Groundbreaking Middle Schools: Innovation Edition

Middle school is difficult for many students– between their hormones and their desire to fit in, it seems that learning is the last thing on many teenagers' minds. However, there are some special schools out there where teens are not only becoming excited about learning, but they are also building the skills they will need to help guide them into adulthood.

These three middle schools stand out because they embrace 21st Century education, which emphasizes collaboration and communication, creativity and innovation, and critical thinking and problem-solving.

James Workman Middle School Cathedral City, California Pursuing their dreams

You may not think a middle school can function like the Google Headquarters, but James Workman Middle School has taken elements of the Google work philosophy and applied it to its pedagogy. Google employees are encouraged to use 20 percent of their time to work on their dream projects, and teachers at James Workman Middle School do likewise.

And guess what? Rather than reducing their productivity, dream projects engage students, help students think creatively, and the skills they learn while pursuing their dreams actually enhance their more traditional studies. For example, in Mrs. Pack’s sixth grade class, students are clamoring for time to work on their “20% projects,” as they are dubbed. That special 20% of their time impacts 100% of their skills.

Search #geniushour on Twitter to see how other educators are embracing dreams and incorporating passion projects into their curricula (or learn more from The Atlantic).

La Crosse Design Institute La Crosse, Wisconsin Designing their futures

Also borrowing from the tech industry, La Crosse Design Institute turns students into project managers: students are responsible for designing their projects to align with curriculum requirements and explore from there.

Direct teacher instruction is the exception, not the norm, but in their open space environment, teachers are consistently available to advise, guide, and inspire. Students also liaise with community business owners, such as engineers, architects, and medical professionals to get a real world perspective on the skills and knowledge they are gaining.

For some activities, like a model-building group project, collaboration is key and creativity is encouraged and valued. By putting students at the forefront of their leaning, what they learn becomes meaningful and long lasting.

Quest to Learn New York, NY Playing to Learn

This school demonstrates a revolutionary interdisciplinary approach to teaching-- the classroom of the future will not be as delineated along subject lines as the classrooms of the past.

A typical day at Quest to Learn is not made up of “science” “math” and “language arts.” These students take classes like “Being, Space, and Place” (which links social studies to language arts), “Codeworlds” (which relates math to language arts), and “The Way Things Work” (a science and math course). In addition, all students actively participate in game design and systemic thinking courses (called “Sports for the Mind”).

More importantly, the school exemplifies the proven pedagogical philosophy that games can teach, thus games are played and designed by students, which allows them to learn technological skills and critical thinking and problem solving skills alongside their the core subjects.

These are the classrooms of the future.