The best math teacher I have ever had taught for 20 minutes at the beginning of class, and then asked us to start on the homework.
If I could finish all my homework in class, my afternoon would be free to attend track practice. It’s no surprise that I didn’t waste my time!
I was invited to be on the Math-Counts team. Paradoxically, I never spent a single minute that year on homework.
It became kind of a joke with my family. “Where is your time turner, Hermoine? I never see you doing homework.” My dad would tease me. Later on, a high school teacher’s filibuster style discouraged me from engaging with math in the same way and I lost interest.
At Alpha, we expect that kids are actively engaged in what they do. We talk about love of school here a lot, and part of loving school is the love of learning.
Engagement is the central principle behind our promise of 2x learning. If kids are engaged in their work, they will learn at twice the rate of a traditional school because at a traditional school, kids are only half-engaged.
Why are kids at Alpha fully engaged?
Guides give a lot of responsibility and respect to our students, and we also expect a lot of them.
At the start of each session, Guides and students work together to develop an individually tailored course of academic work. We expect them to learn how to be self-agents.
“Our session goals allow us to choose our own path through the material. We get to choose our books and shape our sessions how we want them.” — Alpha Student
When goals for the session are set, it is the student’s responsibility to meet them.
Adaptive education technology has enabled us to meet students at their level and shape a path that fits their pace. A focused 100 minute period every morning is spent using a variety of adaptive educational software.
Homework is not required. There are no desks.
Mornings at Alpha are spent learning core skills. The Director of Alpha often says that core skills looks a lot like a start-up open office. Kids have snacks out, they have headphones in, and they are focused on their work. Some are working in small groups, or helping one another with a particularly challenging lesson.
Time in the afternoon is spent building real life skills like problem solving, communication, and self-agency.
What exactly does 2x learning mean?
2x Learning = ½ conventional time on core academics + 90th percentile or above on MAPs
Our promise is that students will spend half the time they would at a traditional school and score at or above the 90th percentile for grade level after two years.
How do we measure 2x learning?
We use a third-party tool called NWEA MAP to measure student growth. The MAPs test is an adaptive assessment. It uses data from 10.2 million students to create national norms, and repeats this process every three years so that all norms reflect current standards and demographics.
Why not 3x or 4x or 5x learning?
I told you that I lost my interest in math when I spent a year with a repressive teacher. This teacher would quickly no longer have a job at Alpha. We have the flexibility to fire Guides for doing a poor job, and the resources to attract the best people to inspire and guide our students.
We operate a student-centric model of education, and we are constantly iterating.
If students are genuinely engaged, learning at 3x or 4x or 5x is possible. Our goal of 2x today is ambitious. In the future, we may find that it is no longer ambitious.