Just my thoughts down on "paper"
‘School of One’ Pilot Program Under Way in Chinatown Middle School 131
‘School of One’ Pilot Program Under Way in Chinatown Middle School 131

‘School of One’ Pilot Program Under Way in Chinatown Middle School 131

Now this is a school! Amazing article by the NY Times on a new way to approach educating students. I have always believed that educating students is much more successful when you take this approach and eliminate the confines of the typical four walled classroom. I wish my middle school was like this when I was in school. I probably would have done a lot better.

The thing in the article that stood out most to me was “The model we are using throughout the United States in kindergarten-to-12th-grade education is fundamentally the same as it was 100 years ago,” Mr. Klein said.

“Take a surgeon from 100 years ago and place them in an operating room and they would be totally lost. Take a teacher from 100 years ago and place them in the classroom and they wouldn’t skip a beat.” This statement will always hold true unless more districts and schools take a huge leap like this and change the way things are done.

The seating arrangements are compared to airport traffic patterns. The student schedules are called playlists. And lesson plans are generated by a complicated computer algorithm for the 80 students in the class. 

This could be the school of the future, according to the schools chancellor, Joel I. Klein, who visited Middle School 131 in Chinatown on Tuesday to promote a pilot program, the School of One.

The program, conducted in a converted library, consists mainly of students working individually or in small groups on laptop computers to complete math lessons in the form of quizzes, games and worksheets. Each student must take a quiz at the end of each day; the results are fed into a computer program to determine whether they will move on to a new topic the next day.

Mr. Klein said the program would allow learning in a way that no traditional classroom can, because it tailors each lesson to a student’s strengths and weaknesses, as well as the child’s interests.

“The model we are using throughout the United States in kindergarten-to-12th-grade education is fundamentally the same as it was 100 years ago,” Mr. Klein said.

Now, he added, “we’re looking in a way that I don’t think anyone has looked at — at the way children learn, pacing them at their own pace, all of it tied to the mastery of content and skill and achievement.”

Once the students arrive at school, they receive their individual playlists identifying the lessons they have to complete for the day, which could involve virtual tutoring online, computer worksheets or small-group lessons with a classroom teacher. Their schedules are also displayed on large television screens, akin to flight schedule displays in airports.

In a room a few steps away, several administrators spend their day looking over more than a dozen computer screens displaying the students’ playlists, how quickly those students are progressing through their tasks and what the students are looking at on their own screens.

The program cost roughly $1 million to develop for the summer, with two-thirds of the money coming from private donations. In a grant proposal aimed at donors, administrators predict that the cost will grow to $9.1 million in 2010 and $13.3 million in 2012, when the program is expected to be used in 20 schools.

Joel Rose, who oversees human resources for the Department of Education said the cost of running schools using this model would be about the same as that of operating traditional schools.

The Education Department plans to expand the program to three other middle schools next spring. The pilot program is focused on middle school math instruction in part because there is already a variety of computer-based lessons available, Mr. Rose said, but the department also hopes to add other subjects and grade levels.

Mr. Klein raised eyebrows this year when he suggested that he hoped to hire fewer teachers and pay them higher salaries.

Mr. Rose said that the program was not designed to reduce the number of teachers needed in classes, but that the number of students who are in a classroom could change. In a program of 80 students, there are four teachers, with four graduate students from New York University working as assistants, and two high school interns who serve as tutors for students who are struggling.

In a departure from other summer school programs, most of the students in the School of One program have passed state tests and were not required to enroll in summer classes. The students all agreed to participate in the program. The students gather in a converted library where the bookshelves have been covered and transformed into dividers to separate areas where clusters of students gather.

For some, the day is defined by flashy video games, with math problems embedded as obstacles that must be overcome to outscore opponents. One such game is Dimension M, played by three boys on Tuesday. As they navigated with their keyboards through mazes of underground tunnels, their screens looked no different than typical arcade screens — except when their equations popped up.

When the game asked Caleb Deng what 5 + (6 x 3) was equal to, he quickly jotted down calculations on scrap paper before choosing the correct answer. But when it asked him to multiply a series of fractions with just over a minute left to play, he had no patience to work out the problem. So he guessed.

“Yes, I was right!” he exclaimed, as his score mounted. But moments later, his opponent and friend, Jason Xin, won anyway.

“This makes everything more exciting, since we are fighting against someone else,” Caleb said.

Jason nodded in agreement. “Yeah, it’s not boring anymore.”

This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:

Correction: July 25, 2009

A picture caption with an article on Wednesday about the School of One, a pilot program operating in a middle school in Chinatown, described the scene incorrectly in some editions. Although Joel I. Klein, the city schools chancellor, did visit the school to promote the program, he was not in the photograph.
More Articles in Education » A version of this article appeared in print on July 22, 2009, on page A19 of the New York edition.


School of One from SideLot on Vimeo.

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