Innovation in Learning Study Group

East Coast: String Theory - What???

By: Julie Brown

Just like string theory in physics attempts to reconcile concrete rules of the physical world and their irrelevance in the microscopic and macroscopic realms, “String Theory Schools” try to reconcile the tangible aspects of education like grades, proficiencies, and curriculum with their intangible counterparts such as joy, passion, and empathy.  For, like our old friend John Dewey espoused, education is not something you (only) measure.  It is something you live.

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There were far too many exciting discoveries made today to cover in a blog post, but I encourage you to investigate these schools online for yourselves.  Fortunately, each teacher who visited today will write about one aspect of what we saw here in our blog.  


The big picture take-away for me was calming and empowering: these visionaries did not wait to engage their student’s passions until they had all of the potential problems figured out.  These risk takers jumped in and just got started.  Their classroom instruction is similar to ours, and in several areas lagging our school’s rigor and innovative engagement.  Their physical space is not spectacular (albeit much more conducive to collaboration than ours) nor are their students more advantaged.  What then, is so unique and special about String Theory Middle and High School?  Their schedule.  


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To a one, when asked what they loved about their school students replied, “I love that I can develop talent.”  Their faces lit up when explaining their music, dance, or STEM majors.  These young people, from the earliest grades, have the opportunity to investigate their interests and choose a “major” by the 5th grade.  They have an hour and a half each day above and beyond core classes to focus on their chosen major.  And the heights they achieve!  The sense of joy, accomplishment, belonging, and competence among the students is palpable.  They exude what we all want for our own children and students - purpose.  It is String Theory’s acceptance that, yes, it IS alright to specialize, develop, and focus - even as a young person - that makes this purpose flourish.


It is my sincerest hope that we as a school and community can similarly take risks and allow beauty, compassion, and talent to steer our decisions as we move forward in this visioning process.  Because, as you know, our students have boundless energy already - they are programming computers and operating machinery, hunting and skiing, building and designing, writing and acting, drawing and painting.  May we have the courage to further - no, radically - engage their natural passion and curiosity in profoundly meaningful ways.  Why courage?  Because we must bravely let go of certain parts of our curriculum and as students shape their curriculum.  And live their education in the process.