Two important collaborations with NYU and Columbia are now underway at Portfolio. One partnership will give our students the opportunity to apply their learning in music, technology, design, art and science; the other partnership will help our school refine a methodology that is carefully crafted and guided by research.


The collaboration with NYU—where grad students will work with Portfolio to create a project for the students—was a few years in the making.

When Nancy Otero, Portfolio’s Founding Director of Research and Learning Design, first met Alex Ruthman, the Director of Music Education of NYU, a few years ago at his incubator/lab called MusEDLab, she was blown away.

“The place is a fantastic combination between innovative ideas, musical rigor and creative minds,” Nancy recalls her first visit to MusEDLab. “It was exhilarating. I knew immediately I wanted to collaborate with him and his team.”

Nancy worked with Alex over the next few years, running a workshop at IMPACT, a big international conference which Alex started that lasts five days and is about music experience design for education, health, interactive media and social impact.

For the last few years Alex has run a popular class for Music Education and Music Technology grad students. During the class his talented students select either an educational institution with children or an adult-related institution and co-create a project with them. This year Alex selected Portfolio School as the child-focused educational institution which half of his students will co-design a project with, the other half will work with BAM (Brooklyn Academy of Music).

 NYU team meets with Nancy at Portfolio

NYU team meets with Nancy at Portfolio

Last week, Alex’s NYU students held their kick-off meeting with Nancy at Portfolio, where the group brainstormed project ideas, including co-producing a soundtrack with the kids to their Mars movie, doing a space-alien performance where the students jam with the NYU students, and many more.

It’s still the early design phase. Over the next few weeks Nancy and the rest of the Portfolio team will work with Alex’s students to design an overall plan for the project.

“We’re super excited to start developing this partnership with Alex and give our students the exposure and opportunity to collaborate with such an ingenious group of grad students. Portfolio School is not just about what you know but what you can do with it. This is one of the paths our children have to apply their knowledge to more real and authentic projects.”

 Nancy Otero, Founding Director of Research and Learning Design

Learn more about the MusEDLab in Alex Ruthmann's TEDx talk:


Also this week Portfolio began its collaboration with Professor Nathan Holbert from Teachers College Columbia University, one of the leading educational institutions in the country. Whereas the collaboration with NYU is about bringing a musical project to the students at the school, the goal of this partnership is to answer questions like: How do students of different ages and levels of mastery  support one another in a learner-centered school? What structures employed by Portfolio staff are most effective to support learners in choosing and pursuing a line of inquiry?

Nathan Holbert is the director of the Snow Day Lab, an extraordinary place which primary goal is to understand how children make sense of their world through play. To that end grad students make and study games, toys, and technologies that both offer children opportunities to experience and explore personally interesting phenomena, and further human understanding of cognition.

Portfolio was set up with the flexibility to adapt our learning environments so we can more easily implement new discoveries coming out of educational research. And there is plenty of great research to be found.

The learning sciences have had a renaissance in the last 50 years. Cognitive and developmental psychologists, neurologists, educators, and academics from multiple disciplines have achieved an incredible depth of understanding about the human ability to learn. Yet while the discoveries have been many, the implementation of these discoveries has been few and far between.

Nancy, who was the architect of this partnership explains the the importance of the collaboration. “It’s an important principle to learn from our own implementations and support the development of new learning frameworks.”

Professor Nathan Holbert is excited to be working with a school like Portfolio. “Most schools throughout the US still employ a traditional structure where students are segregated by grade and teachers are deemed the source of knowledge and arbiter of day-to-day activities. While some classrooms may enact progressive activities, few schools adopt student-centered approaches at all levels of the education experience. Of those schools that do, even fewer include technology as part of that complex system.”

“Portfolio School offers a unique opportunity to study the thinking and learning of students engaged in a “formal” education experience that is entirely student-centered.” 

Professor Nathan Holbert, Teachers College, Columbia


Explore further:

  1. Alex's MuseEDLab at NYU:
  2. Nathan's Lab at Columbia:
  3. Alex's paper, "Teaching Computational Thinking through Musical Live Coding in Scratch." Click HERE to read.
  4. Alex's paper, "The Composers Workshop: An Approach to Composing in the Classroom." Click HERE to read.
  5. Nathan paper, "The powerful ideas of making: building beyond the curriculum." Click HERE to read
  6. More publications from Nathan