Matt Newberg is a master educator with 20 years’ experience in fostering student-centered learning. In this conversation with our host Aaron Churchill, Matt discusses topics that are subtle, innovative approaches to educational success practiced at the Maine Academy of Natural Sciences (MEANS).
- Students have a clear idea of the curriculum which includes intensive project-based, hands-on experiential learning.
- Educators engage with each student to set up expectations ahead of time so that no one is set up for failure. In creating expectations students have agency in navigating the curriculum which has a strong inter-disciplinary approach and content sequencing.
- There is a strong advisory program for each student establishing a solid adult relationship as fundamental to the educational experience. Ten students are in an advisory which meets prior to their day followed by carefully developed out-of-class curriculum which includes the greenhouse, out on the trails or to the lakes and ocean for water sampling and testing.
- Each student participates in the core project block and subject area “Intensives” which include field strips to study project areas in depth. Some of these have included research in environmental studies, landscaping, as well as apples. Students are encouraged to come up with their own ideas in designing an education pathway for themselves, and for many that is done with an eye for a vocation and/or career in Maine.
- Many of MEANS students are those for whom a typical district school environment would not work. To intensify the one-on-one approach to student agency, MEANS offers its hallmark “Threshold Program” for teens that are coping with social anxiety, are teen parents, or are already working. To ensure intensive student/teacher engagement in learning, Threshold uses a hybrid learning model that includes remote learning with two weekly one-hour sessions of tutoring, either in the home or in a safe place like a library. Seventy students at MEANS are engaged in the Threshold program and are succeeding in meeting their educational plans.
- For Matt, who has taught in private schools, the MEANS charter environment and governance allows for him and the teaching staff the nimbleness and flexibility to customize the learning to address the needs of each student while meeting the state standards. The school structure offered by MEANS allows for non-traditional students to succeed.
- Matt’s message to policymakers is, create legislation that supports more non-traditional approaches to learning and encouraging more project-based learning in schools.