On the Ground: School of One at MS 88

This post was written by Aaron Kaswell, a School of One teacher at Middle School 88 in Park Slope, Brooklyn and is derived from his presentation at the iZone Share Event in June 2014. Aaron was awarded a Fund for Teachers Fellowship to apprentice in Tokyo under Tetsuya Miyamoto. You can read Aaron’s blog on his time abroad and on his symposium on blended and personalized learning here.

In 2012, I was in my 5th year teaching 6th grade mathematics, which I loved. But I was on a narrow track with limitations of what I could do in my classroom. I had learned to differentiate a few methods and levels of learning. It was a fun and exciting place – my classroom – but it was limited. Invariably, there were always students pushing ahead and some that were left behind. I’m sure you’ve heard of similar challenges before.

Since I started teaching with the School of One program two years ago, I have almost never left a student behind or not challenged a student pushing ahead. School of One is a personalized learning program for middle school math that integrates a variety of instructional approaches to create a targeted, individualized learning experience, at the appropriate academic level for every student. In that sense, School of One has allowed me to believe and know that all types of students at all levels of learning can be met every day. I can differentiate for 25 different students if need be.

The School of One program evaluates and groups students daily based on their performance and then turns over the hard work of teaching to the teachers. Students are placed in lessons daily based on where they are, regardless of grade. So, with not knowing what the needs of each student are each day, I have had to push myself to deepen my content and pedagogical knowledge not just in 6th grade, but from 4th to 10th grades. That’s the spectrum of assignments on a daily basis. Essentially, I have to be ready to teach any topic in this range. I now plan nightly for an hour as opposed to once a week for several hours, but my students are being met individually, and I am better informed than I ever was about where students are in their learning.

Our principal knew my co-teachers and I were up for this challenge. I have had to push myself to deepen my knowledge and practice through professional development and a fellowship through Math for America.  School of One does not only push students to be better but it also pushes teachers to be better. It has allowed me to do what I do best: TEACH. There’s a common misconception that this program is computers teaching students, and that’s not the case at all. It relies on my preparation every day. Without strong teachers and strong preparation, the wide daily learning needs of students would not be met. I have three colleagues who are with me every day doing the same thing, and I could not do this without them – Mr. Cohen, Mrs. Gallina, and Ms. Gordon. We have a daily planning meeting to share strategies, lesson ideas, and discuss other various issues that arise. Thus, it’s a program that meets the needs of students, pushes teachers to deepen their content knowledge and participate in a professional community. As cheesy as it sounds, all of this has made a great equation for success.