Most schools have a curriculum they hope will interest and engage students. Portfolio designs a new curriculum every semester based on student interest.
Most schools offer students the opportunity for hands-on learning and projects. Portfolio immerses students in ambitious collaborative and personal projects, not as an add-on to other learning, but as the basis of learning.
Most schools organize learning into distinct subjects and time blocks (i.e. math, reading, writing, science, social studies, art, and technology.) Portfolio organizes learning around topics incorporating all subject areas, and offers large learning blocks for students to have the opportunity for in-depth, meaningful learning activities.
Most schools divide students into grades based on age, offering enrichment for students working above grade level and remediation for students working below grade level. Portfolio organizes students in flexible mixed-age teams rather than classes, making it possible for students to be consistently challenged and supported at their own level.
Most schools offer programs to support social-emotional learning. Portfolio embeds personalized social-emotional learning goals, alongside academic goals, within each of our projects.
Our learning units are immersive and span the course of approximately 3-4 months, inviting students to explore, discover, create, and reflect. They stem from our students' curiosity and offer depth and breadth of learning in a wide range of subject areas. Each learning unit includes a series of distinct projects, in which students can apply their learning, that culminate in one ambitious, collaborative end-of-unit project where students can demonstrate the quality and depth of their newfound skills, knowledge and understanding and share this with the wider community. Students also have the opportunity to take a deep dive into personal projects of their own choosing, which could be related to the overall unit or entirely related to a personal curiosity, interest, talent or passion.
Through a deep dive into a tasty treat, children explored electricity, states of matter, temperature, measurement, history, and geography. They learned how the commercialization of ice, making possible refrigeration and air conditioning, changed forever the way we eat and live; explored simulations of states of matter; experimented with ways to transport ice and keep it for as long as possible without melting; created their own thermometers; ran electric circuits, and ultimately created our own working ice cream machines. Our final exhibition was an ice cream party at which students made the ice cream for exhibition guests and shared reflections on their learning journey with presentations on how to build an ice cream machine, how to make homemade ice cream, and how electricity works.
Emerging from children’s fascination with color, and especially rainbows, we embarked on an extensive exploration into color. We explored the ancient human fascination with color, manifested by pigments humans created to draw cave paintings as much as 30,000 years ago; the ways leaves change color; the symbolism of color not only in visual art, but also in literature; the mythology and science of rainbows; and the visible light spectrum and electromagnetic waves. Learners heard Snow White stories from around the world and wrote their own version of Snow White, set in 2016 NYC, making the lead characters Donald Trump, Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, and Justin Trudeau, thus finding their own way to share their reactions to the election. They did experiments with the pigments in leaves, created their own pigments, explored light, read rainbow myths from around the world, and wrote their own rainbow myths. They transformed an area of our school into a cave. They took on the challenge to create a lightbox projector, which they designed - laser cutting the wood projector box and 3D printing a device to attach the projector securely to a tripod. They then designed large wood rings, figuring out how to make wood bendable. Within these rings they created three background scenes, and laser cut images for the foreground, which illustrated the rainbow myths they had written and demonstrated their understanding of character and setting. They were able to project these scenes as shadow stories onto the wall using light, demonstrating their understanding of light and shadow. Children programmed an LED bonfire, designed masks of the main characters of their myths, and at our public exhibition, brought our guests through an immersive storytelling experience about rainbows.
Stemming from the desire to adopt a class pet, children engaged in learning about what is considered to be the most significant event in the past 15,000 years of human history: the Neolithic Revolution, or the period in which people domesticated plants and animals. Children learned not only about the domestication of guinea pigs (the animals they chose to adopt) but also about how humans domesticated plants and a wide range of animals, changing the course of human history. Considering what it means to live with animals today, children designed and built a multi-story home for guinea pigs, with ramps that allowed our two guinea pigs to move between levels and a rooftop farm that grows the plants to feed the guinea pigs. Learning that when the humidity gets too high the home needs to be cleaned, the kids designed and built sensors to measure the home’s internal humidity. This included a user interface that lights up when it was time to clean the guinea pig home. They also began experimenting with Artificial Intelligence to train a neural network to identify each of the two guinea pigs, so we could check in on them even when we weren’t at school. All of this work was presented at a public exhibition at which the students presented their guinea pig house and brought guests on a journey through history via the lens of the domestication of animals.