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

Post-Election Resources for Parents and Teachers

Posted by The AltSchool Team

Nov 9, 2016 4:17:53 PM

Voted Stickers.png

Like many schools around the nation, our students have been learning about voting and the political process over the past few months. Our teaching community has been focused on creating open and supportive environments for students to bring their questions and wonderings to light, as they explored the often divisive 2016 presidential election. Going into November, we knew that half of the country was going to be unhappy with the outcome. That’s why we believe students should have the appropriate framing and closure to the election cycle to support their understanding and continued role in shaping our country’s future.

Today, our educator team strived to arm students with age-appropriate knowledge and, when needed, coping strategies. As educators, and as parents, we wanted to share some of those tools and resources we’ve found to be helpful in our classrooms.

  • Teaching Tolerance, a project of the Southern Poverty Law Center, provides a wealth of resources to support the Election 2016 conversation and beyond.
  • Huffington Post’s What Do We Tell the Children? highlights three concrete ways to support our students: tell them we will protect them, we will honor the outcome, and we will guide and support them in becoming responsible members of our democratic society.
  • The Zinn Education Project offers middle and high school centered lessons on illuminating the complexity within our country’s history.
  • Teaching for Change provides teachers and parents with the tools to create schools where students learn to read, write and change the world. The site includes recommendations for early childhood anti-bias education, including articles as well as book lists for children and adults.

We are hopeful that these resources help bring children and adults closer together both as a community and a country.

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Topics: Learning in the Community, Parents, Community

San Francisco Homeless Project and Two Inspiring AltSchool Students

Posted by The AltSchool Team

Jun 29, 2016 11:02:50 AM


This week we’re witnessing an unprecedented collaboration of over 70 local news organizations coming together to highlight homelessness in the Bay Area. Starting today, you’ll see the topic take center stage, with everyone from KQED to the San Francisco Chronicle tackling the problem and discussing options.

AltSchool is proud to share some incredible work around homelessness by two Fort Mason middle school students. Inspired by the people and places they encounter within their own communities every day, Ethan and Gio began a many-months journey -- one that took them from the classroom, to a field-trip at Marc Roth’s The Learning Shelter program, and ultimately to a TEDx stage where they shared their vision for a “tiny home” prototype.


Ethan and Gio were so personally affected by the plight of homeless individuals around them, they chose the problem of homelessness in the city of San Francisco as the focus for their culminating “changemaker” project.

One day after school I was driving with my mother,” Ethan shared. “We went past a parking lot near 16th Street and the 101 and I noticed that there were a large number of tents under the bridge… about 30 tents in all.”

Something clicked, as he realized that unlike his family, those people wouldn’t have warm beds to sleep in that night. Gio had had similar experiences living in San Francisco and shared a passion to impact homelessness in a meaningful way. As they considered the idea, they came across a powerful interview with Ronald Davis, a Chicago man who reportedly died homeless in 2014.

“You lose all your humanity shaking a cup begging,” Davis said. “At the end of the day when people go home, and everybody get on the metro train and then I just feel so bad that I can’t be going home too.” His story hit home for Ethan and Gio. Ronald Davis’ story fueled their belief that society has a responsibility to provide basic needs, safety and job opportunities to every one of its people. It shaped the kind of changemaker they wanted to become, not just as students, but as human beings.

So, they teamed up and soon discovered work by Gregory Kloehn, an artist who builds mini homeless houses in Oakland. With the guidance of their teachers, they spent many months learning, interviewing, debating, and finally developing a unique split-level tiny home on wheels that can provide security and private living space. They unveiled their 3D-printed prototypes and shared more about their project on the TEDx Youth stage last month, which we invite you to view in full here.


We applaud Ethan and Gio. They embody what we are trying to teach at AltSchool: to practice empathy, identify passions, develop their voice, have accountability, and positively impact the lives of people in their community.

Read about the SF Homeless Project campaign, featuring more AltSchool middle school students, in today’s San Francisco Chronicle piece: "We can learn from kids and the empathy they have for San Francisco's homeless."

