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Schools & Programs

Quest to Learn

Designed to support the digital lives of young people and their capacity for learning, Quest to Learn is a school committed to graduating strong, engaged, literate citizens of a globally networked world. Through an innovative pedagogy that immerses students in differentiated, challenge-based contexts, the school acknowledges design, collaboration, and systems thinking as key literacies of the 21st century. Within an integrated, rigorous Regents-based curriculum students work with teachers to gain the skills necessary to meet these requirements, and even surpass them. On-going evaluation and feedback create opportunities for students to plan, revise, and reflect on their own learning. The overall curriculum is rooted in mathematical practices and the use of smart tools, with an explicit intent to innovate at the level of how students are assessed in context. Most importantly, teachers work with students to build individual and academic competencies and enrich youth identity development within contexts that are relevant and meaningful.

The school has been designed to help students to bridge old and new literacies through learning about the world as a set of interconnected systems. Design and complex problem-solving are two big ideas of the school, as is a commitment to deep content learning with a strong focus on learning in rigorous, engaging, and relevant ways. It is a place where digital media meets books and students learn to think like designers, inventors, mathematicians, writers, and more. Q2L brings together teachers with a passion for content, a vision for helping kids to learn best, and a commitment to changing the way students will grow in the world.

Quest to Learn has purposely responded not only to the growing evidence that digital media and games offer powerful models for reconsidering how and where young people learn, but also to the belief that access for all students to these opportunities is critical. We believe that supporting students, their parents and communities in a quest to become motivated, resourceful, life-long learners is a true aim of education.

Digital Youth Network

The Digital Youth Network (DYN) is a hybrid digital literacy program that creates opportunities for youth to engage in learning environments that span both in-school and out-of-school contexts.

The DYN model combines into one learning environment the affordances of the various contexts where youth spend their time. This environment not only develops youth's new media literacies but also creates meaningful opportunities for them to use these new media literacies. It is a model for the construction of a new youth-serving institution that is bounded neither by walls nor time of day.

The core of the model spans the worlds of school, home, and after-school activities, and provides youth with:

  • access and training in the use of new media literacy tools;
  • meaningful activities where the development of new media literacies is essential for accomplishing goals; and
  • a continuum of established new media mentors (high school through professionals) who develop students’ technical skills, serve as role models, and provide students access to the communities of practice surrounding technology-based careers.

The DYN model focuses heavily on the sixth- to eighth-grade experience through explicit connections to school-based curriculum, interest-based clubs that require youth to use new media literacies in order to participate, and remix competitions and “open shop” times (both virtual and place-based) where youth are supported in using new media literacies to explore their own questions and push their imaginations.

To achieve these goals, the program is structured into two components: in-school media arts classes and after-school pods. The mandatory school-day media classes ensure that all students are exposed to a broad set of literacies, while the optional after-school pods enable all students to build on the breadth of exposure received in school and identify skills of their choice to explore in-depth. The combination of in-school and out-of-school programming simultaneously provides a base of knowledge to allow in-school teachers to embed digital literacy into instruction without fear of having to teach kids how to use the new media tools.

While the middle-school component focuses on the development of youth's ability to create and consume across multiple media, the high school component allows youth to focus their development on an individual medium. A key feature of the high school program is the junior mentorship program, the Change Society, where youth who excelled in the middle-school program are given internship opportunities to develop new media literacies while serving as mentors for middle-school students.

The Smithsonian

Mobile Learning Institute youth programs at the Smithsonian aim to bring greater engagement with world-class museum collections and expertise by blending them with digital media applications and practices with which young people are already familiar. Using mobile phones with data plans, a social network, and game structures like scavenger hunts and other quests, students frame their experiences of museum objects by making their own connections among them.

An important feature of the programming, and an objective that is made possible by digital media practices, is to enable young participants to make interdisciplinary connections between objects in one museum with objects in another. During five-day summer camps, teams of young people move seamlessly from the Hirshhorn to the Air and Space Museum, and then on to the Sackler Gallery, creating the clues for a text-message-based scavenger hunt that is later played by another team.

The Mobile Learning Institute at the Smithsonian is an important example of how authentic, interest-driven learning can happen at an “informal” educational setting. Young people work with content and digital media specialists who facilitate, rather than dictate, their learning objectives. They are encouraged to work collaboratively on projects both in their working groups and virtually on a social network. Team members take on specialized roles, developing the individual expertise necessary to complete each phase of the group’s project.

Middleton Wisconsin

Teachers Jim Matthews and Mark Wagler organized a “place-based” learning program in for students at the Middleton Alternative Senior High in Middleton Wisconsin. Designed around the principles of New Urbanism, it challenged students to explore a neighborhood and look for elements that align with this movement – walkability, connectivity, mixed use spaces and diversity, mixed types of housing, quality architecture and design, a traditional neighborhood structure, increased density, and green transportation.

Students take a short GPS-based historical tour of downtown Middleton using handheld computers. They view some historic photos and meet some historic characters that encourage them to consider how downtown Middleton was designed and used in the past.

Participants look for contested places and issues that people are talking about. They also gather images, videos, and interviews aimed at exploring the following questions:

  • What do different people like about downtown Middleton?
  • What are some current issues or debates surrounding the design or use of downtown Middleton?
  • What would you like to see changed about downtown Middleton?

The exploration also employs an “augmented reality” application that runs on a mobile device. Augmented reality refers to a live direct or indirect view of a physical real-world environment whose elements are augmented by virtual computer-generated sensory input such as sound or graphics. Using a mobile device, students can view an object, like a building, and receive additional information about that object. This might include historical information and links to websites or other resources.

Mathews and Wagler use place-based learning and mobile devices to push young people out into the community – be ask questions, to get involved, and to make the community better as a result.

Science Leadership Academy

Three essential questions form the basis of instruction at the Science Leadership Academy (SLA), a Philadelphia high school opened in September 2006:

"How do we learn?"
"What can we create?"
"What does it mean to lead?"

SLA is built on the notion that inquiry is the very first step in the process of learning. Developed in partnership with The Franklin Institute and its commitment to inquiry-based science, SLA provides a rigorous, college-preparatory curriculum with a focus on science, technology, mathematics and entrepreneurship. Students at SLA learn in a project-based environment where the core values of inquiry, research, collaboration, presentation and reflection are emphasized in all classes.

The structure of the Science Leadership Academy reflects its core values, with longer class periods to allow for more laboratory work in science classes and performance-based learning in all classes. In addition, students in the upper grades have more flexible schedules to allow for opportunities for dual enrollment programs with area universities and career development internships in laboratory and business settings, as well as with The Franklin Institute.

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