AltSchool Hub

In Practice: Whole-Child, Personalized Learning

Posted by The AltSchool Team

Nov 17, 2016 11:01:36 AM

At AltSchool, everything we do is geared toward a whole-child, personalized approach to education that fosters student agency. To facilitate this, our educators work to develop all parts of a childnot just their academic abilitiesand to create experiences that are tailored to the specific learning abilities, needs, preferences, and interests of individual students. Our ultimate goal is to empower students as creative, resilient, inquiry-driven citizens who are able to self-advocate, develop strong relationships, navigate complex information, and drive their own learning in diverse environments beyond the classroom.

Jaqi Garcia, an educator at AltSchool East Village, shares what her class of fourth through sixth graders is working on now.

Taking a Cue from our Community
Our class started a project in October on immigration histories of Manhattan, with a focus on non-dominant perspectives. We’re situated in the Lower East Side, which has a rich history of immigrant communities, so it’s relevant for students to understand the space they inhabit. Understanding the historical context of the area and how it affects where we live today is an important concept for students to grasp. And as we began the new school year, it also provided a great opportunity to orient students to our surrounding community.


A Whole-Child Approach to Immigration Curriculum
As an educator, I’m always looking for ways to focus on the whole child by integrating non-academic and academic skills into projects. Global citizenship, cultural competency, and perspective taking are three non-academic skills that were key to this project, because learning about different cultures helps students develop a number of essential life skills. On the academic side, students learned about history, ecology and English language arts by investigating lesser-known histories of people who shaped the land, studied early ecology and resources of the landscape, and wrote essays comparing and contrasting topics ranging from immigration through Ellis Island to the underground railroad.

Another goal was to personalize the learning experience for students. The essential question we posed in relationship to this project was, “How does distribution of power effect the lives of immigrants?” We learned that 40% of New York City’s population is foreign born. I sought to help students develop their own uniquely personal perspectives as they examined their familial geographical histories in order to understand how their own lives and the lives of others have been effected over time.

Two students in the class are foreign-born, half the class has parents who are foreign-born, and the entire class has at least one grandparent who was foreign-born, so this project presented a valuable opportunity to make learning personally meaningful to each and every student as an individual. One student was particularly excited to explore his family history by writing about Cuban immigration to Manhattan!


What Happens When Learning Feels Relevant
Throughout this project, we will cover history, ecology, science, writing, perspective taking, critical thinking, compassion, ethics, and more. We’re currently working on map-making, where learning is personalized based on students’ interests. For example, some students are interested in mapping what Manhattan looked like in the 1600s, while others are creating graphic representations of their neighborhoods, comparing the past to present day. We’ve also explored the local community through field trips to theSchomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, Ellis Island, and the Tenement Museum. Students understand that immigration is a big part of what built New York City and our country, and they are able to relate conversations about current issues to what happened in the past.

I’m really impressed with the depth of knowledge that students are developing, how engaged they are, and how they’re able to understand the relevancy of historical events in today’s world. Students feel empowered by learning historical information or reading an article from the newspaper and being able to form an opinion on it. It’s also been interesting to see the roles students have taken on: One student asked to write an argument-based research essay and has taken on the role of a historian.

“I think it’s important to study the history because we are the next generation of people who can right the wrongs of our past, but we can’t do that if we don’t learn about them.” ---August, Grade 6, when asked why it was important to study the history of the African Burial Ground in New York


Establishing a School/Home Connection
Students really enjoyed their trip to the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, and have continued exploration with their families. A number of students have been moved to watch documentaries on the various topics we’ve discussed on their own time. Students have also asked their parents to take them to the library to check out more books on these subjects. As an educator, it’s incredibly rewarding to see students develop deep curiosity, seek out information independently, and drive their own learning outside of school.

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Topics: School, Learning in the Community, Classroom Stories, Project-Based Learning

A Sneak Peek at our Summer Maker Labs

Posted by Kristin Uhlemeyer

Jun 17, 2016 9:33:05 AM


I want my students to walk away from my classes with more questions than when they entered. My goal is to engage their curiosity, inspire exploration, and empower them with the skills and ability to find the answers on their own. Every student should leave the classroom excited to learn more and looking forward to the next school day.

Helping students to start building, tinkering, and creating gives them a chance to guide their own learning and be fully engaged with the subject matter. At the end of the day, Maker culture is motivated by curiosity and fun, making it the perfect model for shared student-led classroom experiences.

The Summer @ AltSchool Maker Labs are full of exciting projects, recycled and reused materials, Lego Robotics, Snap Circuits, drop cloths, and more. I am definitely not afraid to get a little dirty and create a few explosions. In the immortal words of Miss Frizzle from The Magic School Bus, “Take chances, make mistakes, get messy!”

