AltSchool Hub

A Look Inside AltSchool SOMA

Posted by Lorie Delizo

Mar 17, 2016 3:11:30 PM

A fascinating question. A spark of curiosity. A kindled interest. When fostered, these moments can ignite a student’s new-found passion that lasts a lifetime.  

At AltSchool SOMA, we listen for those moments of inspiration. We’ve created a responsive learning environment that supports each student’s process of self-discovery, giving them the tools and confidence to pursue their interests. When they graduate, our middle schoolers not only have a strong academic foundation for high school, but they have the creativity, grit, and compassion needed to succeed in the ever-changing 21st century.

I invite you to take a virtual tour of our middle school classroom. As you take the tour, here are highlights about our school and approach reflected in the environment.

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Our class mural
Walking into our classroom, you’ll see a mural hanging above our lockers. This triptych represents the code of conduct for our class— conceived, written, and designed by our students. It reads: Work hard, Work together, Respect different beliefs, Be your best self, Respect the environment, and Leave the environment looking better than you found it. At the beginning of the year, students established their hopes and dreams for the year. Then, they picked up pens and paintbrushes, writing their class code and painting the mural.  Students took ownership over their class culture; the result is a beautiful reminder of how we treat our community with respect.

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A rigorous, personalized curriculum
Our curriculum is academically rigorous while providing flexibility to support individual interests. Each day is broken into two main components: core skill work and project-based learning blocks. Students gain mastery in core academic areas including math, science, English language arts and social studies. And throughout the year, they engage in several long-term projects that inspire interdisciplinary connections. During a project, students select a topic of choice, research it, and produce and showcase a final product.

These projects foster a “Just do it!” attitude. We want students to feel empowered and have the skills to develop their passions today and throughout their lives. Throughout the process students explore their interests and develop 21st century skills like goal-setting, time-management, iteration, and reflection.

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Passion projects
This year started with a passion project, where students chose and developed a topic of interest. One group of students coded their own video games. Another pair of students learned photography from scratch, taking online tutorials on how to manipulate aperture and shutter speed. They showcased a beautiful photo essay about a local corner store. Another student filmed a short documentary, and another created a viral YouTube campaign to raise awareness of climate change.

 

Rigorous humanities: studying world religions
When you walk into our school, you may see kids reading The Bhagavad Gita or Hermann Hesse’s Siddhartha. They are both part of our unit on world religions.

We take an interdisciplinary approach to the humanities. Last year, students analyzed the themes in Homer’s Iliad through data visualization, and this year students combine religious, social, historical, and literary perspectives when reading and understanding important religious texts. Throughout the unit, students reflect on the hero’s journey, parse the differences between parables and allegories, and compare religions systems. By engaging with such advanced texts, students hone their reading comprehension, respect diversity, and decode the meaning of symbols. They also wrote short- and long-form essays to practice the art of building and supporting an argument. Our goal through our humanities program is for students to write at a high-school level.

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Earth sciences discovery projects
Have a hypothesis? Time to test it! For our next project arc, students identified scientific questions that they could then put to the test. Is desalination a viable solution for California’s drought? Students are building a desalination kit to find out. How can we use our limited agricultural space to produce enough nutritious food for an increasing population? They are experimenting with alternative protein sources, like crickets. How could humans colonize Mars? Students are building a biosphere that supports plants and microbes.

Students are learning that science is both a discipline and a methodology. Throughout the unit, students generate a question and hypothesis, test the hypothesis, gather evidence, analyze the evidence, draw conclusions, and defend their results through a report.


AltHoops: Girls and boys basketball team!
This year AltSchool middle schoolers took to the courts, with our inaugural girls and boys basketball program! With regular practices and weekly games, students worked as a team off and on the court. The girls even made it to the championships! We look forward to continue to build our sports program across the network.

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An AltSchool graduate: preparation for high school
When students graduate from AltSchool, they feel empowered, confident, and excited for that next step towards high school. Throughout their experience, students learn rigorous work habits, practice the skills to complete a long-term project, and master core content. We support each student and family through the high school selection and application problem, starting with identifying their near- and long-term goals. We also help students prepare for SSATs, support their high school applications, and help them write compelling essays.

