LEARNING LABORATORIES AT BCA
Q: What is a learning laboratory?
A: It’s an exciting setting where students’ burning questions are the organizing principle of the curriculum; where teachers organize those questions into themes that students explore through projects, research, experimentation, and artistic endeavors; and where learning experiences are designed to help student methodically accomplish learning goals and standards over time. Adopting a model known as “mixed age education,” students can be grouped flexibly by interest or aptitude, not only by age, and instruction can respond to students’ own developmental pace. On-and-off-campus activities connect students’ learning to the real world and help children develop a sense of context and vision. It’s all about students “leading by serving with passion, skill, integrity, and faith.”
Q: Sounds interesting. How does it work?
A: Students in what are currently known as grades K-4 will be grouped into two Learning Labs, each staffed by a teacher. Students “learning to read” will learn in Lab One; students “reading to learn” will learn in Lab Two. Teachers will compose interdisciplinary thematic units around students’ curiosity questions and will create learning activities designed specifically to develop students’ skills relative to defined milestones – skills that will be regularly assessed. Arts specialists will lead students in artistic activities that support the thematic learning and promote artistic growth. Other adults – “lab partners” – will surround and support the endeavor, with parents and community members offering special opportunities that support students’ thematic learning: field trips to their workplaces, projects with real-world application, equipment to use, and so forth. Even high school students will have opportunities to contribute as mentors, buddies, and guest teachers. An administrator will team teach, provide preparatory time for teachers, and coordinate the contributions of “lab partners.”
Q: Has this kind of thing been tried before?
A: Yes, and the research indicates that a mixed-age model prepares students academically just as well as a traditional grade-based model – and students in mixed-age classrooms outperform their peers on affective measures such as social development, social interaction, levels of aspiration, and enjoyment of school.
Q: If the Learning Labs encompass grades K-4, what about grade 5?
A: Grade 5 will join the middle school! Grades 5 and 6 have been re-envisioned as nurturing transitional years with few class changes and special opportunities for discipleship and relationship-building, with grades 7 and 8 bridging the way to high school with more class changes age-appropriate challenges and opportunities.
Q: Can you suggest some readings about the efficacy of mixed-age education?
A: Here are some resources to get you started!
- This research review examines all the quantitative research available at the time of publication about the educational outcomes of students in multi-age classrooms compared with those of their peers in traditional graded classrooms. The article goes into some detail about the various studies, but the “conclusion” section provides a helpful summary. http://jrre.vmhost.psu.edu/wp-content/uploads/2014/02/7-1_1.pdf
- This more recent article from the Center for Evaluation and Education Policy examines the advantages and disadvantages of multi-age education in the context of a high-stakes-test-driven schooling culture. Thankfully, as an independent school, we are free from some of the restrictions cited in the article, but it’s an interesting read nonetheless. https://files.eric.ed.gov/fulltext/ED504569.pdf
- This interesting post on the ASCD blog reveals a teacher’s perspective on meeting “twenty-first century learning goals” in a multi-age classroom. http://edge.ascd.org/blogpost/how-a-multiage-model-made-it-possible-to-meet-21st-century-goals