Next Gen Learning in Brooklyn

There is a long history of new school development as a source of quality options and innovative education in New York City–with solid evidence that it has contributed to improved achievement and graduation rates. Some of the recently opened new schools were awarded a Next Generation Learning Challenge grant, including Brooklyn Laboratory Charter School (LAB).

When you walk into LAB’s 108 year old building in the heart of the Brooklyn Tech Triangle nothing signals traditional school. But as we reported in their opening month, the LAB school is all about relationship building.

Dr. Eric Tucker is co-founder and Executive Director of Brooklyn LAB. He hired six founding teachers, a dean, and a social worker.

Based on the success of the Match Corps Boston, they also hired two dozen Fellows, a strategy that has worked better than expected. The Fellows are recent college graduates that make $18,000 (including benefits) to provide powerful relationships and strong academic support to the 129 sixth graders. Four of the Fellows are digital media  specialists that support master teachers on curriculum development and deliver 360Lab enrichments focused on digital media production and coding.

Erin Mote is co-founder of Brooklyn LAB and Executive Director of non-profit platform partner InnovateEDU. A technologist by background, Mote didn’t anticipate the level of digital illiteracy. Incoming LAB scholars were mobile and tech literate – they know how to use a smart phone and play video games. But, many had never used a laptop for school work–every LAB student receives a Chromebook and they are central to the academic program. Most students didn’t know how to type, use Gmail, navigate Google Drive, or participate on course sites. And, they desperately needed a course in digital citizenship, digital media literacies, and connected learning.

School starts at 8:30 a.m. and lasts until 5:15 p.m., but many students come at 7:15 for an additional helping of academic work. Students can choose two enrichments each day–a scheduling challenge but worth the effort. Erin said, “When you give kids agency they’ll tell you what they need.” Robotics, digital photography and video production, and video game design are favorites. But, technology enabled world languages and Google doc fueled creative writing are surging.

The co-founders say they’ve maintained the engagement and the rigor expressed in their pre-opening plans. Erin said, “Students are joyful–they’re happy to be here.” She said the founding team works each day to personalize learning in order to best serve students with difficult home circumstances–85% live in or near poverty, 33% have special needs, 20 are in transitional housing, and 14 students are involved in the juvenile justice system.

Eric said, the team embraces the challenge of promoting deeper learning while filling academic gaps. Of the 40% of incoming students that required intensive language acquisition intervention during the first semester, half of them made enough gains during the first semester to test out of intervention.

Next gen platform. After reviewing leading learning management systems, the LAB team decided to set out on their own and build a new platform. InnovateEDU is working with Chicago-based ThoughtWorks on a next generation learning platform.

Beginning last summer, an agile development approach using Azure, Microsoft’s cloud platform resulted in Version 1, used at Lab during their first semester. The user-focused design focused on supporting student-centered environments with continuous feedback using a simple design and interface.

The backbone of the platform is an operational data store that securely gathers important information about the learners and their experiences–combining the functionality of an SIS, LMS, and gradebook. The linchpin of this effort to fuse together operational, learning, and assessment data is the Ed-Fi Data Standard – all in order to generate actionable evidence that serves and informs both teaching and learning. The team at LAB works to get better each day at how to document, analyze, and understand the processes by which students develop as learners.

Version 2 of the platform will incorporate enhanced learner plans and profiles, assessment features, organizational tools for teachers, and a parent portal. Watch Brooklyn LAB’s introduction video:

For more on Brooklyn LAB, check out:

Tom Vander Ark

Tom Vander Ark is the CEO of Getting Smart. He has written or co-authored more than 50 books and papers including Getting Smart, Smart Cities, Smart Parents, Better Together, The Power of Place and Difference Making. He served as a public school superintendent and the first Executive Director of Education for the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

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Andrea Davis

My son attends Brooklyn Lab and I knew from the moment that I met Erin and Eric that this was the school I wanted my son to attend. Unlike other charter schools that use suspensions/expulsions as a penalty, the leadership at Brooklyn Lab sought to find innovative ways to get and keep kids engaged. For my son, they have done that. My son actually likes school and feels cared for. Very different than his/our experience with another Charter School in Brooklyn.

Mr. S., their Soicial Worker is an authentic man who cares wholeheartledly about the students. I am a personal fan of his.

I am very happy my son is there...and while there are growing pains, it is an experience that is far more rewarding for our family than it has been in the past. Bravo to Eric and Erin's vision and participation in transforming education.

Concern Parent

I came to Brooklyn Lab because of its motto -- we work with kids who are below grade level. Ms. Osman a sixth grade Math teacher doesn't understand this concept. She screams at the kids about missing homework but she doesn't understand that the kids might not understand how to complete it. When you speak to her she is cold and she is thinking that because she is the lead teacher it is all about her. She have another thing coming because she lacks the basic skill - effective communication. She needs more than sensitivity training. I am going to challenge her and make sure that she teaches the right way. She doesn't teach right either. Please Dr. Tucker please go in unexpectedly and visit her class on more than one occasion and you will see for yourself. Your office is right next door, so I know for a fact you can hear her screaming at these scholars daily. She can used a different approach if the kids are offtask.




Thank you for raising your concerns. As I grow in my profession, I am very open to feedback and committed to implementing strategies that will set our scholars up for success. As an educator, I value the opportunity to serve and take personal responsibility for all students. I strive to understand, respond to, and celebrate the needs of each student. And I believe in the importance of engaging families and caregivers as equal partners. Thank you so much for your feedback. I am available to set up some time to meet and further discuss your concerns in person or on the phone. Please feel free to contact me via email or by phone to set up a time to meet.

Eric from Brooklyn LAB

Thanks for writing. We first saw this comment this week, and have both reached out directly and want to respond in writing. As a leader at Brooklyn LAB, I appreciate your concerns and your bravery as you advocate for your scholar. We strive to be a school community where every student is fully included. All young people deserve caring adults who work to unlock his or her potential. I have known Ms. Osman since she started working at LAB in 2016, and have watched her contribute as an educator. I know her to be committed to growing and being effective in order to best serve students. She believes every student deserves to be held to (and can meet) high expectations. She believes all students belong in her classroom and in our school community. And she believes we all share responsibility for the success of each student. We appreciate your concerns, and we take responsibility for our communication with you and your student. Through practice and hard work, we can support your family. Please continue to reach out to me via email, phone, arrivals, or dismissals if you have any questions or concerns.

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