Above all, we help students grow into self-assured, resilient individuals who are excited to drive their learning journeys and design their future.

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Topics: Virtual Tours, AltSchool SOMA

A Look Inside AltSchool Palo Alto

Posted by Chris Bezsylko

Mar 14, 2016 1:49:26 PM

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Enter our classrooms at Palo Alto, and you’ll see evidence of kids “doing” learning. There’s cardboard from maker projects, prototypes from a design challenge, and robots from a recent visit by a robotics expert. You’ll see how students are in a safe environment to become themselves. We are reminded to embrace failure, and students develop their curiosity by noticing, thinking, and wondering about the world around them.

At AltSchool Palo Alto, we value the sanctity of childhood while building a strong sense of self in each child. We believe the best way for a child to learn about themselves is to do and experience a variety of different things. We bring the outside world into our classroom, and we foster the individual spark of curiosity of each student.

Take a virtual tour of our classroom to see for yourself. Below are some highlights as you walk through.

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Zones of regulation: Understanding our emotions and bodies
At AltSchool, students develop self-awareness, learning that they are in charge of their own feelings and understanding how those feelings can positively or negatively impact their experiences as learners. We use “zones of regulation,” a system for us to understand and express our feelings.

If a student says, “I’m in the red zone,” it means they are feeling intense emotions, whether that’s anger or elation. Yellow zone describes heightened emotions but within control. Green zone describes calm and alertness — an optimal state for learning. And blue zone describes someone who is down, sad, or bored. Students and teachers use this language throughout the day to check in and cultivate healthy “green zone” states of being for learning. 

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Making - Tinkering - Design
You’ll see lots and lots of cardboard in our classrooms! We’re constantly asking students to use found materials to bring their thoughts and ideas to life. Using design-thinking strategies, students generate ideas, develop models, build prototypes, then share them with others for feedback. This hands-on approach to learning promotes deeper understanding by providing our students with opportunities to apply their learning in real-world contexts.

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Interdisciplinary projects that combine empathy and science: Our fresh water unit
Did you know that women in Africa walk an average of 3.7 miles a day to get fresh water? While studying water systems, students were moved by this fact and wanted to measure just exactly how long that walk is. They took to the school driveway and measured their steps. They felt the weight of an unwieldy bucket of water. They felt the fatigue from walking just a small fraction of the 3.7 miles. Then they researched solutions for improving this laborious journey. The project continues to unfold, as they are prototyping different water containers and researching NGOs that are trying to solve this same problem of water shortage in developing countries. 

Homeless for the Super Bowl? Connecting math, social issues, and community
We aim to develop core academics through meaningful, impactful projects. As a class, we regularly read and discuss current events in the Bay Area. When the Super Bowl came to town, we discussed the city’s decision to relocate the homeless population, and the implications it has on the homeless. After reading profiles of those without homes who were affected, students connected these experiences with broader statistics on homelessness and poverty in the U.S. and abroad. Students learned how to “read”  different visual representations of math information and to ask questions that go far beyond the numbers on the page. Through this project, students applied math skills to better understand the scope of both national and global social issues today.


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AltInspire: Inviting experts into our classrooms
We regularly hold AltInspire events, where we invite experts to lead a class. The creator of Maker Faire, Dale Dougherty, visited to tell the story of the maker movement and to inspire our kids with a challenge. We’ve invited a rocket scientist, a robotics entrepreneur, a toy maker, and an industrial designer to talk about careers in science and design. During the sessions, students manipulated oobleck, a non-Newtonian fluid that has properties of both a solid and a liquid. Students also built model rockets that shot 30 feet into the air, learning how fuel builds up in an enclosed space to propel the rocket. On another day, students learned about the properties of water, viscosity, and how to change the flow of water through different structures, connecting to our broader unit on water.

Personal coaches
We’re all about goal setting and alignment at AltSchool Palo Alto. Students have regular peer and adult coaching sessions. During the sessions with teachers, students review their academic and personal goals for the year and assess their progress. For example, a 3rd grader may be working towards diminishing harmful perfectionism while improving on her writing skills, while a 6th grader may be working on valuing others around them through acts of kindness. We develop the whole child, and put processes in place to ensure students, teachers, and the community are supporting each other’s goals for becoming the best versions of ourselves.