Summer is the perfect opportunity to embrace the Maker mentality and the process over the product. I love that we can focus on one topic in depth and allow for extended, uninterrupted project time. I can give students more time to experiment and experience the glory of failure, which provides diving boards for new learning opportunities.

The curriculum is made up of a compilation of lessons from other teachers and inspirations from Stanford and the Exploratorium. I’ve tried these lessons with students and we continue to refine them (being a teacher is just like being a Maker!). AltSchool has provided amazing professional development opportunities which have greatly influenced me as an educator. These experiences have helped me define my ideas of the Maker philosophy and how it can translate to AltSchool’s summer curriculum.


Kristin Uhlemeyer is a full-time AltSchool educator who also develops the curriculum for Summer Maker Lab Sessions. This is her third year teaching Summer @ AltSchool. She previously taught summer programs at the Bay Area Discovery Museum and was a counselor for Camp Invention.

Interested in joining Kristin and the rest of our amazing educators this summer? Two-week summer sessions run from June 20-August 12 in San Francisco, Palo Alto, and Brooklyn. Learn more about our Maker Lab sessions including Robotics, Game Design, and Design Thinking.

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Topics: Meet the Team, Summer, Classroom Stories

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

Posted by Mary-Kate Murphy

Feb 22, 2016 2:07:47 PM


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:


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.


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.


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.


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

How to turn bored students into motivated learners

Posted by Jamie Gao

Feb 3, 2016 1:35:34 PM


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.


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.


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


“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.


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, 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.


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

A Parent's Perspective: Why My Daughter Loves School

Posted by The AltSchool Team

Dec 23, 2015 10:02:52 AM


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.


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

Watch: How we foster social and emotional growth at AltSchool

Posted by The AltSchool Team

Nov 25, 2015 10:00:00 AM


What happens when you value grit the same as long division? When you believe that forming and maintaining relationships is as important as reading comprehension?

Social and emotional learning is a core part of the student experience at AltSchool and is woven into everything we do, both academically and non-academically. We've outlined measurable learning objectives for life skills -- ranging from negotiating conflict to kindness to managing frustration -- so we can track and measure each student's progress.

Watch this 2 minute video to learn even more from our educators.


Apply Now

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Topics: School, Classroom Stories

Homer Meets High-Tech: Data Visualization and the Classics

Posted by James Earle

Nov 20, 2015 10:00:00 AM


How do you make a 3,000-year-old text relevant to young readers? As a middle school literature teacher, it's hard to keep the entire class excited and involved throughout a multi-week unit. It’s even harder when that text is, say,The Iliad. So I recently tried a new tactic.

Inspired by an approach that melded scientific study with literature and some interesting visualization for Homer’s Iliad from LitCharts and moebio, I proposed that we attempt a similar visualization. My class quickly jumped on board. After discussing a few ideas, we decided to track instances of rage in the epic. Rage, after all, is the first word of the 15,693-line text. So, every time one character became angry with another character, we took note -- over a two month period.

From teaching teamwork to incorporating real-world technologies, here are seven reasons why you should try visualization the next time you teach a classic.

1. An Inherently Interdisciplinary Process

If you're not familiar with data visualization, it's the presentation of data in graphical form. First the class made a hypothesis, such as, "The Achaeans yell at each other more than at the Trojans," or "Zeus is the angriest god." Then we designed a spreadsheet to organize our observations, making a note on the sheet each time a relevant incident occurred. Once the reading was complete, we analyzed the spreadsheet's data to test the validity of our original hypotheses. Students then wrote persuasive essays, drawing insights from those analytics and citing the logged data points as evidence.

Analyzing a piece of literature this way turns the work into a piece of robust data that can be understood quantitatively, in addition to allowing a qualitative reading. It invites students to consider literature through a scientific methodology and helps them to understand structures and patterns behind long narrative works.


2. Framing Study to Teach Agency

When students frame the study themselves (i.e. choosing to track the theme of anger), they have inherent buy-in. Plus, the act of choosing a theme is a lesson in itself. We debated other major themes, including sacrifices and prayers, or successes and failures. These conversations made us all think a little harder about what makes a central literary theme and how it may evolve throughout the entire text.

3. Data Management and Design Thinking

Once we decided on a theme, we then had to find a way to manage it. We held a design contest where each student had to design a spreadsheet to best capture the data over a two-month period. The contest had students think about user-friendly design. What information did we need to capture? How could it be organized?

4. Teamwork and Communal Analysis

For the duration of the project, we all shared one Google Spreadsheet where everyone had editing access. The class created a schedule that placed three students in charge of data entry, maintenance, and accuracy each week. This collaboration created its own arena for teachable moments surrounding teamwork and maintaining the integrity of a shared work product.

