NationSwell Council member Chris Rush is making the dream of personalized learning a reality. As the co-founder of New Classrooms Innovation Partners, Rush is working with schools in 10 states to customize students’ schedules and tailoring the curriculum to their learning methods. Here, Rush discusses how his efforts are reshaping the future of education.
Why do we need to rethink the way schools work?
The role of a teacher isn’t something that’s set up for success. Maybe the job is just too hard. Maybe it needs to be retooled in another way. You put 30 kids in a room that are all coming from different starting places and have different supports at home. You give every child a textbook, and you’re supposed to meet the student where he or she is. Let’s reimagine classrooms in a way that could help educators to be more successful.

Chris Rush gives a tour of the New Classrooms offices to middle school students.

New Classrooms really got its start back in 2009 at School of One. How does its model differ from a regular classroom?
We are rescheduling every kid and assigning teachers and different third-party activities based on what they did the day before. Think of it like the Pandora music service, but for learning: Every day it gets a little bit smarter. If you tend to be working well with this group of five kids and this teacher on rainy days, we realize that. Or if you’re coming from gym, you might be hyper and need some independent time. Or before English class, you might need to work in a group. Picking up on all of those types of patterns makes it smarter and smarter. At the end of the day, you’ll come back to your main teacher and answer five questions to see whether or not you were successful. And if you were, we will record all those things, so you can get more like it. And if you weren’t, we give all the attributes of the day a thumbs down, and you start the whole process all over again.
Bill Gates, a key funder of New Classrooms, visits Middle School 88 in Brooklyn, N.Y.

Even though this is ed tech software, you’re insistent that the platform isn’t a virtual classroom. Why?
A lot of other online learning platforms customize the “what” of student learning, but it doesn’t allow you to personalize the “how,” “when” and “where.” We can create a sequence that fits with students’ learning patterns. Some need to try it themselves until they get stuck, then really get the most out of being with a teacher; other children won’t touch it independently unless there’s a teacher who already showed them. So, for us, you don’t just log in. It’s technology-powered, but it’s not experienced on the computer. It’s sort of like when you go to the airport. Certain planes can only be on certain gates, and certain crews can only be on at certain times because of delays and weather conditions. But what you do is scan your ticket, look up at the big-screen television, head to the gate and go. All the other stuff is done for you behind the scenes.
To learn more about the NationSwell Council, click here.
Homepage photo by Darris Lee Harris.