 

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Topics: Palo Alto, Virtual Tours

How my 8- and 9-year old students became entrepreneurs

Posted by Mary-Kate Murphy

Feb 22, 2016 2:07:47 PM

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How can we make core academics come to life? We teachers continually ask ourselves this question as we design curricula. And this question led my class to harness math skills and the enterprising spirit of our city. They became entrepreneurs.

My 8- and 9-year old students just finished a project where they designed their own companies from the ground up. Students built and pitched business plans, conducted market research,  “manufactured” their products, positioned and priced their offerings, and eventually sold them in a marketplace, where adults (with real money!) bought their products. Students also learned the art of giving, as their profits went to a charity of their choice.

But they learned so much more than being business owners. They applied core math skills, they learned from the failures and successes of real Silicon Valley entrepreneurs, and they drove their own business decisions. Here’s a deep dive into what they learned:

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Mastering 2nd and 3rd grade math skills through real-life scenarios

By the end of 2nd and 3rd grade, students need to master the following core math skills:

  • Performing fundamental math operations, including addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division
  • Calculating money, knowing the value of bills and change, and making change from larger sums
  • Manipulating fractions and understanding decimals
  • Producing bar and line graphs and analyzing data

Many of these skills need to become second nature, like telling time. To master these skills within their project, students:

  • Calculated the cost of their raw materials, margin, and projected profit and loss. Based on their calculations, they decided how to calibrate their production in order to maximize margin.
  • Practiced physically counting money and change. Some memorized certain transactions so they could quickly serve their customers.
  • Graphed data from a class-wide market research survey and interpreted that data, to understand which products to make.

They applied these core math skills in the context of growing their businesses. Memorizing math operations wasn’t just about memorizing; math had utility.

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Learning from real entrepreneurs

A magical thing happened when I told families that we were studying entrepreneurship: parents lined up to volunteer and share their experiences in business with the class.

During our morning meetings, several parents led sessions on what it’s like to be an entrepreneur. Students asked questions like, “What happens if my business fails?”, “What happens if some of my products do not sell well?”, and “How do we know what to sell in the first place?” We heard real stories about failure, trying again, and grit. We learned the importance of diversifying to find the right product-market fit. And we learned how to conduct market research, from structuring survey questions to graphing the data.

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Developing ownership over one’s learning process

When it came to select projects, one student baked cookies, another sewed handbags, and another framed photos he took himself. By choosing something they were interested in, students had a vested interest in their success..

I asked one my students, “What was the hardest part of this project?”

The hardest part was figuring out how many Rice Krispie treats to make and sell at the market. If I made too many, I’d lose money. If I didn’t make enough, I could’ve made more profit. So I asked my teachers how many people would be at the market. They said about 40. I thought that not everyone would buy Rice Krispies, so I decided to make about 20. I think I was right, I sold out right at the end.

I love how his answer shows how he both identified and solved a problem in order to meet his goals— crucial skills for the 21st century.

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Giving back to the community

My students were so proud of their individual and collective contributions, including making $365 to donate to The World Wildlife Fund.

Mary-Kate Murphy is an educator at AltSchool Alamo Square. She is dedicated to igniting curiosity and a love of learning through real-world experiences.

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Topics: School, Classroom Stories, Project-Based Learning

A Look Inside AltSchool Brooklyn Heights

Posted by Mara Pauker

Feb 5, 2016 1:49:00 PM

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Welcome to AltSchool Brooklyn Heights! We invite you to take a virtual tour of our classrooms. 

Every day at our school is filled with discovery, hands-on projects, reflection, community, and rigor. As you walk through our school, you can notice how our approach is reflected in the environment:

 

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You’ll see many kinds of learning spaces for different kinds of learners, including floor mats, standing desks, modular tables, and individual cushions. This helps teachers personalize through whole-class, small-group, and one-on-one instruction.

