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Powderhouse Studios — Come invent the future of learning with us—
"🎉 Powderhouse Studios is a small, new high school slated to open next year in Somerville. Inspired by the best creative workplaces, studios, and labs, we've redesigned school to build a place like these where teenagers work on projects they care about."

"We believe the future of learning should look more like the future of creative work than the future of school.

We grow best when we're learning. We learn best when we're creating. And we create best when we're creating something which matters to us. We believe these things are true, regardless of how old you are. Whether you're seventeen or seventy, the ways we learn and grow are more similar than different.

Powderhouse Studios is our attempt to look at the most effective, creative workplaces, studios, and labs and build such a place with youth here in Somerville.

Just as those workplaces and studios have their own tools—whether that's clay in a sculpting studio or spreadsheets in an accounting firm—our work is grounded in two, basic activities: telling stories and building things with computers.

At Powderhouse Studios, people mostly do projects. When people first enroll, these projects come from their involvement in staff's ongoing work and the seminars staff put together around this work. As youth get older, they spend more and more time developing projects of their own design. By the time someone leaves Powderhouse Studios, they'll be comfortable tackling year-long, 1,000 hour projects. But to do that, at some point they must do a 500 hour project…and a 100 hour project…and so on, all the way down to whatever timescale they can manage when we first meet them.

Doing this well means we must support deep—and deeply individualized—work. To do this, we've gotten rid of traditional, subject-based classes and teaching positions. Instead, the day is organized in three chunks—morning, lunch, and afternoon, 10AM to 5PM each day. Staff work in tightly knit, cross-functional teams which stick together, managing mixed age cohorts of about three dozen youth for their 4+ years at Powderhouse. And that's just the start of what we've changed.

All along the way, people have told us it's impossible. But it's how creative work has been done for centuries—from apprenticeships to MFA programs to kindergarten classrooms.

Powderhouse Studios is our attempt to build on these traditions, making the road by walking it.

📏 Design
Powderhouse Studios is for people who might benefit from (1) working in a smaller, more intimate community than a traditional high school, or (2) spending a lot more time developing deep, hands-on projects of their own design.

A lot of Powderhouse's design grows out of these two focuses.

Of course, there are many other things a school does—everything from supporting college admissions and sports to the IEP process and English language learning. And we spent four years working with Somerville Public Schools to develop a design which does all that within the district.

This page only offers an overview of the work and detail of our design. To understand the design in more depth, check out these, additional resources:

(November 2014) This is the first draft of our Innovation Plan, developed between 2012–2014 in the first phase of our work, when we were still known as the Somerville STEAM Academy. This slide deck summarizes the design from that time. Most of the core design has remained the same, but many of the details of its implementation have been fleshed out since then.
(November 2014) Here are the reliefs we requested from Massachusetts' Department of Elementary and Secondary Education under the Innovation School legislation, and here are the reliefs we received.
(March 2017) This is the version of that plan which was eventually approved by Innovation Plan Committee on 7 March 2017.
(June 2017) This presentation by Shaunalynn Duffy to the Somerville School Committee on 12 June 2017 summarizes the approved plan.
The basic ideas behind Powderhouse Studios is pretty simple.

People are organized into mixed age groups. These groups are much smaller than a typical high school class: about three dozen people. We're starting by enrolling people between 13–15.

Each group has four staff who work with them—a project manager, program designer, youth advocate, and domain specialist. These groups—which we call "cohorts"—stick together for their time at Powderhouse, so they're very small and supportive. Staff have a lot of time to develop deep, long-term relationships with people.

This is important because staff are going to help people develop their own projects. They do this by knowing people well and mentoring them, but also by working on their own projects and programs (which they involve young people in). Staff do this by running seminars—which are the closest thing we have to classes. Those seminars might involve anything from computational art to writing a screenplay or building a robot.

So at Powderhouse, people spend most of their time working on projects. When people first enroll, most of those projects might come from the seminars staff run. Over time, youth will get better at coming up with their own projects. And, youth will get better at working on bigger and bigger projects.

As people work on projects, staff work with them to document, reflect upon, and critique their projects and what they're learning through them. People will do this in different ways—sometimes through essays or presentations, other times through videos or discussions.

But one type of documentation which staff will work with youth to put together for all projects is what we call our "retrospective mapping." This mapping is just a record of the ways that the projects people do connect to goals youth develop with staff.

Those goals not only include traditional academic standards (like Common Core Math and English Language), but personal and professional priorities like career interests, college ambitions, and so on. These goals define people's progress toward graduation.