Changemakers: At AltSchool Fort Mason, the middle school class embarked on a year-long study of systems and were beginning a unit on “changemakers”; someone who can influence the evolution of today’s systems for a better future. Students were challenged to identify a system in need of change, research the problem, interview experts, and propose solutions by way of “Shark Tank” pitches, then create prototypes and work toward changing that system in a tangible way. The lesson combines interdisciplinary project-based learning, incorporating core subjects like math, social studies and writing, along with social-emotional skills like public speaking, teamwork, empathy, and more.

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Topics: School, Learning in the Community, Middle School, Community

Next Stop, Brooklyn

Posted by Max Ventilla

Nov 6, 2014 11:49:54 AM


View of New York City from the Greenway, Brooklyn Heights.

It’s official -- AltSchool is expanding beyond the Bay Area, and I am thrilled to announce that our next location will be in Brooklyn, NY.

A few questions have come up regarding this important step in AltSchool’s growth:

Why expand beyond the Bay Area?

With 4 locations around San Francisco, we are still new to the Bay Area, and we are excited to have built a community that will help us expand here. We continue to take advantage of all that the area has to offer us and our students, from incredible expert resources to local environments that foster AltSchool’s brand of interest driven, real-world learning.

Growing around San Francisco has demonstrated the value that an expanded network affords our community, which is why its time to go beyond the Bay area. I’ve spoken and written about the importance of scale at AltSchool and how growth will help us improve the education for all of our students. For many reasons, New York -- and more specifically, Brooklyn Heights (where we also keep our east coast AltSchool office), has become the logical next step.


Montague Street, Brooklyn Heights. AltSchool's newest location.

Why Brooklyn?

Anyone who lives around or who has spent time in Brooklyn knows about the active community there. In fact, there are many parallels that have been drawn between the communities in Brooklyn and San Francisco. Brooklyn families are interested in progressive education, in diversity, and in experiential learning.  Brooklyn itself is an incredibly rich environment; full of the types of local experts, resources and cultural experiences that have enabled AltSchool success in the Bay Area.

It should also be known that, when we asked our extended community where we should consider expanding outside of the Bay Area, Brooklyn raised their hand the highest. AltSchool is always looking for interested founding families to help us build new micro-schools and we will continue to strongly consider initial interest as we expand to more geographies.

What will AltSchool bring to Brooklyn?

The families we’ve spoken to in Brooklyn tell us they are ready for the kind of personalized, rigorous learning plans we are now known for in San Francisco.  We’ve already seen their interest in our whole child education, which incorporates aspects of social and emotional learning into every student activity and experience. They also tell us that demand far outweighs supply when it comes to quality K-8 schools in the area.

More broadly, AltSchool is excited to bring -- to Brooklyn and to all future locations -- the promise of the micro-school network experience. From a growing group of outstanding teachers that can tap each other for expertise, to centralized internal functions that do not need to be “dealt with” on an individual school level, there are so many benefits that a growing AltSchool network affords.  Beginning next fall, we can't wait to have Brooklyn part of that extended community of students, parents, and educators.

I invite you to take a look at our admissions calendar and submit an application to join us.


Mara Pauker, Head of AltSchool Brooklyn Heights.

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Topics: Learning in the Community, Locations

Going out into the real world...for real

Posted by Paul France

Sep 11, 2014 11:19:00 AM

PotteryBarn2School should be a part of the community, and community should be a part of the school. In fact, the whole purpose for education has arisen completely out of a need from the greater community. In order for a community to survive and thrive, educating its future citizens is of utmost importance.

But somehow, education has turned into a segmented good, something mass manufactured and prepackaged, only to be delivered within the confines of the four walls of a school.  So how does one solve this problem?  How does one make it so this reality is no longer so?

You go out into the community.  That’s how. And this doesn’t sound as impossible as one would think.  In fact, it’s way easier.

Yesterday, my class went to Pottery Barn.  Yup, you heard it right, the Pottery Barn.  Best and most free field trip ever.  Why you ask? To be inspired by the beautiful furniture and home decorations so that we may design our classroom.  Students bustled around with iPads and notebooks, taking pictures and sketching images of cabinets, chairs, and desks, bursting with ideas for classroom items.  We looked for shapes, uses for practical objects like lamps and pottery, and of course, beauty, so that our classroom may be a structured, practical, and beautiful place. Check out some of their sketches below.