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You’ll read our display on grit, which is meant to be a reminder to our community. As a class, students continually reflect on what it looks and feels like to have grit. We talk about both accepting challenges and creating them. We talk about why it’s okay to fail. Our language on resilience and a growth mindset pervades everything we do in class. 

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You’ll see student-made posters from one class’s field trip to the East River, which sparked an interest in what happens above the water and what happens below it. Fascinated by boats and buoyancy, students harnessed science and construction skills to build and test different floatation devices. This project then evolved into an interest in marine life at different depths of the ocean. The class has connected art and biology by building their own underwater creatures out of wood, practicing the anatomy they learned like fins and gils.

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You’ll see a pile of brightly colored vests for PE. Our students go outside every day, and Pier 5 and Eastern Athletic are their playgrounds.

We also take advantage of the fact that we live in one of the most amazing cities in the world. We go into our neighborhood to support in-class projects and learning. Some field trips this year included:

  • The Liberty Science Center, where we explored the “From Gills to Lungs” lab
  • The Robot Foundry, where we learned about basic circuitry
  • Casa Kids, where we explored children’s furniture design, which informed a class-wide design challenge making a new kind of chair
  • The MOMA Art Lab, where we learned new artistic techniques
  • A Puppetworks performance of Alice in Wonderland, after reading and analyzing the book

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Our school environment continues to evolve with our growing school community. We enjoy collaborating with our East Village school and look forward to working with our new middle school campus opening in Union Square in fall 2017.

Want to meet our teaching team and see one of our New York schools in person? Sign up for an Open House.

Attend an Open House

 

 

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Topics: Virtual Tours

How to turn bored students into motivated learners

Posted by Jamie Gao

Feb 3, 2016 1:35:34 PM

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I once had an elementary school student who avoided learning Mandarin at all costs during class. “This is boring,” he’d say, as he stormed off. Or, “Why do I have to learn this?” as he’d crumple up his handouts.

It’s a common tale for many kids. If the material isn’t relevant to their lives, they become disengaged and frustrated when learning feels forced. If disinterested for too long, these kids can fall behind. Over my 15 years of teaching, I’ve learned that this boredom barrier is my main enemy, not a disruptive student.

So instead of lecturing, I took the approach I take with most disruptive students: I got to know him.

I pulled him aside for a one-on-one conversation. I asked about his interests. I listened. I soon discovered his love of expensive sports cars— Bugattis in particular. His whole being lit up as he showed me pictures and described different models. I gave him a special project: “Why don’t you put together a presentation and teach me everything you know about Bugattis in Mandarin?” He excitedly accepted the challenge.

Mandarin.jpgThough his language skills were low, he started learning advanced vocabulary. He learned the anatomy of a car; he studied geographical terms and where Bugattis were manufactured; he learned about price and how to count with large numbers… all in Mandarin. When he gave his final presentation, it was hard to believe that this confident speaker was the same student who struggled with basic grammar just two weeks before.

Breaking the boredom barrier and building motivation

A wall of boredom can build when students can’t convincingly answer the question, “Why am I learning this?” And studies show that this wall kills motivation. That’s why I have changed my approach from ensuring every student has mastered the same material at the same time to instead fostering excited, active learners.

Today, I have found that three things inspire a love of learning in my class: connecting and bonding with each individual child, fostering authentic learning experiences through passion projects  building wonder by letting children guide the class, and inspiring awe through real-world experiences.

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1. Connecting and bonding with each child

Many find it surprising when I say that Mandarin is not the focus of my class. I tell parents that social and emotional strength comes first, then Mandarin. I’ve found that building a child’s confidence and resilience helps them take on more challenges and progress more quickly.

The first thing I do in each class is connect with each individual learner. I want to know what they like to eat and what their favorite toys are. I try to understand what makes them moody, angry, and happy. I try to get to know each student as a whole person, beyond the scope of our class. That way I can help them approach Mandarin on their own terms.

This builds trust. When my students feel I am their biggest fans, they are more likely to take risks.

