Growing up, Max Ventilla never felt like school was for him.
“School was something I did because I was a kid and it was expected of me. That’s a real shame,” says Ventilla, the former head of personalisation at Google. “It’s an amazing thing to have this extended period where you work on yourself and have resources to help you grow.”
AltSchool, Ventilla’s latest venture, sets out to revolutionise that experience by making education more personal.
The Bay Area-based network of “micro-schools” — which raised $US100 million from investors including Andreessen Horowitz, Peter Thiel’s Founders Fund, and Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg earlier this year — uses technology to cater the curriculum to each child’s needs, and plant the seeds of agency.
I spent the day at AltSchool’s Fort Mason location in San Francisco, California, to see its game-changing teaching style in action. Here are the 16 most impressive things I saw.
AltSchool bucks traditional grade levels. Students between the ages of 4 and 14 are divided into lower elementary, upper elementary, and middle school groups.
You won't find traditional classrooms here either. Students migrate from station to station throughout the day.
The attendance app is one of a dozen or so tech tools developed by the school's 50-person product team, which includes former employees of Apple, Uber, Zynga, and Ventilla's alma mater Google.
Kids receive a weekly 'playlist' of individual and group activities to complete. This student writes a blog on coin collecting.
Meanwhile, a classmate plays Pac-Man using MaKey MaKey, a simple circuit board that transforms everyday objects into touchable user interfaces.
The classrooms are as tech-savvy as the kids. Each is outfitted with a video camera mounted at eye level, so that teachers can review successful teaching moments.
And the 'smart' white boards double as TV screens. Here, the class watches a short CNN news program made for kids.
Still, AltSchool values hands-on innovation. This little guy constructs a tower for the class's 'dream city.'
An older student designs an obstacle course for the class rabbit using 3D-modelling software SketchUp.
A teacher sent us this photo of a student project. The bundles of tinfoil represent clouds capable of transmitting wireless internet to the people below. (Whoa, kid.)
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