AltSchool Hub

A Look Inside AltSchool Fort Mason

Posted by Katie Gibbons

Mar 17, 2016 3:12:56 PM

I recently asked one of our 11-year old students what he likes most about AltSchool. After a long pause, he answered, “When I walked in on my first day of school, I just felt free. I feel that I have the freedom to study what I want and how I want.” This same student is now a 5th grader who is studying 8th and 9th grade math, and has a burgeoning interest in quantum mechanics.

School should be a place where students are their best selves. At AltSchool Fort Mason, our community of teachers work hard to create an agile learning environment that supports the individuality of each student.

I invite you to take a virtual tour of our school and see this environment for yourself. 


Educating the whole child: AltSchool’s “fight song”

Feelings like “I can’t do this,” or “I’m just not good at math,” can impact the way kids view themselves and their work. It even affects their academic and later, work performance. That’s why we focus on helping students develop healthy self-talk and growth mindsets. Students develop social-emotional skills like grit and resilience through every academic activity, whether that’s a challenging math assignment or a project that involves multiple steps. To inspire healthy mindsets, our teachers wrote our own school fight song. But instead of focusing on defeating our sports rivals, it’s a song that fosters inner strength, singing along with failure, and persevering through challenges.  


A personalized periodic table of elements
One of our middle schoolers chose to build a model of uranium. She chose this element because, “I wanted a challenge, and I find the concept of decay in radioactive elements fascinating.”

This year our middle school class studied the periodic table with a personalized twist. To learn about the anatomy of an atom, each student chose an element that interested them most. They then researched it, identifying who discovered it and when, as well as the scientific implications of that discovery. After writing a report, they built a 3-D model of their own element, which now hang from the ceiling. The process was interdisciplinary— involving research, synthesis, writing, and 3-D modeling.

Wolves in our town? A political and environmental debate
Our Upper Elementary students created a fictional town called Howlerville to learn about wolf populations, local government, and ecosystems. After weeks of research, the class held a heated city council meeting where students played the parts of different stakeholders, from hunters associations to environmentalists to the Department of Tourism. The simulation was a culmination of a month-long project on the study of wolves in Yellowstone, where students interviewed experts from the National Park Service and researched wildlife ecosystems in the U.S.

On the day of the council meeting, the students took their roles seriously and they listened to everyone’s arguments (in front on an audience that included their parents). Together, they came up with a management plan that took each perspective into consideration. Through the process, students developed empathy, learned about different perspectives, and realized sometimes there aren’t right and wrong answers — just solutions and compromises.


Our own community garden
Our Lower Elementary students are studying food — where it is grown and how it arrives to us. We explored this topic through multiple activities, from going on a field trip to Safeway to see their storage systems, to building prototypes of food containers. The class now has their own community garden, where students are removing weed and crabgrass, reframing the plot, adding organic soil, and planting their own garden. This feeds into our hands-on study of biology, plant life, and edible gardening.


Outdoor exploration and physical education
With the Golden Gate Bridge as our backdrop, we have amazing outdoor spaces to explore in Fort Mason. Our students get outside every day to to explore the neighborhood, move their bodies, and develop team sport skills. We use the beautiful Marina Triangle, Fort Mason Green, and Moscone Field as our playground.

Community meeting every Friday
As educators, we believe the students of all grades at Fort Mason can and should learn from each other. We foster inter-class connections and collaborations. Older students mentor younger ones through reading groups or even teaching opportunities, which empower them to demonstrate what they know.

To further cultivate our community, every Friday we come together as a school for a site meeting, where we discuss school events and updates. Students take ownership over their community and bring their ideas, passions, and creativity to form the environment around them.

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Topics: Fort Mason, Virtual Tours

A Look Inside AltSchool Dogpatch

Posted by Annette Bauer

Mar 17, 2016 3:12:19 PM

Imagine a place where joy and passion flow through every day, where children can safely explore and their interests are lovingly nurtured. Imagine a place where children’s voices are heard and they learn to articulate and own their opinions and feelings. Imagine a place where parents are true partners in their child’s learning journey.

Welcome to AltSchool Dogpatch!

We’re a multi-cultural, multi-lingual, and creative bunch here at Dogpatch. Dogpatch is split across two locations, right around the corner from each other. We work together to build a strong, unified community. With our Spanish Immersion program, our Dogpatch community regularly celebrates the diverse cultures of the world. We’re also artists, scientists, tinkerers, mathematicians, explorers, and so much more.

I invite you to tour our enriching classrooms at Dogpatch, and below are highlights as you visit our space.

Dogpatch 1: Virtual Tour

Dogpatch 2: Virtual Tour


An immersive language environment: Spanish
¡Bienvenidos a nuestra clase de español!

As you walk around Dogpatch 1, you’ll see posters, books, and the daily schedule all in Spanish. That’s because 90% of the day is in Spanish, while 10% is in English. We create a rich, immersive environment that’s not just about teaching isolated vocabulary. Through hands-on projects, children connect Spanish vocabulary to its real world application. In our school, we’re not learning Spanish, we’re learning in Spanish.

Personalizing through our space
We adapt to the needs of our students in so many ways — one of which is through our class structure. The environment is flexible, and we can move the interior design, modular tables, and sections however we need to better suit our students. Similarly, students can use the varied spaces around them in line with their learning styles, whether that’s standing, sitting in a bean bag, working on the ground, independently or in a group.


The neighborhood is our playground
We get outside every day and experience what our neighborhood and city have to offer. Our local parks are amazing environments because students can use their imagination in so many ways. They look for snails, they create games, they move rocks, they build things — they can be themselves and be creative. Students also exercise their imaginations and connect with the world around them.

Projects that spark children’s innate curiosity
Inspired by the Reggio philosophy, our curriculum is generated by the children, and we teachers honor their interests. For example, while students were in the park one day, our teacher noticed how passionate they were about the mushrooms they found. So, we got books on mushrooms from the library; a parent came in to cook her famous mushroom soup, and a microbiologist visited the class to teach our students about the world of fungi. Students researched mushrooms, drew and labeled them to practice their fine motor skills, and even created fairytales within mushroom lands, flexing their storytelling muscles.

Part of the national standards for kindergarten and first grade include core skills involving reading, writing, research, fine motor skills, and drawing. By funneling these core skills through their interests, students are more engaged with the material because it’s relevant and fun. And also, students feel heard and empowered to speak their minds about their interests.


Expressing oneself through the arts
Students connect art and social-emotional learning through art projects throughout each week. Recently, we reflected on artists who communicate their feelings and ideas through different techniques. They started by learning about Andy Goldsworthy and how he used found objects in nature to create his art. We also learned about Henri Matisse and how he 'drew with scissors' through cutouts. Students learn to articulate their feelings through artistic techniques like composition, color, line, sculpture and more. Once they create their art, they also learn to reflect and describe the elements, which fine-tunes their analytical skills.


Real-world STEM experiences
Subjects come to life when they’re hands-on. This year, we used paint to learn about color spectra. We’ve built city models with legos and through maker projects. By visiting the marine mammal center and the beach, students learned about ecosystems and lifecycles. We studied reversible changes in matter through science experiments with water, balloons, and ice. Our goal is to inspire awe and curiosity. Through such enriching experiences, students can connect core academic skills with the real world around them.  

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Topics: Dogpatch Classroom, Virtual Tours

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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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


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.

zones of regulation

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. 


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.


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.


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

A Look Inside AltSchool Brooklyn Heights

Posted by Mara Pauker

Feb 5, 2016 1:49:00 PM


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:



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.


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. 


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.


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


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