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2. Fostering authentic learning experiences through passion projects

I often start beginners or transfers with a passion project, like my student who loves his Bugattis. Starting with their interests invites students to express themselves through content that excites them. They learn vocabulary that they will actually use and therefore remember. And projects are often interdisciplinary, inviting learning across math, social studies, history and more. By bonding emotionally with the material, children learn to use language to meaningfully communicate their own personality and interests.

3. Building wonder by letting children guide the class

A student makes a joke and the whole class laughs. What do many teachers do (or have to do to maintain order)? They may briefly laugh themselves and then quickly try to calm things down, directing students back to the day’s agenda.

What a missed opportunity! That’s a rare magical moment where everyone is engaged. Sometimes tying the joke with the day’s plan can inspire even more connections.

For example, in one of my lower elementary classes, we were practicing describing our emotions in Mandarin. One child yelled, “I am afraid of shots at the doctor!” The class erupted in laughter. So, I had each child line up for a pretend “shot,” and shout: “I’m not afraid. I am strong!” before I gave them a fake “shot” with my finger.

The class was in hysterics. Yet, with such high excitement, they retained and remember the lesson to this day. The lesson has become an inside joke that we frequently reference in subsequent classes— each time we practice those language skills.

A personalized approach builds a love of learning

It has taken years for me to develop a new approach to teaching Mandarin — one that focuses on engaging my students through their interests rather than following a textbook religiously. Not only are my students not bored, but they love coming to class and they progress more quickly.

Jamie ChiaHui Gao is a the World Languages Lead at AltSchool and teaches Mandarin for grades K-8. With 15 years of teaching experience, she believes in providing a 360-degree learning experience that creates a safe, non-judgmental zone for learners to freely investigate and explore the world around them. Her ultimate goal is to foster lifetime learners through their passions.

 

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Topics: School, Classroom Stories

My six-year old student asked me if he could make a QR code. Here's what I did.

Posted by Paul France

Jan 11, 2016 3:03:53 PM

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“What about a QR code?” he said as he sat adjacent to me at our hexagonal tables.  He continued to look at me tentatively, almost as if he had said the “wrong” answer. I’ve always been a painfully transparent person–the kind who wears his emotions on his sleeve–so he was probably responding to the blank stare on my face.

Well, how can I help him with that? I thought.

Simultaneously, however, I thought about the purpose of these projects on which we were about to embark.  They were about inspiration, about passion, and about challenging ourselves to do something interesting, to face failure head on and to develop the grit and persistence to work through it, to make mistakes with the understanding that it would be the only way we’d learn anything.

“Alright,” I replied to him. “I don’t know anything about that, but I’ll do what I can to help you. Where should we start?”

We got out his kan-ban board and began listing off some steps, the first of which would be to do some research on how QR codes work. It didn’t take long before we found a YouTube video that explained how to decode a QR code by hand. I noticed, too, that all it required was an excel sheet, much to my surprise.  He watched the entire video, start to finish, all twenty minutes of engineering and computer science jargon, much of which I’m sure went right over his head.

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But nonetheless, he persisted, finishing the video. Together, we brainstormed some more steps, including learning how to use Google Sheets, and learning more about powers of two, which was, unbeknownst to me, something you need to know when making a QR code.  But that was the beauty of the entire process: while my student was learning a lot through experience, I was able to learn alongside him, modeling the grit, problem-solving, and persistence needed to accomplish something challenging in a really authentic way.

After that, I set him up on Google Sheets, helped him navigate some of the basic functions, and off he went.  He was filling in boxes for the anchors, counting squares and determining the appropriate sizes and areas of the different patterns, until he finally began working on the code itself.

And this was the part where I was absolutely blown away.

The message within the QR code consists of a zigzag pattern, each character of the intended message created by a combination of the powers of two that create an alphanumeric code within an 2-by-4 area of boxes.  Here’s an example from Wikipedia:

Project-based-learning3As you can see in this example, this QR code would direct the user to http://www.wikipedia.org, due to the arrangement of the boxes and the encoded letters within each 2-by-4 rectangle.  My student created a different message, though–a much cuter one.