Teachers fantasize over making learning truly real world, but they tend to leave out the most important component of the real world, and that is, well, the real world.  In fact, the word “real world” has become so much of a buzzword that it’s become all too easy to forget what the term actually means.  But when it comes down to actually honoring the idea of “real world experiences,” we cannot expect to fulfill this manifest within the four walls of the classroom.

The ability to learn resides within a student’s ability to see himself or herself within the curriculum.  Moreover, the manifest of becoming a lifelong learner can only truly be achieved if a child can see himself or herself in the greater world.  By going out into the community, and by giving students truly “real-world” experiences, we can help to empower kids to be resourceful and use the community as a place of constant growth and learning.

And to think… it’s as simple as going to Pottery Barn.

Paul France is one of our educators and featured bloggers on the AltSchool Hub. This article was originally published on his blog, InspirED


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Topics: Learning in the Community, Classroom Stories, InspirED with Paul France

Top 10 Places to Take Kids in SF

Posted by The AltSchool Team

Jun 30, 2014 4:59:00 PM


What are the best places in the city to inspire, inform, and excite children?

This past school year, our students ventured all over the Bay Area to learn about science, history, ecology, and the arts. 

Based on their experiences, here are recommendations from our teachers on the best places to take kids for play and purpose. 

Top Places to Take Children in San Francisco

Asian Art Museum: The Asian Art Museum is full of treasures that fascinate children. Make sure to take advantage of the storytelling tours. “Our fantastic, spirited docent told stories of Hindu deities while pointing out their depictions in art. The kids loved it and they learned a ton!” says Sophia, one of our upper elementary teachers.

Mission Science Workshop: “This is an amazing facility with a million hands-on things to check out!” says Sophia. Our students visited MSW twice this year. Check out their amazing programs.

Flora Grubb: You may not immediately think of a gardening shop as a place to explore with your child, but Flora Grubb (owner) has an incredibly imaginative space. We took our younger students here to find plants a flower box project.

Explore14Angel Island: Angel Island is a state park where families can enjoy hiking and playing on the beach. “The ferry ride to the island is beautiful and the kids love exploring the boat,” says Carolyn, our Director of Education. Older children (age 7 and above) will also enjoy the historical exhibit that provides a real-world perspective of what it was like to be a Chinese immigrant to the U.S. at the turn of the century.

Chinatown Alleyway Tour: This tour is a phenomenal way to get up close and personal with one of San Francisco’s most colorful neighborhoods. The tour guides are young people who are experts on Chinatown history. The tour also includes a stop at the fortune cookie factory, where you can have your own fortune added to a cookie for one dollar.

Fort Point: Our upper elementary students visited Fort Point during our first week of school. “The children loved exploring the Civil War era fort. Be sure to climb to the top and sit directly under the Golden Gate Bridge,” says Carolyn.

YBCenter4Japanese Tea GardensNestled in between the De Young and California Academy, the Japanese Tea Gardens are a hidden gem of Golden Gate Park. They are one of the most beautifully landscaped gardens around and offer a quiet respite where even the most active children can find some tranquility. Bring your sketch books and have fun observing and drawing flowers.

ExploratoriumThe Exploratorium is perfect for inspiring curiosity and wonder. Every exhibit is hands-on and makes physics and biology come alive for kids. Located on the pier, the Exploratorium also offers breathtaking views of the Bay and is an ideal spot for an outdoor lunch.

Presidio/Crissy Fields and Golden Gate National Parks ConservancyEngaging and passionate educators coupled with incredible programming makes the Golden Gate National Parks Conservancy an amazing place to learn about the Bay's natural environment. Connecting with nature in an urban environment can be difficult, but with the Conservancy, families can volunteer together to care for our parks. They can also take interpretive walks along the many hiking trails to learn more about native plants and animals. Picnic on the beach afterward to have an unplugged day of fun.  

