-Based Tasks. Watch how the approach progresses from kindergarten to fourth grade:

Problem-based tasks in kindergarten

Problem-based tasks in fourth grade

Problem-Based Math Resources

Two Rivers is committed to sharing its resources widely with fellow educators via its website: Check out the following useful tools:

  • Problem-Based Tasks in Math. This webpage provides a brief overview of problem-based tasks in math, resources for planning problem-based task lessons, and examples of problem-based task lessons from several grade levels.
  • Planning for Problem-Based Tasks. These slides walk through each of the steps in planning an effective problem-based task lesson.
  • Lesson Plan Template for Problem-Based Tasks. Two Rivers uses this lesson plan template for planning problem-based tasks in math.
  • Video: Share and Debrief: Synthesize Learning. One of the core components of the problem-based task lesson is the share and debrief at the end of a lesson. Far from just an opportunity to share work, share and debrief has to be intentionally planned to ensure that every student synthesizes her or his learning at the end of a lesson.
expeditionary learning

Assessing Deeper Learning

As part of its NGLC work with CityBridge, Two Rivers is currently revising its assessment system. Because new Common Core assessments embed critical thinking and problem solving in rigorous content, when students fail on tests it becomes difficult to discern if the failure is due to a lack of understanding of the content or an inability to apply critical thinking and problem solving skills.

With this in mind, Two Rivers has begun to develop short tasks outside of content learned in class to assess the transferability of student’s critical thinking and problem solving skills. Specifically, the school team has begun to develop interdisciplinary rubrics of effective reasoning for both instruction and assessment. In addition, Two Rivers educators have also developed short tasks aimed at different grade levels to assess the development of reasoning in students.

Assessment Resources

The project is in its early stages and NGLC will continue to share the project’s outcomes with the wider community. Here are a few early resources on Two Rivers’ assessment project:

  • Narrated PowerPoint Overview of Our Assessment of Deeper Learning Work. This narrated PowerPoint deck provides an overview of Two Rivers’ assessment system with a particular emphasis on the development of deeper learning assessments.
  • Rubrics and Tasks. To assess effective reasoning, Two Rivers has developed a series of grade band-specific rubrics and aligned tasks to provide insight into how well students are able to transfer these critical skills to short novel assignments.
Dalia Hochman Headshot

Dalia Hochman

Educational Researcher

Dalia Hochman has served as a high school teacher, a co-founder of a small high school, a district administrator, a researcher, and a Next Generation school funder. In each role, she has witnessed the power of ideas and stories to influence education reform. At times, she has wondered how we as a professional community can improve the evidence behind the ideas that motivate us.