Brooklyn LAB: Lighting the Path to Personalized Learning

Brooklyn LAB: Lighting the Path to Personalized Learning

The Getting Smart team spent the last year exploring next gen schools. With support from Next Generation Learning Challenges (NGLC), Tom, Caroline, Carri and Megan set off to learn more about the forward-leaning leaders who are building and inspiring new models of teaching and learning. Their report, Lighting the Path to Personalized Learning: Inspiring Stories from Next Gen Schools, highlights three attributes of personalized learning through the stories of the schools they visited and learned from:

• High Expectations for College Readiness
• Personalized Learning for All Students
• Optimized for Scale

The story of Brooklyn LAB demonstrates how schools create personalized learning for all students. Here is their story.

Is it possible to create a high-engagement school where students do interesting and relevant work and meet high expectations?

Erin Mote and Eric Tucker, co-founders of Brooklyn Laboratory Charter School (LAB), think the answer is decidedly yes. But over a January dinner with Tom, it was clear that there were a lot of details to work out on the joy-rigor paradox they imagined before 132 sixth graders showed up.

When you first walk into the nearly 108-year-old building in the heart of the Brooklyn Tech Triangle, “traditional school” is the last thing that comes to mind. The center of the action at LAB takes place in a great room that acts as the hub of a dynamic learning environment. Visiting two weeks after it opened in September 2014, Megan loved the flexible take on instructional time. One hour you may find students working in classroom-like settings in the corners of the room, the next hour you may find students working in small groups of three with movable whiteboards and tutors. Megan was convinced the flexible environment was extremely conducive to active learning. She observed, “Whether it is small clusters on the stairs, groups sitting comfortably on the floor or on the stage—there is no question about it, the flexible environments at LAB assure that learning is not confined to the traditional classroom.”

The LAB model personalizes learning with technology and tutors.

It requires a staffing structure that allows small group instruction—no more than three students at a time. The LAB team includes six lead teachers and 24 Lab Tutor Corps Fellows, who are full time tutors, all with bachelor’s degrees, who work with students in small groups or 1:1. The fellows will have the opportunity to join a teacher residency program that provides LAB with a pipeline of quality educators as the school continues to grow. Tucker attributes this idea to Match Education charter schools in Boston. After moving to a similar staffing structure, Match saw an increase in student success that LAB hopes to emulate.


In early conversations with our team, the co-founders mentioned that nothing available in the LMS marketplace matched the vision they had for their school. Talk of developing their own platform was balanced with questions around the reality of such a big undertaking—especially with all of the other things that are necessary to build a new school. Mote’s background as a technologist set a high bar, with her believing, “You have high expectations and see what is possible.”

Relationships are at the heart of LAB.

From everyone we talked to on campus, we heard words of genuine concern for the well being of their ‘scholars,’ both academically and emotionally—a true combination of joy and rigor. In order to achieve the school’s commitment to this balanced education, LAB has moved forward with the development of an education platform that will help capture a picture of the whole child.

The platform is currently in its initial stages and the team continues to expand and improve so that it is able to act as a key to the development of personalized learning paths for the LAB scholars. The next focus of development will hold complete learner profiles that support teachers and fellows in making informed decisions about student needs. Through a development relationship with ThoughtWorks, LAB is using the Ed-Fi Alliance data model to unify academic and operational data in an easy, sharable dashboard format for a holistic view of students.

The team opened the doors successfully with this platform and, with the help of fellow NGLC grantees who are testing the beta version, will continue to improve upon it in the months to come. NGLC schools can be a voice for teachers, students, and current and future innovative school leaders, and LAB believes in taking that role seriously. They view the network of next gen learning schools as having the ability to partner and work together, design when necessary, and iterate when probable. From this perspective, LAB insists the NGLC schools are poised to push the EdTech market. The school’s founders believe their twin goals of joy and rigor embodies the sense of entrepreneurial learning they hope to establish at the school; through their Design Innovation Factory, Mote and Tucker have leveraged their combined experience in education and tech to create a school where, as they posit, “Technology is there to serve, inform and enhance teaching and learning processes.”


Read the stories of other next gen schools in Lighting the Path to Personalized Learning: Inspiring Stories from Next Gen Schools.

Written by Getting Smart

Getting Smart

Getting Smart supports innovations in learning, education & technology. Our mission is to help more young people get smart & connect to the idea economy.

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