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The first character within my student’s message was the letter “i.”  In order to do this, he had to first input his message length (8 characters, outlined in red) and then refer to a chart that provided the sums necessary to provide the desired outputs–in this case, 73 was the desired sum for the letter for “i” (outlined in blue).  Then, he had to fill in a combination of the 8 boxes that would then add up to 73 (64 + 8 + 1). He proceeded to do this until the entire message was filled in.

And then he ran into some trouble.

He noticed that the remainder of the QR code required some pretty complex mathematics in order to fill in the “error corrections,” something I knew he wasn’t ready for, and quite frankly, something I wasn’t prepared to teach.  But one of the values of my school, AltSchool, is leveraging the world around us, including experts, to help us learn the new things. So, in order to finish this, I called upon one of our incredible AltSchool engineers to help him get the error corrections into his QR code.

The ending result?  A working QR code, a sense of accomplishment, and a lifelong lesson about persistence, grit, failure, critical thinking, teamwork, leveraging others’ expertise, and the never-ending desire to pursue challenge in the interest of bettering ourselves, and of course, learning.

Be sure to scan the code.  It’s humbling how much work went into that teeny tiny message.

This was originally posted on InspirED

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Topics: School, Classroom Stories

How teaching is evolving in the 21st century

Posted by The AltSchool Team

Jan 5, 2016 10:39:31 AM

Preparing children for the 21st century starts with breaking the factory model for teaching. At AltSchool, that means giving teachers the freedom to personalize for their students and class, empowering them through technology to spend more quality time with each student, and fostering their continual improvement as educators.

With over 5,000 applications for 80 teaching positions, we are lucky to have some of the best educators. Watch this video to meet our educators and see how we support them to be their best. 

 

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Topics: School

A Parent's Perspective: Why My Daughter Loves School

Posted by The AltSchool Team

Dec 23, 2015 10:02:52 AM

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We had a chance to chat with Sara, whose daughter is a 2nd grader
in the lower school program at AltSchool Brooklyn Heights. Thank you, Sara, for sharing your story!

What has your experience been like at AltSchool?
My daughter loves school. She’s happy, inquisitive, and can’t wait to go to school in the morning. She used to be exhausted at the end of the day. And I’m a teacher, it’s hard not to feel exhausted after school! There isn’t a time that I’ve visited AltSchool where everyone isn’t happy to be there. I love the energy and enthusiasm of the teachers, and I can see that in my daughter.

The social-emotional support has helped her as well. Before we would spend so much time on homework, because she didn’t want anything to be wrong. She didn’t want to write because she didn’t want something to be spelled wrong or her handwriting to be imperfect. Now she feels the support of her teachers and she doesn’t worry about mistakes. She even walks around with a journal and pencil and wants to write down everything! She feels comfortable accepting failures, yet she knows there are high expectations of her.

What were you looking for in a school?
I was looking for an individualized education. Before AltSchool, my daughter tested into the Gifted and Talented program in New York City. We were fortunate that she was placed in one of the best schools in the city with high student performance. I had hoped she would have an individualized education, but that wasn’t our experience. It just wasn’t the right fit; my daughter wasn’t happy.

Although she had high test scores that placed her into the Gifted and Talented program, she wasn’t thriving academically in school. I kept on asking myself: as a bright and intelligent girl, why isn’t my daughter flourishing? She wasn’t seen for what her potential is.

I don’t want school to taint her love for learning. I want her to have a school experience that allows her to explore herself and her own interests.

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How has she grown academically?

I’ve seen a huge amount of growth. She woke up to a whole new way of thinking, applying her knowledge, and sharing information. I’ve seen her critical thinking skills develop as well as the way she solves problems.

Through the project-based learning, she’s learned a lot about the process of asking questions, finding information, and seeing it through. At the high school level, where I teach, it’s hard for students to make the connection between content areas. At AltSchool, looking for connections is the scaffolding of her education.

How would you describe AltSchool’s use of technology in the classroom?
Because of the technology at AltSchool, she’s getting feedback immediately from teachers. She can learn how to correct a mistake quickly, and assessments don’t feel as permanent.