5. New insights: Friends or Frenemies?

Not only did this project unite the class around a shared activity, but in the process, my students actually shed new light on a 3,000-year-old text.

We learned that leaders like Agamemnon, Zeus, and Hector attract the most rage, and that allies inside the Trojan War prefer to yell at each other rather than at their enemies. With bullying and social relationships so volatile in middle school, it was enlightening for my students to gain insight about interpersonal relationships from an ancient text.

We also needed to debate whether or not Helen should be classified as an Achaean based on her place of birth, or a Trojan based on her current residence. This led to insights and meaningful discussions regarding identity and place. How much of who you are comes from your heritage versus current culture? In case you're wondering, after Book Three we all agreed that she was Achaean at heart.

6. Fact-Based Inquiry

Armed with these new insights, we were able to ask big questions:

  • What does it say about a culture that the leaders both rage and are raged at the most?
  • What does it say about war when enemies can be friends, and allies can hate each other?
  • What were Homer's intentions in addressing rage?

Armed with data, we could push forward interesting thesis statements that would be impossible without the evidence. For example, one student argued that this culture valued strength above other characteristics, like intelligence or spirituality; leaders needed to offer the most threats in order to maintain power.


7. It's Free!

All you need is an internet connection. In addition to Google Sheets (a free spreadsheet tool in Drive), there are free data visualization tools like RAWand that don't require any special training. In fact, my students found these resources on their own. So you can try this out in your classroom without having to purchase supplies or expensive software. For more information, you can also watch my video on the project:

(This article was originally posted on Edutopia.)


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Topics: Classroom Stories

Back-to-School-Night, Reimagined

Posted by Paul France

Sep 30, 2015 12:50:37 PM

(Originally posted on InspirED.)


Back-to-School Night has always been one of my favorite nights of the year. Everyone – educators, families, and students alike – are bright-eyed and excited for a new year. Parents buzz in, practically bursting with questions, admiring work on the walls, wanting to see more of what their child’s day actually is like. Ironically enough, on too many Back-to-School nights, parents leave with just the opposite. They don’t learn in the way that we want our children to learn. Instead, they sit, they listen, and they have little opportunity to actually interact with their child’s environment.

Fortunately, my team and I did something to change that last night.

Sure, we had 25 minutes of obligatory logistics. There are many things that parents need to know going into the school year, including communication norms and expectations, curriculum, and the general approach for the year. But this doesn’t have to be incredibly detailed or arduously long. Instead, it needs to be visually engaging, concise, and help parents to leave with a sense of confidence, excitement, and wonder about their child’s upcoming year in the classroom.


Our most exciting experience, though, was the part when the parents were actually able to step into the shoes of their children. Part of the AltSchool experience is the playlist – the set of activities that students are able to access on their own. In lower elementary, specifically, when starting the school year, this looks mostly like student-driven documentation, as students with their little fingers and developing minds, need a lot of guidance on how to simply turn the device on and take pictures. My team and I wanted to help provide this experience to parents first-hand, and so last night, we gave them the job of documenting their child’s work.


Each family opened up their child’s playlist, found the activity entitled “Explore Our Learning Space,” and proceeded to take pictures of student work and key areas of our classroom. Not only did this help families to construct their own mental model of our classroom, but it allowed them to see exactly what it’s like to be in their child’s shoes, to document their own work, and to learn in within the four walls of our classroom.

Even after the families were long gone from our classroom last night, a quiet energy still hung in the air, slowly dying with the twilight of the evening sky. Parents’ voices, bubbling with excitement as they left, still rang in my ears. And while I’m proud of our curriculum, our strong communication procedures, and exciting technology, I don’t think that’s why the families left so excited.

They left excited because they had context, they understood, and they could empathize with their child’s experience more than they ever possibly could before. With this new context, and with this reimagined Back-to-School Night, we set our classroom, our students, and our families up for an embodied experience – one that breaks down the barriers between home and school, one that increases common understanding of what learning should be, and one that helps them to understand their child and his or her experience, even better.

In my opinion, that’s what Back-to-School Night should feel like. And I’m proud to say… last night did.

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Topics: School, Classroom Stories, Parents

Watch: How we foster grit and growth mindset at AltSchool

Posted by Katie Gibbons

Sep 25, 2015 2:56:00 PM

To instill in our students the essential foundations of success, we kicked off the first school-wide meeting of the year with a discussion on grit, learning from failure, and practicing growth mindset.

To make the lesson stick in a fun way, we surprised the K-8 students with a song that will inspire them to sing along with failure and forge forward with their goals.

Watch to see the students' reactions and enjoy singing along with the lyrics!



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Topics: Videos, Classroom Stories