The World’s Most Innovative Schools: School of One, New York City (as told by Ta-Nehisi Coates)

April 6, 2011 at 8:00 am Leave a comment

by Alec Patton

This week’s Most Innovative School will be described not by me, but by journalist and blogger Ta-Nehisi Coates, who wrote a piece about New York City’s School of One that is much more interesting than my account would be – in part because he ties it in with his own struggles at school, and ruminates on how his own time in school might have been different at a school like this. Here’s a key extract:

School of One is the brainchild of a Teach for America vet named Joel Rose. […] He wanted to know why educators were able to reach some kids but not others. So he tracked down his former students and talked with them about how their experiences in his class had affected their future. After hours of conversation, Rose began wondering about the possibilities of an individualized curriculum.

Teachers generally work on a mass-production model—if 30 kids are in the class, the goal is to find a method that will allow the highest percentage of them to succeed. A great teacher can employ secondary methods to get through to laggards, but given the variables that individual students bring to the class, a handful of kids will inevitably be shortchanged. Teaching each child at his or her optimal level with the optimal technique has traditionally been left to private schools and expensive tutors. But with more schools employing computers, Rose saw a chance to bring boutique education to a mass public-school audience.

He envisioned a classroom broken down into stations, each one designed to teach specific skills in different ways. A kid who needs to learn how to calculate the area of a circle could be taught in a group with a teacher, with a virtual tutor, or with a computer program. “The vision I had was a large open space with different modalities happening at the same time,” Rose told me. “I don’t know a lot about technology. But I did talk to people who know a lot about technology. I said, ‘I’ve got this crazy idea. Is this even doable?’ And they said, ‘Yeah.’”

School of One is the tangible result of those conversations. To come up with a way to tailor a lesson plan and teaching method for 320 seventh-graders in a pilot program at three schools, Rose collaborated with Wireless Generation, a Brooklyn computer-programming firm. Together they created an algorithm capable of weighing a student’s academic needs, his or her learning preference, and the classroom resources. Here’s how it works: first, the student and his parents and teachers are surveyed about his classroom habits. Then the student takes a diagnostic test to see how well he understands basic math. Those data are then sent to the New York Department of Education’s headquarters in Lower Manhattan, where School of One’s algorithm produces a tentative lesson plan. That lesson plan is then e-mailed to the student’s teachers, who revise it as they see fit. At the end of every day, the student takes another short diagnostic, which is used to create another tentative lesson plan that appears in the teachers’ inboxes by eight o’clock that evening.

 

Read More

School of One in the New York Times

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Entry filed under: Education & Children's Services.

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