Learning Design

At Active Leadership Academy, our children learn in a collaborative studio of multi-age learners. Our flexible approach challenges each student with their own differentiated learning plan and inspires them through real-world projects and experiences. Our Learner Driven Community puts children at the center of their learning, allowing them to create and maintain personal goals and relational covenants, as they Learn to Learn, Learn to Do, and Learn to Be.

core skills work

1. Core Academic Skills

“Learn to Know”
Master the foundations of reading, writing, and math

Example:

Instead of one-size-fits-none teacher lectures …

… Self-paced mastery of 3rd-grade math with cutting-edge personalized technology and peer mentoring.

quest project

2. Quests & Projects

“Learn to Do”
Hands-on projects to master the skills needed to solve real-world problems

Example:

Instead of memorizing the periodic table …

… You are an ER doctor in a 6-week simulation.

You learn the processes, tools, decision trees and facts to triage patients. On the final-day Exhibtion, parents come with prepared “diseases.” You can order an MRI, an X-ray, etc., paying for each. The winner of the simulation is the ER doc who saves the most lives (correct diagnoses) for the lowest cost.

presenting and public speaking

3. Socratic Discussions

“Learn to Learn”
Think and speak clearly to develop wisdom and judgment

Example:

Instead of memorization to cram for the test …

… You are Harry Truman.

1. Do you drop the bomb?
2. Reflect on this video of Hiroshima after nuclear force. Does this change your mind?
3. Reflect on this photo and personal account of a Japanese POW camp. Does this change your mind?
4. Which ethical approach is more important to you: a values approach — “We do not kill people” — or a utilitarian approach — “Fewest total lives lost”?

reading and learning

4. Servant Leadership

“Learn to Be”
Develop habits and character traits that make an abundant, fulfilling life

Example:

Instead of schools designed to minimize behavior problems …

… Young people learn to lead by doing so, with Servant Leader Badges celebrating the most important milestones, like:

1. Leading a conflict resolution discussion
2. Developing a mentor relationship with a personal hero
3. Completing deliberate practice of a skill you want to develop
4. Mentoring a team from a younger studio
5. Leading a team in accomplishing a big goal
6. Mastering a productivity skill like the urgent-important matrix

“My kids love going to school everyday because it is built to help them find their voice, take charge of their education, and practice collaboration and self management with a fun group of peers that is truly a community.”

The Hero’s Journey

Learning at Active Leadership Academy is an invitation to a Hero’s Journey. We believe that each of us has a special calling in life, and a series of trials and tests that must be faced with integrity and purpose, in order to live a life of meaning. Our mission is to prepare everyone his or her special journey.

“When we first saw this, we realized:

1. Young people are capable of vastly more than they’re given credit for.

2. This was the most nurturing, deep-learning, student-centered school we had ever seen.”

Outcomes

exhibition
Above all, we believe in delighting families with a school experience you’re thrilled about.
One of the great experiences of life is the feeling of learning something challenging and worthwhile. Real growth is hard work – just like developing a muscle. It’s often even harder for parents than it is for children. It’s not easy, but few meaningful things are.
For those up for the challenge, some of the outcomes we’ve observed are:
  • Young people who love school
    Students who can’t wait for summer break to be over, want to come to school on weekends, and sing on their way to school.
  • Families feeling more unity and purpose
    Families discover the joy of learning is a shared journey. As one parent described: “This has transformed our family, inspiring each of us to find a calling and discover a Hero’s Journey.”
  • Mastery of core academic skills
    While only a small portion of the day is spent on Core Skills, and there is zero “teaching to the test,” we’ve seen an average of 2.5 grade levels per year growth on the IOWA standardized test.
  • Self-management and leadership
    The result parents likely appreciate most is seeing their children take ownership of their learning. Meeting an Active Leadership student speaks for itself: they look you in the eye, ask powerful questions, are curious about the world around them, and have plans they’re passionate about.

“The thought of a learning environment that incorporates active learning, includes all the senses, and emphasizes a pursuit personalized to your individual gifts, sounds amazing. What kid doesn’t deserve that?”

Studio Design

The Elementary Studio is designed to create flexible spaces for work, learning, and play. It is a tight-knit community of mixed-age children who support each other and collaborate daily. This environment fosters a culture of respect and much of the character development that occurs here.

We replaced external motivators like high-stakes test scores and grades with an intrinsic growth mindset, so our children are motivated to work hard and have fun. Respect is the foundation for every other skill we learn at Active Leadership Academy. We respect our time, our fellow learners, our space, and our materials. The children work together to create rules for the space. Some areas might be off limits for play, while others are more flexible. Ultimately, the learners come together to agree to those ground rules and promises—all based on a key promise to not distract themselves or each other during times of work.

“I would never have believed children could learn so much from each other – until I saw it with my own eyes. The lessons of self management and self governance have prepared our fifth-grade son to be a lifelong learner.”

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A Day in the Life

A day in our studios is marked by creativity within constraints: large blocks of time for work and play with clear but broad guardrails, equipping young people to manage their time, set goals, and track progress. As learners demonstrate their readiness, they earn more freedom and responsibility. Mornings are reserved for Core skills and afternoons are for hands-on projects with integrated time to reflect, think deeply, and connect with peers. Within each work block, students choose from a broad range of work options based on their personal goals, passions and commitments.

Daily Schedule

Each day is broken up into work sprints with a shared purpose or goal. In a normal day:

  • Mornings are reserved for Core Skills
  • Afternoons are for hands-on Quest projects in the shoes of a real-life hero
  • 15-minute Socratic discussions bookend the work periods and provide a time to reflect, think deeply, and bond as a group
  • Plenty of time for free play and exercise throughout the day

The flexibility of the schedule is key to the learning design. Work blocks can be shuffled around based on studio needs each session. Within each work block, students choose from a broad range of work options based on their personal goals, passions, and commitments.

A Learner-Driven Community

Our Learner Driven Communities are run mostly by our learners, through a unique model that equips young people to carry real leadership weight from an early age. Simply put, they learn to build a 21st century organization by running their own!
  • Students create and sign a Contract of Promises describing how each individual will act and the consequences for violating community norms.
  • Mentor teams encourage younger and older students to listen, affirm, set goals and hold each other accountable.
  • “Learn to Be” badges that celebrate character and completing leadership challenges.
  • They learn to independently research questions, solve problems, and figure out a solution when they hit a roadblock without asking an adult for help.