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The Innovation Academy: A School Within a School

Bill Cotter
Sep 24, 2015 · 7 min read

There has been a lot of discussion recently about the micro-school movement. Micro-schools, which have been defined as "schools that serve less than 153.5 kids," are a way to test new ideas, provide the flexibility that larger schools lack due to their size and to help students pursue more personalized learning paths. While micro-schools vary in a number of ways, what they all have in common is a push to make learning more authentic. The beauty behind micro-schools is their willingness to iterate outside the boundaries of traditional education and try out new learning models that better serve students.

At the Roosevelt Innovation Academy (IA) in Lima, Peru we're trying to test the boundaries of traditional education by striving to make learning more engaging and authentic. With a small cohort of 46 students in grades 10, 11 and 12, students pursue interdisciplinary courses as part of the IA as well as three International Baccalaureate Diploma courses.

Our Story

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The founding class of the Innovation Academy.

How it Works

“Students who are in real contact with problems which are relevant to them wish to learn, want to grow, seek to discover, endeavor to master, desire to create and move toward self-discipline” Carl Rogers

At the heart of the academy is our interdisciplinary approach to learning. Students take four courses (English, Media and Design, Business, and Independent Project) with the same cohort in order to collaborate continuously. The four courses are led by the same instructor to ensure more customized learning for each child. By collapsing the schedule and placing four courses together, students are able to have long blocks of time working on their projects without the interruption of changing from class to class. This schedule also allows students to take the three required IB Diploma courses that they need to graduate with a U.S. Diploma.

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The IA schedule allows for long blocks of time for students to work with one teacher and a small group of students.

Typically, students take math, science and Spanish at the IB level in addition to the four courses that are part of the IA. With our current schedule, we see students for five hours at a time on Tuesday and Thursday and for shorter blocks on Monday and Friday.This schedule allows us to incorporate the five key elements that define the Innovation Academy: Interdisciplinary Courses, Collaboration, Autonomy, Relevance and Redefined Rigor.

1. Interdisciplinary Courses

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While classes appear separate, projects combine the elements of all three subjects as in the documentary films students create about an issue with Lima, Peru.
In the documentary film unit, students study the principles of documentary film and economics to create a documentary about a local issue in Peru.

2. Collaboration

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Students have the chance to gain real-world experience through internships.

When it comes to grading, students also have the chance to collaborate. Since we are a school within a school, we still need to give traditional grades. We've modified the process of crowd source grading that we learned about from Duke to enable students to work together on creating and defining the standards of the class. By pairing this idea with a growth chart, on which we give students ongoing feedback, we have tried to turn grading into a collaborative activity. Finally, the Innovation Academy is designed to allow for a lot of teacher collaboration. As a team of three teachers, we each lead one of the cohorts (Grade 10, Grade 11, Grade 12) but we do not work in isolation. Our schedule has been built to allow us long periods of time during the week to design student learning experiences as well as discuss ideas we are prototyping in class.

3. Autonomy

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Students design their own homework as part of the Independent Project in order to explore and identify interests with depth and rigor. Students must effectively plan and create work using skills that they have learned independently. For accountability and feedback, students update the class and instructor on their progress every two weeks

Rather than dictating all of the work students have to do at home, we also free them up to choose their own homework. This becomes their independent project and it’s designed to help them explore areas of interest that they might want to pursue in the future. Granting autonomy is not always easy, but it is an essential component of the learning process (see the work of Peter Gray, Carl Rogers, and Seymour Papert).

4. Relevance

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Student work is made public through personal blogs and Twitter accounts.

5. Redefined Rigor

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Beautiful work is the result of incorporating student interests into challenging projects while providing them with the chance to go through several iterations. https://medium.com/@crisdelga99/stories-f55d1b8e084b

Next Steps

A film produced by IA student Franco Dañino on a recent field trip to practice the skills being learned in class out in the “real world.”

For us, it is about putting theory into practice. By being attentive to the needs of our students, testing new ideas and reading deeply about education we are constantly striving to provide our students with experiences that that they feel are challenging, engaging and relevant.

Learn More

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To learn more follow us on Facebook at Roosevelt Innovation Academy and on Twitter @fdrinnovate.

Here is a link to a sampling of the books that guide what we do.

Note: Some of the ideas in this post also appear in Corey Topf's blog post "The Best Innovations Lead Us Closer to Authenticity."

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