Thursday, May 12, 2011

Designing Alt. Learning Spaces: I Need Your Ideas!

I have been tasked with designing an alternative learning space to traditional high school within a NJ public school system and to have it operational by 9/12.  Two constraints of working within a public system:

1. Students will still need to take and pass state assessments and earn x #of credits to graduate.
2. Under option 2 in NJ there is great liberty w/ regard to how students earn graduation credit. Seat time can be divorced from coursework allowing project/passion-based learning, virtual learning, and community based learning so long as they are connected to state standards.

So I am wondering:

If you were to design a learning space as an alternative to traditional high school, what might it look like? 
What would you privilege? 
What would be absolutes that you would need to include in your design?  
What would learning look and sound like? 
Who would own the learning? How would you know?

I really value your ideas and I know that they will surely (in)form mine.  Please let me know what you think.  Thanks.


  1. i guess i would ask first, why are you being tasked to design this space?

  2. I think the most sensible attempt at accomplishing something along these lines was done by the NYC iSchool. (

    They instituted a distance learning program for the state requirements and changed the classtime to problem/project based learning with high amounts of electives so students were much more interest based in their curriculum.

    However although they rethought the curriculum and the classroom environment somewhat, i think they lack on the pedagogy. Particularly pedagogy that can create interest in disinterested students.

    I look forward to seeing where you go with this. This is one of my interests as well.


  3. Monka,
    I have requested to do so. The traditional high school does not serve all of our students well. I'm interested in working with others to shift focus from school to learning and see what that means concretely. I understand this shift conceptually, however the practical application is more challenging. Unlike school, one does not make this for someone else to attend. Rather, it needs to be iterative and open so that learners compose along the way.

    Occasioning is more difficult than telling.

  4. Rostislav,

    Thanks for the link. I did watch the film about the school and appreciate the differences they represent with regard to interdisciplinary curricula. I want to nudge the idea of learning a bit more and de-emphasize school. I want to design situations to occasion learner's learning, not resort to the school belief that teachers cause learning. A bit different.

    The film looks like school. I want visitors to our "unschool"--be it on line or in person--to experience a feeling of being unsettled, of not knowing initially how to read what they see/hear/sense.

    Thanks for chiming in. Hope you will continue to do so.

  5. You need to look at Reggio Emilia school design here- &
    Also I'd take a look at 'Campfires in Cyberspace' otherwise known as the 'Thornberg Metaphors' a lot of school designers are using it to design 21st century learning spaces and even if you don't use it-is a very good read!

  6. A great challenge Mary Ann. All the best. I am very biased here but I think you should look at the Big Picture principles to guide you in the process:

    Along with this you may find the following will aid your research:
    * (I really like Stephen Helppell's work) NotSchool was an online program for kids not able to attend school

    * The work and writings of John Abbott - big supporter of the apprenticeship model for learning

  7. Julian, thank you so much for your comments. I have downloaded Campfires...Cyberspace to read later and marked the other sites. I noticed Gregory Bateson's name on the 1st page of the campfire text. Can;t wait to read.


  8. Geoff, I have marked the sites in my diigo account in a folder, unschool so that I can review it later tonight. Thank you so much for your resources/perspectives. I am pretty familiar w/ apprenticeship models having taught about them in a former job. Look forward to learning.


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