And yes, I want my daughter to do well in school now, but I want her to do well in life. There are things that traditional schools and I can’t provide in order to prepare her for work situations. I’m currently taking a course on Google Docs. I don’t know anything about it, but my 7 year old can explain it to me now!

How would you describe the teachers?

I want to hug her teachers every day! They are energetic and consistent. Every kid gets the same amount of individual attention and love. They are creative and inspired by the kids, and in turn they show their students an enthusiasm for learning. I’m so proud to be a parent at this school!

What’s one word you would use to describe AltSchool?

There are many words! Family. Home. Inspirational. I am inspired as a mom and also as an educator. When I pick her up, I watch the teachers and see how happy the students are — it makes me want to be a better teacher.”

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Topics: School, Classroom Stories, Parents

A Parent’s Perspective: Helping my son grow his confidence

Posted by The AltSchool Team

Dec 21, 2015 12:00:06 PM

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One of our parents, Sharon, shares how her 6-year old son has grown socially and emotionally, thanks to a personalized approach. Here is their story:

What have your overall experiences been like at AltSchool?

AltSchool has changed our lives. Before AltSchool, my son wouldn’t participate in a group, rarely interacted with peers, and felt bad about himself. Now he’s become a child whose loves life, his confidence is growing and he shows great compassion for others. He’s happy every single day and has lots of friends. When I come home from work, he cannot wait to tell me what happened. His face lights up when he talks about school.

Why do you think he’s changed so much?

Without a doubt, it’s due to his teachers and the personalized approach at AltSchool. The first few weeks he struggled while adjusting to the new environment. When the class went to PE, he removed himself from the group and didn’t want to participate. His teachers partnered with me to understand why. They sent me updates over Stream daily with what they tried and what worked until they found a way to help him.

He was picked on at preschool and he is acutely aware if people are judging him. With this knowledge, they worked hard to get him to realize that there’s no judgment and that he is part of the community where everyone is accepted. If he brings something to their attention, they thank him for sharing then show him that they are doing something about it. He is now interacting just as much as the other children. This is just one example of how much they individualize and care for each child. They dug and probed to understand why he didn’t want to participate and then did whatever they could to make him feel safe and valued.

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It sounds like he’s had a lot of social-emotional growth.

Yes! I’ve also seen his empathy develop for other children. Before, he didn’t like playing with younger kids because they can be unpredictable. Now when we go to a playground, if a younger child falls over he will help pick them up and say, “that’s a really good attempt for a 2-year old!” To see him re-assure a younger child is transformational.

I also notice his growth when I try to help him with things. For example, I tried helping him with a project, and when I didn’t do it right he said, “It’s OK Mom, you tried your best!” When I say, “I don’t know”, he’ll remind me that “I don’t know YET”.  

He’s also becoming more comfortable with uncertainty. He has gained the confidence to be okay with not knowing something and not getting things perfect the first time. He’s grasping the concept of “any failure is a learning to redesign or try a different approach.”

You mentioned the Parent Stream app. How do you use it?

I look at Stream every day, and I use that as a conversation starter with my son. I’ll say, “Oh, I saw your teacher post something about jellyfish!” And then he’ll talk about what he learned about jellyfish. He’s proud of his efforts, and they celebrate them in class. They celebrate each child’s progress in what each child is working on. Stream helps me connect with those successes he has in class.

How would you describe AltSchool’s use of technology?

He has a tablet, but the technology is not very prominent overall. He’ll talk about the science experiments he did or how many bugs they collected in the park. He never talks about the technology. Instead he’ll say, “I did this really cool project, and I took a picture of it using my tablet.”

How would you describe the teachers?

I don’t think I have ever met a more dedicated group of teachers. They partnered with me to find out what was going on and found a way to help him. They are 100% solutions-focused and really believed in him when he didn’t believe in himself. They are just incredible!

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Topics: School, Dogpatch Classroom, Parents

What makes AltSchool different?

Posted by Dan Rosenthal, Head of Bay Area Admissions

Dec 2, 2015 10:10:34 AM

Choosing a school is an important and often emotional decision. You want what’s best for your family and to make the “right” choice for your children’s futures.

smiling-altschool-studentWith admissions season in full swing, I’ve had the opportunity to meet incredible parents who are in the process of making this difficult choice. My goal is to enable families to confidently answer the question on all of their minds: Will this school be a great fit for my child and my family?

My advice? Focus on what’s unique and make sure that resonates with you.

There are many excellent schools and they tend to use similar sounding concepts to explain their approaches to education. High-quality schools tend to do a lot of the same things well. When you visit a school, ask what makes that school different and listen carefully to the answer. Does the response excite you? Does it speak to something fundamental about the education you envision for your child? Perhaps most importantly, what evidence can you find that the differences are real?

So what makes AltSchool unique? There are many things, but these three set us apart from other schools:

  • Exceptional educators who want to create the next model for education  
  • A deeply personalized experience for children and families, designed from the ground up
  • A relentless focus on improving the entire school experience

1. Exceptional educators who want to create the next model for education

 exceptional-altschool-educators-jumping

This is the reason I joined AltSchool — I had never seen a school or school system so effectively attract and retain the highest quality educators. Our 21st century work environment attracts a different caliber of educator— one who is excited to improve their practice and improve the field of education as a whole.

We receive an enormous number of applications for each teaching position: over 3,000 teachers applied for 40 positions last year. Take a look at this infographic to learn more about where our teachers come from and view this video to meet the team. Above all, their passion is tangible. They ignite curiosity and wonder in children by engaging their talents and tuning into their individual needs.

Once we hire the best educators in the country, we empower them. Here’s how we do it:

  • Let teachers run our schools: The only people who work at our school sites are educators. In addition to classroom teachers, there is a Head of School, who is also a teacher. The rest of our organization — teacher support, operations, designers, and engineers — all support educator needs so they can focus on their students.
  • Ask how we can make things better: We care about our educators’ happiness. We survey educators every month to identify ways to improve their experiences and effectiveness, from work/life balance to development of our classroom technology tools.
  • Encourage and enable professional development: Teachers want to be students too. Each educator receives a generous  stipend to attend conferences and training programs around the globe.
  • Create tools to help educators spend more time teaching: Our technology tools superpower our educators so that they can get curate personalized curricula and assess the progress of each child. These tools also reduce a teacher’s administrative work so they can focus on teaching.

 

2. A deeply personalized experience for children and families, designed from the ground up

altschool-educator-and-student

Each child is different. And yet, the structural limitation of traditional schools forces them to treat children as if they were all the same.

At AltSchool we like to say that “there’s no such thing as a “3rd grader.” An 8-year old may read at a 2nd grade level, do math at a 4th grade level, and possess the social-emotional skills of a 3rd grader. We believe that a child’s education should reflect their individuality, challenging them at the right level in each academic area, as well as kindling their unique passions. Our mixed-age classrooms also support each child to progress at his or her own pace.

The combination of incredible teachers and technology to personalize learning is powerful. Our skilled educators come to know each individual child’s interests and learning approaches, and use our tools to develop a curriculum unique to them. The result is that children are deeply engaged in their own learning — as they are challenged at just the right level and can explore their passions in meaningful ways.

School should not be a one size fits all for families either. We partner with parents on everything from drop-off and pick-up times to communication with educators to vacation schedules.

3. The relentless focus on improving the entire school experience

curious-altschool-student

AltSchool is designed to continually improve. We live by feedback — from students, parents, and teachers. And then we take action on that feedback to improve. Many of the technology tools we’ve built for students and families stemmed directly from such feedback.

We apply what we learn in a given classroom (or from an individual parent, student or teacher) to our tools and processes that impact all classrooms. Improvements made in one classroom can benefit our entire network of schools. In this way, we get better as we grow.

AltSchool does not take a static approach to education. Instead, we view ourselves as an ecosystem (parents, students, teachers, employees) focused on improving education everyday. And we are honored that our approach has been recognized as one of the most innovative in the world.

Applying to AltSchool

If our approach resonates with you, I encourage you to apply.

Apply to AltSchool

You can also reach me directly at dan.rosenthal@altschool.com (Bay Area) or our Head of New York Admissions at zubin.canteenwalla@altschool.com.

 

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Topics: Admissions