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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Four personalized, blended, competency-based schools in Detroit are excellent examples of seven design principles for next generation learning.

Editor’s Note: NGLC partnered up with CEE-Trust to host a “Detroit Study Tour” (in November!) that served in part as a convening of NGLC Breakthrough School Models grantees. Grantees representing 28 funded school models were brought together to visit four schools (three of them are run by NGLC grantees), reflect on their own school implementation, and learn with each other. Staff from Getting Smart staff who joined in the fun reflected on the school site tours in this post, which originally appeared on on November 22, 2013. It captures the spirit and dedicated hard-work of the Detroit students and educators we visited as well as the inspiration and admiration for the people and the city of Detroit that we that we all took home with us.

Getting Smart isn’t new to sharing good news from Detroit, but recently, as part of a joint trip with Next Generation Learning Challenges (NGLC) and CEE-Trust, a couple members of our team were lucky enough to return to the city. Its obvious driving around, that part of the city have been neglected and abandoned. But it didn’t take long for us to be inspired by the passionate people rebuilding the schools, businesses and community. Detroit has A LOT to be proud of, especially in the world of Next-Gen learning (and BBQ).

NGLC identifies seven design principles for Next Generation Learning and the schools we visited were excellent examples of these design principles in action:

1. Student Centered: Designed to meet the diverse learning needs of each student every day

Each classroom we entered at Cornerstone Charter Madison-Carter Academy illustrated a different picture of student centered learning. One door opened to a computer lab of kindergarteners actively engaged in online content from CompassLearning. Another opened to 3 station rotation model where some students were working online, others were in small groups, and another was getting small group instruction from the teacher. Hard to visualize? Check out the short video below:

2. High Expectations: Committed to ensuring that every student will meet clearly defined, rigorous standards that will prepare them for success in college and career

A great example of high expectations is the culture of career and college readiness that is visually apparent on the walls at Burns Elementary (EAA). Students were asked what they wanted to be when they grow up, and some students even had the chance to dress the part. The school has fostered an environment focused on high expectations for all students.

Matchbook Learning

3. Self Pacing and Mastery Based Credit: Enables students to move at their own optimal pace and receive credit when they demonstrate mastery of the material

The PASE program at EAA Southeastern High School is a perfect visual of what self pacing and mastery based learning can look like. When you walk into the large open space, you can’t help but be reminded of a college experience. There are small study rooms, large open tables, and even couches and a student store. This space, that feels more like a college library than a high school, is where program participants spend a large majority of their day, but for each of them, the day looks very different. The PASE program, with a current enrollment of about 110 students, sets them up to be successful through college, by providing a guided, college-like experience where students make choices about their schedule and their learning. Students are not selected for the program based on good grades and superior attendance, all students are invited to apply, identifying why the unique learning environment would work best for them. Each of the students we spoke with could articulate exactly how they learned best, and they were empowered to build a schedule that meets their unique needs. One student describes: “I do math first, because it is hardest for me, then science because it is easy…hard, easy, hard, easy.” Students explain that they have to be responsible, determined, and willing to work hard, but they all love it. We know that behind the scenes the teachers are hard at work designing independent courses, motivating students, constantly analyzing data and preparing lectures (lectures that the students decide whether or not they need to attend), but what you see is kids at work, meaningful work.

Personalized learning classroom

4. Blending Instruction: Optimizes teacher- and technology- delivered instruction in group and individual work

In addition to the variety of student centered, blended learning environments that we mentioned above, each school we visited included online learning effectively in their schools. Each classroom had a blended of teacher instruction and online content. We saw a variety of online content at work, including Apex LearningCompass LearningALEKS, ;ST MathRosetta Stone, and BUZZ from Agilix.

Students talked about how the online content prepared them for their daily lessons and teachers described how the data collected from these content providers drove their instruction. Data has allowed teachers to know how well each students is mastering content.  At Cornerstone, we were even invited to join the online classroom via the QR code below, bet parents LOVE that.

Cornerstone classroom QR code

5. Student Ownership: Empowers students with skills, information, and tools they need to manage their own learning

Student panels were a component of each of the school visit and listening to these students talk, it is extremely clear that they take true ownership over their learning. Here are a couple of our favorite student quotes from the visit:

“It doesn’t mean they’re smarter than me, it means they’re getting more work done.” Southeastern High School student explaining that having mastery progress charts posted in the classroom serves as motivation rather than embarrassment.
“Before I only came to school for my friends, now what I learn is my friend.”
“I rely on my teachers, when I am not my best.”
Southeastern Student panel

6. Scalable: Designed to serve many more students if it demonstrates impact

Can you scale culture? Matchbook Learning which operates three schools in the Detroit area including Burns, has created a strong structure and non-negotiables that each of their schools is built using. While the schools will develop their own unique culture, there is a consistent culture that is scalable because of their turnaround framework;

  1. Assessments

  2. Content

  3. Classroom Design

  4. School Design

  5. Talent

Each classroom has consistent components, every teacher has been trained and developed specifically for the school design. Classroom content for every student is tracked on Buzz in addition to other blended learning programs. Blended learning specialists hired by Matchbook help provide the unique combination of assessments, content and classroom design that the organization offers. Using this strong framework, it’s conceivable that Matchbook will continue to scale even in some of the most struggling schools in the country.

7. Financial Sustainability: Sustainable on public per-pupil revenue within four years

Each of the schools we visited is thoughtful about their financial planning. We were able to listen in on a presentation with Afton Partners, that covered what a breakthrough financial plans looks like and how to address gaps and challenges during the launch phase of a school. We appreciate the rich discussions that happened with all the school leaders present. Every school had a unique challenge, but with the support of the group was able to gain valuable information that will continue making them a sustainable school model.

Megan Mead headshot

Megan Mead

Director of Growth, Getting Smart

Megan Mead is an education advocate and blog contributor at Getting Smart.