Taken together, this documentation gives us the information we need to help people define projects which will ensure youth are learning what they need to be successful after their time at Powderhouse. This also gives us what we need to do things like generate portfolios and traditional transcripts when someone is looking to transfer or apply to college.

Even though doing projects sounds simple, they take a lot of time. You can't really work on projects in forty or eighty minute chunks like most classes. You need lots of large blocks of time. And if people are working on projects that are different from one another's, it's even harder. That's why our schedule looks so different.

We're open 10AM–5PM for youth, and 8AM–5PM for staff (with morning supervision and breakfast programming for those who want it). We're open 220 days a year. There's no homework. Instead of having normal class periods, there are really just three chunks to the day: morning, lunch, and afternoon.

Generally, mornings will be when the seminars staff run will happen. Afternoons will be about people working on the projects they started in the morning. As people get older, they'll manage more and more of their time. That may start with them just working on their own projects in the morning. But eventually, it may lead to their enrolling in classes off campus or working at internships in the community which we work with them to secure.

Doing this alongside the other things school does is more complicated than you'd think. Sports? Special education? Music? Language? There's no one answer to all of these questions. You can find a lot of the answers in our FAQ and design resources.

But overall, something which ties together a lot of our answers is flexibility and individualized support. For example, even though we don't have traditional music or language classes, we have a stipend system for youth and a collection of community partners (ranging from Harvard and MIT to the Boston Language Institute) with whom we'll be working to offer individualized classes and support to people. This is only possible because Powderhouse Studios is designed to let staff support every young person individually.

Making all these pieces fit together has taken a lot of time and support from Somerville Public Schools, Massachusetts' Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, and dozens of families, community organizations, school designers, and experts from around the country.

We're still figuring things out, but if you have questions, please check out our design resources and get in touch."
alecresnick  somerville  schools  lcproject  openstudioproject  education  tcsnmy  powderhousestudios  sprout&co 
november 2017 by robertogreco
Somerville STEAM Academy
"The Somerville STEAM Academy (SSA) is a collaboration between sprout & co. and the Somerville Public Schools. The SSA will be a vocational lab school emphasizing computational immersion and targeting struggling students offering an intimate, small school setting where learners will explore project-based curricula integrating the arts & sciences. The SSA will feature tight community integration via internships & mentorships and will rely on tie-in volunteer effort throughout Somerville."
alecresnick  education  schools  stem  steam  projectbasedlearning  internships  mentoring  mentorships  powderhousestudios 
june 2017 by robertogreco
Somerville hits $10M jackpot in national high school innovation competition - The Boston Globe
[See also: ]

"A local nonprofit working with the Somerville Public Schools came up with a proposal that might seem off the wall: a year-round high school that feels more like a research and design studio where students pursue long-term projects in areas of interest to them.

There would be no grade levels or a set sequence of courses in math, science, and English. Instead, students would learn material in theme-based symposiums, internships, and hands-on projects that could delve into biomechanics or computational art.

This unconventional thinking of what a high school could look like in the 21st century landed Somerville and the nonprofit Sprout & Co. a $10 million grant Wednesday in a much-hyped national competition that drew hundreds of proposals from around the country.

The new high school, which is expected to open in the next year or two, will be called Somerville Powderhouse Studios and could serve as a national model for Boston and other school systems looking to redesign their high schools.

Somerville’s proposal was one of 10 winning bids in the Super School Project, sponsored by XQ, an education nonprofit in Oakland, Calif., which is giving $10 million to each recipient.

“We are thrilled they saw something in Somerville Powderhouse that spoke to them,” Somerville Superintendent Mary Skipper said. “I hope we can incubate some really great ideas.”

XQ launched last year with the goal of transforming high schools. The organization likes to say that over the last 100 years high schools have remained frozen in time in an ever-changing society in which “we’ve gone from the Model T to the Tesla, from the typewriter to the touchscreen, from the switchboard to the smartphone.”

That sentiment builds upon a long-held belief among many education policy makers and politicians that high schools need a makeover. In Boston, Mayor Martin J. Walsh last year kicked off an effort to overhaul the city’s high schools, soliciting ideas on how to make programs more interesting so that fewer students drop out.

“Generally, high schools have been hard to change,” said Russlynn Ali, chief executive officer at XQ. “Virtually every high school in the country looks the same. . . . Systems have been entrenched.”

