What is PEAK Hour?
Imagine walking into a school – in front of you is a large open space humming with a productive buzz. Everywhere you look students are at work and play, both individually and in teams. In one corner a group of students are working in teams building small robots with LittleBits circuits. In some areas – students are working on computers and tablets. Some are coding video games using Scratch, others are working through Khan Academy lessons – demonstrating their mastery of 6th grade math concepts, even though they’re only in 3rd grade.
At first it’s hard to notice the adults, you notice 1 over there, leading a Socratic seminar about The Giver. As you wander closer, you overhear “I disagree Cesar, by eliminating pain and suffering in the society, we can infer that Jonas also can no longer experience deep positive emotions, such as love.”
The scene in front of you seems more like CU Boulder’s library or a college coffee-shop on a weekday evening, than a public elementary school.
The “Private-School Skills“ Gap
Every day at Rocky Mountain Prep, the school that I founded and lead, we are closing the academic achievement gap between low-income scholars and their wealthier peers. We are incredibly proud of that work, but we know it isn’t enough. A strong academic foundation is necessary, but not sufficient for success in the modern economy.
Tony Wagner the author of Creating Innovators states,
“More than a century ago, we ‘reinvented’ the one-room schoolhouse and created factory schools for the industrial economy. Reimagining schools for the 21st-century must be our highest priority. We need to focus more on teaching the skill and will to learn and to make a difference and bring the three most powerful ingredients of intrinsic motivation into the classroom: play, passion and purpose.”
Many of the best private schools offer these opportunities for independent and interest-based work to their students. However, high-performing charter schools that serve a majority low-income population have been more reticent. With PEAK Hour we’re exploring what happens when we put our scholars in charge of their learning.
It’s incredibly challenging to meet the variety of student needs and interests using a traditional model of instruction. The fundamental premise of PEAK hour is: when the majority of students are working independently, teachers are “freed” to be incredibly strategic with how they use their time and extend their strengths across multiple “classrooms.
Teachers are able to focus on what they do best and reach more students with their unique talents. For instance, for our teacher who is an expert in teaching 1-1 correspondence is able to pull a small group of scholars from multiple classes and help them master that skill. For a teacher who loves leading Socratic seminars, they can run book clubs with a group of students for a few weeks.
“Breathing Room” for Innovation
There is a silly debate that is largely about semantics between education “reformation” and education “transformation.” What we can agree on is that we need to think and act differently if we are to realize different outcomes for our children. Our PEAK Hour offers a “safe place” for educators to design and test new ideas with their scholars and colleagues. Pilots of new curricula can be implemented and tested quickly with opportunities for rapid, frequent feedback and iterations, before implemented in a whole class or school. Innovation because a part of the daily work of our teachers, staff and scholars.
[This blog post was co-written by James Cryan & Jon Hanover. Jon is a founding Kindergarten teacher at Rocky Mountain Prep and in all of his spare time is founding Roots Elementary scheduled to open in 2015. @jhanover.]