On a busy commercial street in the diverse northeast corner of San Diego is a big district middle school. Across the street is a former dental clinic that is home to Thrive Public Schools. Both are pictures of America’s diverse future; a United Nations of education with immigrants from Africa, Asia and Latin America. Both have committed leaders and teachers but the converted clinic will give you a glimpse of the future of learning--blended, personalized and competency-based.
The entrance to Thrive, a 200 student K-8 school, is a makerspace where students build stuff and work out marble trajectories.
The small opening courtyard doubles as a playspace where primary-aged industrial designers build structures (the young man below said he was constructing a flying bridge).
Active learning is a sign of Thrive’s commitment to a project-based learning school where students “Learn to Do,” meaning students have hands-on, minds-on learning experiences that help them develop critical thinking, creativity, problem‐solving, motivation, communication and cooperation.”
Cross‐disciplinary teacher‐created projects enable students to learn through active engagement and “doing,” incorporating best practices from partner organizations including High Tech High and Buck Institute. Following is the advanced section of the Thrive project development rubric.
Project Development Rubric
|Entry Document or Event|
|Scaffolding||The project has differentiated activities designed to help individual students and groups:|
Work as an effective team on a long term project. Reflect on their "need to knows" and to develop next steps. Understand the content and make use of the resources available (including any necessary remediation that might be needed).
The Thrive staff also uses a rubric to evaluate project ideas including authenticity, academic rigor, applied learning, active exploration, assessment practices and use of technology.
No Swiss Cheese
On my way to visit Thrive, a foundation executive said, “I don’t support project-based learning because it creates “Swiss cheese learning” with lots of holes.” Thrive founder Dr. Nicole Assisi said there was no risk of learning gaps at Thrive given their approach to blended and personalized learning. While blended learning rotations fill in content gaps, “project-based learning is necessary to engage learners, to build enthusiasm, and support authentic work and exhibition,” said Assisi. She added, “If school is just skills building and no application, where’s the joy?” The following short video explains Thrive’s approach to project-based learning.
Students at Thrive Learn to Learn with a focus on skill building in numeracy and literacy. Elementary classrooms feature blended learning centers incorporating Zearn, 10Marks, Waggle, ST Math and Lexia that allow each learner to progress at their own pace toward mastery of skills and concepts. Following is the advanced section of the Thrive blended learning rubric.
Blended Learning Rubric
|Teacher as Facilitator|
|Personal Learning Plan|
|Relationships & Feedback|
|Procedures, Space & Time for Learning|
Curriculum such as Readers’ and Writers’ Workshop and CGI Math provide collaborative opportunities for small groups to work directly with the teacher, while other students work on Chromebooks or iPads. Watch a short video on Thrive’s approach to blended learning.
Another strategy that avoids the ‘Swiss cheese’ problem are well constructed step-by-step projects for elementary students. This second grade ambassador (below) explained the nine steps to a project that his class was working on.
The middle school math room, in addition to adaptive software stations, features Glenn Jacobson at the math bar (below) where students work out problems with manipulatives. He’s a former Chicago Public Schools teacher who relocated to do what he was learning in his EdTech master’s program. Glenn’s station assignments are visible upper left.
A big part of “learning to learn” at Thrive are the student led conferences which are held three times each year. A developmental rubric in each subject helps each student reflect on their progress. Students also present at culminating exhibitions.
Student led conferences are held during a week of half days during which Young Audiences provides arts enrichment.
Thrive is a Next Generation Learning Challenges grantee, which puts it in an elite class of several dozen schools exhibiting well developed plans for blended, personalized and competency-based learning (see NGLC profile).
Assisi started Thrive because she “wanted all families to have access to the type of education that I wish for my own child.” She dreams of “a day when all kids have access to schools that resemble the diversity of our state, the level of care and attention in boutique hotels and the innovation and adaptation present in some of the nation’s best startups.”
Learning to Be
Nicole Assisi learned and taught project-based learning as an early teacher at renowned High Tech High. She earned a PhD at USC studying college readiness. After co-founding several innovative Los Angeles schools, Assisi worked as an Entrepreneur in Residence for the Charter School Growth Fund who supported the development of the Thrive network.
“Interwoven in all we do at Thrive is an emphasis on students’ self-advocacy and self‐actualization,” said Assisi. In addition to an engaging and rigorous academic curriculum, Thrive is also a community that values Social Emotional Learning, or Learning to Be. Watch a short video on Thrive’s approach to SEL.
“We emphasize self‐regulation and good decision making in the pursuit of ambitious goals, helping students understand that some of the greatest learning can come from reflection on ‘failures’,” added Assisi. Following is the advanced section of the Thrive SEL rubric.
Social Emotional Learning Rubric
|Collaboration: Community Building|
|Sharing: Empathy Communication|
|Thinking: Critically Problem Solving|
Each grade begins with a morning meeting. Assisi said it’s part of developing “Responsive classrooms and a culture of belonging.”
Building a Network
“Thrive is a school that utterly walks its own talk,” said Andy Calkins, NGLC. “Their approach to professional learning and to distributed leadership and decision-making in the school deeply resonates with their ideas about student learning,” added Calkins (see 10 Dr. Assisi’s 10 Principles of Distributive Leadership).
Serving 200 students this year, Thrive Public Schools will add another 200 students including high school grades with their second campus. Assisi said they are shooting for five schools in five years. The Girard Education Foundation is supporting the expansion of the charter network with low cost facilities loans.
Thrive holds a free and low cost professional learning day in August to share tools and strategies from the innovative school model.
The Thrive model uniquely combines project-based learning, blended learning, and social emotional learning. It is well crafted and beautifully presented. Add Thrive to your list of schools to visit.
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The opinions expressed in Vander Ark on Innovation are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.