Ali said she hopes the winning proposals can show what is possible when school systems dream big. She said XQ liked how Somerville was “busting through the notions of traditional grades and classes,” and how it plans to meet students where they are and take them where they need to be.

Super School Project winners hailed from across the country. Furr High School in Houston is focusing on hands-on projects in environmental and nutritional sciences, while also establishing a culture committed to restorative justice practices. New Harmony High School in Venice, La., will take to a barge to explore coastal erosion in a “floating classroom.” And Grand Rapids Public Museum High School in Michigan will tap 250,000 cultural and historical artifacts for a river restoration project.

Powderhouse Studio, which has produced an introductory video, will enroll about 200 students and use a shuttered school building on Broadway, which will also house small businesses and artist space.

Each team of students will be equipped with a project manager, a curriculum developer, and a social worker.

The idea for Powderhouse Studios began several years ago. Sprout & Co. had been working on special programs with Somerville schools that encouraged students to dive deeply in big topics.

Impressed, Mayor Joseph Curtatone approached the nonprofit about starting up its own high school, believing it could be an ideal setting for students who didn’t fit the traditional high school.

“They were just inspiring by the learning environment they were cultivating,” Curtatone said. “I think the demand will be overwhelming.”

Officials stressed the new school would not take resources away from Somerville High School.

Designers of the school acknowledge the idea is unusual. After talking to parents about the proposal over the past year, they decided the high school would start enrolling students who would be entering the eighth grade.

“People feel more open to experimenting during the middle school years because they often consider middle school to be a wash,” said Alec Resnick, cofounder and future principal of Powderhouse Studios.

He added that “the school is a bigger sandbox of what we had been doing” at Sprout & Co.

Skipper said many folks can be initially skeptical about new approaches. When she opened TechBoston Academy nearly 15 years ago, she said, she received pushback on giving every student a laptop, arguing the students would lose or misuse the equipment.

But she said that students embraced the laptops, and that the devices have become a standard in many classrooms nationwide.

“Sometimes it takes innovation to give people a glimpse of what education can be,” she said."
alecresnick  somerville  education  schools  highschool  powderhousestudios  community  unschooling  deschooling  studioclassrooms  lcproject  openstudioproject  learning  doing  making  projectbasedlearning 
september 2016 by robertogreco
“But the overall inertia and immune system of “education” is very strong, and if we were to disappear tomorrow, I’m not sure anything would be different than it would have been 100 years from now.” – Alec Resnick, USA | Daily Edventures
"Can you tell us about a favorite teacher, or someone who made a difference in your education?

My English teacher, Mrs. Long, in high school, had the wisdom to lean into all my obsessions and interests, regardless of the curriculum, treating me like a peer. She loaded me up with books outside of the class, indulged my passion for words despite the way they made my papers unreadable, and more than anything, left me with a sense of learning being a lifelong, intellectual project in which I could participate. This all sounds trite—the stuff of commencement speeches—but I cannot overstate how formative the relationship was, far and above the curricula or books she shared."

"How have you applied technology in innovative ways to support your work?

I’ll quote Papert: “In many schools today, the phrase ‘computer-aided instruction’ means making the computer teach the child. One might say the computer is being used to program the child. In my vision, the child programs the computer and, in doing so, both acquires a sense of mastery over a piece of the most modern and powerful technology and establishes an intimate contact with some of the deepest ideas from science, from mathematics, and from the art of intellectual model building.” At their best, our programs do this.

In your opinion, how has the use of apps, cellphones, and mobile devices changed education? And your work?
Education? They’re distracting people from structural issues with the design of school and curricula by introducing an unfortunate technocentrism. Our work? They’ve enabled a totally novel class of computationally driven, hands-on experiences and experimentation focused on modeling and representation.

In your view, what is the most exciting innovation happening in education today?

The expansion of “education” to include many efforts, stakeholders, and approaches that exist outside of “school”—not just in the sense of “afterschool” or “informal learning,” but in an institutional sense.

Is there a 21st century skill (critical thinking and problem solving, communication, collaboration, or creativity and innovation) that you are most passionate about? Why?

All the skills I’m passionate about were valuable in all the other centuries, too.

If you could give one educational tool to every child in the world, what would it be? Why?

