The following narrative was developed from interviews with current middle school students and details about the redesigned student experiences.
Sam is a 6th-grade student. He is 13 and enjoys athletics, specifically baseball and football. Like most teenagers, Sam relishes time on his phone and wishes that there was more flexibility for use between classes. After two years navigating the pandemic, he appreciates when he gets to use some of the more traditional materials, like paper and pencil, over a computer. Doing worksheets online is not engaging for him. Sam finds math challenging, “The work is kinda difficult.” On the other hand, he enjoys science labs, “Labs allow you to experience new things.”
He has some difficulty making friends, noting that “Other students keep me from enjoying school,” although he notes that he feels cared for when “the teacher understands my point of view.” When it comes to his long-term goals, Sam hasn’t given it much thought and does not articulate any school goals, “I don’t really think about my dream job” [maybe] I’ll “buy some land to build a house and ranch.” Sam is emblematic of the type of student for whom we are pursuing school redesign. At Barnes, we want Sam to have extraordinary equitable learning experiences that are infused with rigor, relevance, and community connection. Here is what we envision for a new day in the life of Sam…
On Monday-Thursday, Sam spends focused time (during 58 min blocks) diving into high-quality instructional materials (HQIM) in ELAR and Math. In Math, Sam also engages in a station rotation model with blended learning technology. There is also an opportunity for Sam to work with his peers, using his critical thinking and communication skills. Math talks are happening using precise mathematical language, discussing and planning how to solve problems. Students access prior knowledge and know multiple ways to solve problems while soft music is playing in the background. Sam asks for clarification when he doesn’t understand and feels comfortable making mistakes to help his learning.
The most exciting part of the week for Sam is Fridays! This is a day when Sam gets to go deep into project-based learning and those hands-on activities he loves so much. He appreciates the flexibility in choosing how to showcase his final products. Sam takes on new leadership, speaking, and collaboration opportunities with a focus on activities that he most cares about and are relevant to him. He gets to make a new choice of Friday courses each semester.
One of the most important components for extraordinary and equitable learning experiences is deep and connected relationships between peers and adults. Sam has frequent opportunities to build these relationships through the weekly 56-min Social Emotional Wellbeing/Whole Child Block on Fridays, and the 6th-grade camp experience in October. These experiences build an extended community grounded in an ethic of care, where students can authentically be themselves.
On Fridays, Sam is scheduled for 90-min Grow Time where students work at their own pace using computer-based targeted lessons and high-dosage tutoring. Previous computer programs were not engaging for Sam, but this one is different. It allows him to get “just in time hints” and track his progress over time. His math teacher conferences with him once a week to review his goals and share his progress with cooperating teachers. Both Sam and the teachers know exactly what he’s working on during this time. Sam finds that more and more, he can push through his struggles to be successful.