Opinion
Classroom Technology Opinion

Next-Gen Learning in Brooklyn

By Tom Vander Ark — January 07, 2015 3 min read

There is a long history of new school development as a source of quality options and
innovative education in New York City--with solid evidence that it has contributed to improved
achievement and graduation rates. Some of the recently opened new schools were awarded a Next Generation Learning Challenge grant, including Brooklyn Laboratory Charter School (LAB).

When you walk into LAB’s 108 year old building in the heart of the Brooklyn Tech Triangle nothing signals
traditional school. But as we reported in their opening month, the LAB school is all about relationship building.

Dr. Eric Tucker is co-founder and Executive Director of Brooklyn LAB. He hired six founding teachers, a dean, and a social worker.

Based on the success of the Match Corps Boston, they also hired two dozen Fellows, a strategy
that has worked better than expected. The Fellows are recent college graduates that make $18,000 (including benefits) to provide powerful relationships and
strong academic support to the 129 sixth graders. Four of the Fellows are digital media specialists that support master teachers on curriculum development
and deliver 360Lab enrichments focused on digital media production and coding.

Erin Mote is co-founder of Brooklyn LAB and Executive Director of non-profit platform partner InnovateEDU. A
technologist by background, Mote didn’t anticipate the level of digital illiteracy. Incoming LAB scholars were mobile and tech literate - they know how to
use a smart phone and play video games. But, many had never used a laptop for school work--every LAB student receives a Chromebook and they are central to
the academic program. Most students didn’t know how to type, use Gmail, navigate Google Drive, or participate on course sites. And, they desperately needed
a course in digital citizenship, digital media literacies, and connected learning.

School starts at 8:30 a.m. and lasts until 5:15 p.m., but many students come at 7:15 for an additional helping of academic work. Students can choose two
enrichments each day--a scheduling challenge but worth the effort. Erin said, “When you give kids agency they’ll tell you what they need.” Robotics,
digital photography and video production, and video game design are favorites. But, technology enabled world languages and Google doc fueled creative writing are surging.

The co-founders say they’ve maintained the engagement and the rigor expressed in their pre-opening plans. Erin said, “Students are joyful--they’re happy to be here.” She said
the founding team works each day to personalize learning in order to best serve students with difficult home circumstances--85% live in or near poverty,
33% have special needs, 20 are in transitional housing, and 14 students are involved in the juvenile justice system.

Eric said, the team embraces the challenge of promoting deeper learning while
filling academic gaps. Of the 40% of incoming students that required intensive language acquisition intervention during the first semester, half of them
made enough gains during the first semester to test out of intervention.

Next gen platform. After reviewing leading learning management systems, the LAB team decided to set out on their own and build a new platform. InnovateEDU is working with Chicago-based ThoughtWorks on a next
generation learning platform.

Beginning last summer, an agile development approach using Azure, Microsoft’s cloud platform resulted in Version
1, used at Lab during their first semester. The user-focused design focused on supporting student-centered environments with continuous feedback using a
simple design and interface.

The backbone of the platform is an operational data store that securely gathers important information about the learners and their experiences--combining
the functionality of an SIS, LMS, and gradebook. The linchpin of this effort to fuse together operational, learning, and assessment data is the Ed-Fi Data Standard - all in order to generate actionable evidence that serves and informs both teaching and
learning. The team at LAB works to get better each day at how to document, analyze, and understand the processes by which students develop as learners.

Version 2 of the platform will incorporate enhanced learner plans and profiles, assessment features, organizational tools for teachers, and a parent
portal.

For more on Brooklyn LAB, check out:

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.