Initially I considered snarkier answers like, “An adult who cares and intervenes in their lives regularly to expose them to a world full of interesting phenomenon.” But more to your point: A [laptop or tablet][DT1] , preloaded with Scratch, LOGO, XCode, and a carefully curated set of textbooks and videos like Turtle Geometry (and maybe a collection of texts intended to radicalize a bit, like Lies My Teacher Told Me or John Holt’s How Children Fail). Why? Because I think that powerful tools without an agenda that enable authentically interesting work are more valuable than most realize. To quote Ivan Illich,
"People need not only to obtain things, they need above all the freedom to make things among which they can live, to give shape to them according to their own tastes, and to put them to use in caring for and about others. Prisoners in rich countries often have access to more things and services than members of their families, but they have no say in how things are to be made and cannot decide what to do with them.”

What is your region doing well currently to support education?

My favorite initiative of late is Massachussetts’ Innovation School legislation; its focus on aggressively seeding and supporting sandboxes where fundamentally new models can be designed is awfully exciting.

What is the biggest obstacle you have had to overcome to ensure students are receiving a quality education?

Resisting the variety of organizational and cultural forces which push you to do things to students, or maybe for them, but very rarely with them. This can look like anything from putting “the curriculum” ahead of real depth, uncomfortable conversations with parents about the [ir]relevance of the quadratic equation, liability policies which prohibit physical contact with students, etc.

How can teachers or school leaders facing similar challenges implement what you’ve learned through your work?

Guard and expand your autonomy jealously and aggressively. Advocate for policies which encourage planting many seeds and trying out many approaches to see what works, rather than attempting to plan for or optimize The One Way. Leverage parents’ actual interests and concerns, rather than trying to satisfy bureaucratic incentives. Start a school. Start a not-school. Take a Hippocratic Oath. Read Mindstorms and take it seriously.

How have you incorporated mobile devices/apps into your classroom and have you seen any improvements?

Our programs’ focus on computation, modeling, and representation means apps (and programming tools, broadly) figure prominently into participants’ experiences. The capacity for these tools to offer hands-on, constructionist approaches to traditionally academic subjects is incredible; however, overall I’d have to say that the technocentrism/technoutopianism in the ed tech community really narrows the conversation to the extent that it limits discussions of technology to, “How can technology help us do what we’ve always done, better?” instead of, “What are the new activities and approaches technology enables?” "
alecresnick  via:ablerism  2014  sprout&co  somerville  massachusetts  schools  education  informallearning  making  science  learning  howwelearn  constructivism  michaelnagle  shaunalynnduffy  somervillesteamacademy  seymourpapert  mindstorms  ivanillich  teaching  howweteach  pedagogy  technology  johnholt  scratch  logo  xcode  turtlegeometry  relationships  freedom  autonomy  agency  unschooling  deschooling  steam  inquiry  sprout 
november 2014 by robertogreco
sprout & co :: How Children What?
"John Holt and Paul Tough are a half-century apart. Both were interested in children and how they learned. One wrote a book called How Children Learn, the other a book called How Children Succeed. Their juxtaposition has a lot to tell us about how we think about and treat our young people."
2014  alecresnick  education  learning  parenting  unschooling  deschooling  success  paultough  grit  scientism  craftsmanship  economics  society  johnholt 
june 2014 by robertogreco
sprout & co :: Rendering Learners Legible
"Educators talk a lot about ‘personalization.’ Is the animating purpose of “personalization” in to render students legible? If it is, could Sal Khan take the Hippocratic oath?"
alecresnick  education  legibility  jamescscott  2013  salkhan  ethics  unschooling  deschooling  personalization  individualization  sprout&co  data  inbloom  schools  facebook  google  khanacademy  netflix  sprout  salmankhan 
june 2014 by robertogreco
sprout & co.
"sprout is a community education and research organization devoted to creating and supporting the community-driven learning, teaching, and investigation of science. We're united by a passion to reclaim science as a richly personal and creative craft. Through our PROGRAMS & STUDIOS, we're working to make our vision real in Somerville.

You might say we're working to create a community college that lives up to its name—not a college in a community or a school in a building, but a community of people who work together as colleagues to explore questions they care about."

[From the Studios page]

"Our studios are a bit unusual. Here you can find out WHERE they are, how you can use them as a COWORKING space, a community VENUE, a WORKSHOP AND LABSPACE for independent investigation, or WHATEVER ELSE you have in mind. And if you're interested, you can read about WHY we run our studios the way we do."
deschooling  unschooling  schooldesign  venues  workshops  labspace  coworking  glvo  shaunalynnduffy  alecresnick  michaelnagle  lcproject  openstudioproject  mit  massachusetts  somerville  learning  community  diy  sprout  makerspaces  hackerspaces  education  science  design  boston  sprout&co 
september 2012 by robertogreco

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