Innovation in Learning Study Group

East Coast: Our magic

By: Erin Hanrahan

For most of us, the idea of "choosing a major" conjures memories of college. But at the String Theory schools, 4th grade students are about to embark on that very journey. Starting in 5th grade and continuing through senior year, students at the String Theory charter schools in Philadelphia spend 90 minutes every day taking courses in their major; instrumental music, STEM, ballet, digital design, or one of several other options.


What does this mean for their educational experience? The school is hoping majors will spark passion, and that seems to be working. When I asked students at String Theory what their favorite part of the school day was, every one replied, "my major." Students work on authentic projects in their majors, designing artwork for banners that fly near City Hall in downtown Philly, and producing stop-motion films to market products that are being developed at Particle, the school's 8th-floor incubation lab.

Over and over, students at String Theory raved about the 90-minute "major" block, explaining that it gives them a chance to really "get good at something." They crave mastery. Administrators and faculty refer to this enthusiasm as "Our Magic," and have codified it (their words) on every staff member's ID badge.

Students' enthusiasm for majors makes them a compelling pedagogical prospect. But even more compelling, I think, is the question of how we can get that magic and enthusiasm to permeate all classes in a student's school day. Why should students have to wait until D Block to have an authentic, real-world learning experience? It strikes me that, although we do not have a major program at Woodstock, and although our school cannot boast a major with a professional grade motion capture studio, we are working hard to integrate authentic learning experiences into core classes every day. There is magic there, too.