What Does a Radical Classroom Design Look Like?

One of my favorite thought exercises is to imagine that everybody has their school memories erased by that thing the Men in Black use, thereby forcing society to construct new educational environments from scratch. Try it, and you’ll be amazed at how many elements of the school day exist merely because they were decent ideas 70 years ago. Though it may be fun to think abstractly about shedding institutionalized staples of the school day, if you want a concrete vision of what a school built for modern society would look like in practice check out the blended learning program at Summit Academy:

We have re-imagined the physical classroom and school environment by removing walls to create a 7000-square-foot open architecture learning facility that accommodates 200 students in individual workstations, as well as, four learning spaces dedicated to small group learning, 1:1 coaching, and larger workshops and seminars.

We have reconfigured teacher roles to move towards a team of educators who work together to provide high-quality face-to-face learning experiences and tiered support and intervention for students…

We have removed the restrictions of traditional grade levels to give students the true freedom to move at their own pace. In math this year, students are not in ninth or 10th grade and are not taking a defined math course such as Algebra or Geometry. Instead, they are progressing through a competency-based curriculum dependent on their own path and pace. Students must demonstrate competency on all of the standards and skills of three learning phases, High School Ready, College Ready and Early College.

Based on pre-assessment data (we use the NWEA MAP test), each student is provided a personalized Math Guide that details for them what they already know (highlighted in green), what they should be focused on today (highlighted in yellow), and lastly, what they do not know and are not quite ready yet to tackle (highlighted in red)…

Our students begin math each day at their individual workstation. They first log into their email to read a daily message from the math team, including a schedule of learning opportunities offered that day, along with available projects and seminars. Depending on their learning goal, our students can choose whether to remain at their workstation for individual, or with their peers, learning and practice using a host of online resources available to them as ‘Playlists,’ or participate in a seminar and other small-group projects taking place in the four learning spaces off of the main room. For those students who struggle with this autonomy, our math team provides mentorship and coaching to ensure students are on the right path.

The striking thing about the structure of this “classroom” is that it’s better aligned than our traditional classrooms to the way people function in their jobs and in our higher education system. People proceed at their own pace, but with a strong system of support involving both their peers and their superiors. So the question is, what’s the more radical educational design, the one seen in 99% of classrooms, or the one being used at Summit Academy?

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