Children's Creativity MuseumThe museum, a block from our Yerba Buena school, offers a perfect combination of technology and creativity for elementary children. Furthermore, outside of the museum is one of the best playgrounds in the city. You would never know it is there until you plan visit to Yerba Buena or the CCM.

We will continue to add to this list as we make more discoveries!

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Topics: Learning in the Community, Parenting Tips and Workshops

AltSchool Teachers Share: 5 Tips to Make the Most of Day Trips this Summer

Posted by The AltSchool Team

Jun 2, 2014 5:11:00 PM

DayTrip1With summer approaching, many families will venture to zoos, parks, and museums for fun experiences in the city with their children.

Taking your kids out to explore the city is all about helping them make connections to the real-world. These are valuable opportunities to ignite children’s passions and curiosities, as well as increase cognitive and critical thinking skills in children.

So how can you make the most out of day trips with the kids?

We recently asked AltSchool teachers for tips on how to create high-quality experiences that help children grow in new ways.

Here's what they had to share: 

1. Choose an experience that is connected to your child’s interests: Many of the trips we took this past year emerged from our students’ curiosities and passions. For example, one of our younger students developed a passion for boats -  which then led to a curiosity of how food travels in boats. The desire to learn more about how food is distributed led to a trip to Good Eggs, a sustainable food delivery service located one block away from the Dogpatch classroom. Keep in mind, a day trip does not necessarily mean visiting a museum or science center. Sometimes even a trip to a grocery store or food delivery service can be highly educational for children.

2. Preview the Experience:  If possible, map out the visit. Call ahead to find out what types of learning opportunities are available. Scope out the schedule to see what workshops or activities might benefit your child most. Then, preview the experience with your child. In a trip to the Diego Rivera Museum, our teachers pulled up one of Rivera’s murals online and engaged the children in a discussion about its meaning. When children witnessed the mural in person, they experienced a strong, meaningful connection to the painting’s characters and emotions.

3. Follow Your Child’s Lead and Ask Questions:  Let your child enjoy the experience at their own pace and in their own way. Be ready to discuss any questions that arise. If you don’t know the answer, write the questions down or record your child’s questions as a voice memo on your phone. Returning to these questions later is a great way to continue the learning experience at home.

4. Play Games: Games engage children and increase their motivation to learn. So why not make a game of your experience? For a lesson on early American history, our K-1 class ventured to the Ferry Building Farmer’s Market to go on a scavenger hunt to find food items served at the first Thanksgiving meal. Children took photos of each item with their iPad camera and compared notes with each other afterwards. For more ideas, the Smithsonian has a list of learning games suitable for a museum visit.

5. Continue the Learning at Home: Consider ways for your child to recreate the experience at home - whether through an art project, science experiment, or media project. Return to the questions your child brought up and investigate answers together. Post-trip discussions often lead to the planning of your next trip to continue exploring the treasures of the city together.

In our second installment of this series, we provide teachers’ recommendations on the top places to take children to learn in the city. 

Stay tuned!


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Topics: Learning in the Community, Parenting Tips and Workshops

New Video: A day in the life of an AltSchool student

Posted by The AltSchool Team

Dec 9, 2013 5:19:00 PM

You already know that AltSchool approaches school differently, but what does that mean for our students?

In this new video, we'll take you into our pilot classroom to show you a typical day in the life of an AltSchool student. You’ll get a feel for how we integrate personalized learning plans, hands-on projects, creativity, play and digital learning tools into our daily activities.

You’ll also see shots from our trip to Mission Science (described by one boy as, "The best day of my entire school life!").

Check it out below: 

Welcome to AltSchool from AltSchool on Vimeo.



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Topics: Learning in the Community, Dogpatch Classroom, Videos

What food was actually served at the first Thanksgiving?

Posted by The AltSchool Team

Nov 27, 2013 11:38:00 AM

photo-5This week, our K-1 students learned that the Wampanaog tribe in Plymouth served the pilgrims much more than turkey and pumpkin.

So the class jumped on the MUNI to hit the farmer’s market at the San Francisco Ferry Building. There they scavenged for some lesser-known staples from that historic first Thanksgiving meal: eel, lobster, and cod, along with corn, radishes, mushrooms, lettuce, plums, and grapes.


Here are some photos from their adventure.

Students wait for the MUNI train


Found the mushrooms!


Enjoying the view of the SF harbor




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Topics: Learning in the Community, Dogpatch Classroom

Why Curiosity is Key to Your Child’s Learning

Posted by The AltSchool Team

Nov 18, 2013 10:59:00 AM


Curiosity and interest-driven learning are more than just educational buzzwords here at AltSchool. They are at the core of what we do.

We’d like to explain why and how we use curiosity as a starting point for learning. We’ll also give you a few tips on how you can spark your child’s curiosity at home.

Why is curiosity important?

Research highlighted on Mind/Shift shows that when students are interested in what they are learning, they:

  • recall information better,

  • persist longer in learning tasks, and

  • put forth more effort.

Not surprisingly, students are especially drawn to topics related to their everyday lives. In a recent study of middle school and high school students introduced to science topics, researchers found that students demonstrated far more interest in learning about real world objects (e.g. “How can a gecko walk upside down on the ceiling”) or novel topics (e.g. “Why does a CD have so many colors on the back?), than about ideas presented in the abstract (e.g. “How do we know atoms exist?”).  

So how do we spark curiosity at AltSchool?

“We observe and listen to children. Learning is sparked by conversations. Instead of just answering our students' questions, we prompt students to answer the question themselves,” says Sarah Rothenberg, an AltSchool teacher.

In Sarah’s class, for example, there is a 5-year-old student who loves boats. Sarah watches him go to the wooden block area every day to build boats.

One morning she asked him, “Where is the boat going?”

The child responded, “It is going to get food.”

“What kind of food?” Sarah asked.

“Coconuts,” the student replied.

“Hmmm. Where do coconuts come from?” Sarah asked as she pulled out a map of the world.

At this point, other students joined the conversation. The students discussed not only where coconuts originate, but where all the other food they eat comes from. A lesson on geography, agriculture, and transportation emerged that engaged the entire class.

Recognizing this interest in food production, the AltSchool team arranged for the children to visit Good Eggs, a local, sustainable food delivery service located one block away from the DogPatch classroom. Students learned firsthand about where fruits like jujubes come from. They also learned how a food distribution company operates. They helped fill orders for the day and calculated totals for the orders.

One student asked, “Can we get a delivery from Good Eggs for our classroom snacks?”

Since the trip, the class now orders a weekly Good Eggs food delivery. Sarah projects the Good Eggs site on the classroom wall and the children decide what food to order, identify what region their food comes from, and calculate the total cost of their order.  

“As you can see, it’s a snowball process of letting the child guide you as much as you are guiding them,” Sarah says.


How can you spark curiosity in your child?

Prof. Paul Silvia, author of Exploring the Psychology of Interest, suggests starting a “virtuous cycle” to spark your child’s curiosity.

Here are three ways to start a virtuous cycle with your child:

1- Start with your child’s interests: The virtuous cycle starts with understanding your child’s interests. In the previous example, a whole lesson emerged from a student’s fascination with boats. Find out what fascinates your child and build from there.

2- Ask Curiosity Questions: New information creates a curiosity gap. When children come across new ideas that don’t fit with what they already know, they are motivated to fill in this gap. They ask more questions...which leads to more learning. When Sarah asked about where food comes from, she opened up a whole new field of inquiry for her students. Ask your child curiosity questions that connect their interests to unexplored territory.  

3 - Help Your Child Recognize the Value of Learning: When children see the utility of information, they care more about the topic at hand. Sarah helped her students connect global food sources to local food sources. The lesson is continuously reinforced when students see the value of the knowledge they gained in the food they eat every week. Connect new knowledge to everyday applications to increase interest and curiosity.

Let’s Nurture Curious Children Together

Curiosity and wonder are precious components of a child’s education. We believe in doing everything we can to nurture curiosity, not stifle it. When teachers and parents work together to foster curiosity in children, we create a learning environment that helps children be curious for life. 

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Topics: AltSchool Innovation, Learning in the Community, Dogpatch Classroom