The "AltSchool": what happens when kids meet engineers and entrepreneurs in the classroom

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We're always interested to hear about new educational initiatives - ones that try to open up inputs into our classrooms and colleges. Uffe Elbaek, the founder of Alternativet, also founded the "alt-business school" Kaos Pilots in Denmark - notorious (as its title would suggest) for its aim to teach responsiveness and agility to changing conditions.

 AltSchool was started in San Franscisco in the autumn of 2013, with a very strong Silicon Valley input into its curriculum and planning. Their values are below: 

  • Students thrive when they understand how and why they learn.
  • Technology can superpower teachers and students.
  • A strong, connected community of teachers, students, and parents can transform education for everyone.
  • The world’s best education should be the most accessible.

And their model is to become a platform for other schools:

AltSchool is a partnership between educators, entrepreneurs, and engineers who are driven to deliver whole-child, personalized learning so that every child can reach their potential.

We're working together to build a comprehensive platform to personalize learning in schools, with the goal of making the best education the most accessible.

We started by opening our own schools. Now, partner schools can join the AltSchool network and leverage AltSchool’s technology and services platform.

This comprehensive New Yorker article by Rebecca Mead, reporting on and analyzing the practices of AltSchool, contains this passage that encapsulates their dream of a "personalised" and "customised" way of learning - and its relationship to "traditional", industrial-era education:

“Teach these boys and girls nothing but Facts,” Thomas Gradgrind, the rigid schoolteacher in Charles Dickens’s “Hard Times,” declares. “Plant nothing else, and root out everything else.” Dickens’s novel was a satire of the philosophy of utilitarianism as it was applied to education: the idea that working-class children needed to know enough to work in factories and nothing more.

Personalized education promises an escape from the more recent Gradgrindian practice of standardized tests. In a world of personalized learning, the argument goes, every child’s particular genius will be permitted to shine. But AltSchool’s philosophy of education is also essentially utilitarian, even as it celebrates the individuality, autonomy, and creativity of its students. It holds that children should be prepared for the workplace of the future—and that the workplace of the future will demand individuality, creativity, collaboration, and critical thinking.

AltSchool’s perspective does not necessarily require abandoning texts that have long been considered central to a humanist education, but it does mean approaching them anew. One middle-school class undertook a lengthy study of the Iliad by focussing on the theme of “rage” and designing a spreadsheet that logged instances of it. They then used data-visualization techniques to show their findings, and wrote persuasive essays based on their results. Afterward, their teacher, James Earle, wrote, “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.” The workplace of the future, according to AltSchool’s premise, will look a lot like some workplaces in the present—places like Google and Facebook, where Gradgrind’s faith in facts is matched by faith in the revelatory power of data.

More here. And here's a video explainer: