Denver’s CUBE: Reimagining the High School Experience

When we think of an engaging high school experience, we think of one that encourages students to pursue their passions, provides them with opportunities to work on meaningful real-world projects and opens their eyes to new ways of thinking about complex issues through the use of the design thinking process. This is the type of learning environment that the CUBE School envisions and is one that students in Denver will have an opportunity to experience first-hand, beginning in August 2019.

Reimagining High School

CUBE is on a mission to “cultivate the leaders of tomorrow” and their approach in doing so includes the five core elements below.

Image Courtesy of The CUBE School

While every element noted above is of importance to CUBE Founder and storyteller, Bret Poppleton, stresses computational thinking. Specifically, he underscores the fact that computer science is for all students, “the emphasis that computer science is for all is for real. I believe it is as an equity issue for our generation.” Computer Science will be deeply integrated into CUBE’s DNA. The school will prepare all students to be ready for the AP Computer Science Principles by the end of the 10th grade. Students will receive direct instruction around coding, there will be deep integration of computer science in all STEM mash-ups, and there will be a one-week accelerator on Raspberry Pi which all students will take.

After a business career, Poppleton joined DSST, a great urban STEM network in Denver, as the business lead. After five years, he moved into a teaching role and then became Dean of the Senior Academy at the flagship DSST Stapleton High. We’ve taken many groups to visit DSST over the years and appreciate Bret’s energy and insight. He took everything he learned at DSST and added everything he knew was key to the #FutureofWork and incorporated them in the CUBE.

A School Where Students are Known

The ability to know students deeply is at the center of CUBE’s design. It is based on this deep knowledge that CUBE believes and rightly so, that students can be best supported and challenged to do meaningful work. One look at the student section of their website and this becomes abundantly clear.

Image Courtesy of The CUBE School

Bret emphasized that the importance of individuals being known is a part of the human story. He went on to say, “when we know you that’s how we can make decisions that are done in conjunction with you, not to you.” While knowing students individually is of utmost importance, helping students understand that they are part of a community and culture is just as important. At CUBE, students will understand that they are a part of something bigger than just themselves and Bret believes (as do we) that “when you understand that you are a part of something bigger than just yourself, you become the person you’re meant to be.”

Big Integrated Projects

By knowing their students well, CUBE will be able to help them pursue their passions through authentic real-world projects that matter to a student’s current and future life. CUBE is flipping the idea that some passions — like video games, sports and mobile apps — belong solely in out of school activities. Instead, they’re using the interests students have to unpack and explore problems and all the world has to offer.

We really love how CUBE plans to integrate projects by way of “mash-ups” that blend interdisciplinary studies. Mash-ups are seamlessly integrated with industry, wellness, art, computer science and language. Student learning and progress will be measured by “standards proficiency, skill development and improvement based on a competency-based continuum.”

Each mash-up is slated to last six-weeks providing students an opportunity to go really deep in their exploration of the topic and spend ample time developing their project and presentation.

The Smart Rockets mash-up below is an example of introductory 9th-grade physics. In this mash-up students, will “build their foundational scientific research and communication skills which include using units and appropriate precision, interpreting different representations of data, designing and carrying out hands-on procedures and using technical writing to communicate results.”

Image Courtesy of The CUBE School


For a more in-depth example, check out this mash-up on Afrofuturism which is a “convergence of history, literature and media arts.”

Students will be taught how to utilize computational thinking in order to tackle these big projects. Bret shared that students will learn how to think as problem solvers, utilize digital tools and seek out expertise in order to do their work. Rethinking efficiency and effectiveness, algorithmic thinking and selecting technologies will become second nature to CUBE students.

Deep exploration will not just be confined within CUBE’s walls. Following each mash-up will be a one-week opportunity, called an Accelerator, to explore the world. According to CUBE, “This might mean that you go backpacking or camping for a week. It might mean that you spend the week at a bakery, learning about the science of cookie-making. Either way, you will spend significant time each year in life-changing experiences outside our school walls.” This structure of a 6-week mash-up, followed by a 1-week accelerator provides flexibility in CUBE’s scheduling and provides them with an entry point in thinking about additional ways to restructure scheduling and systems.

As schools are charged with preparing students for success in the future, we love the emphasis CUBE has put on what success truly means. CUBE seeks to prepare students to  “succeed in the future — not just in college, not just in a job, but to find fulfillment and happiness. School should help you find what interests you, where you can make your contributions and how to do meaningful work.” We are excited about the meaningful work CUBE students will embark on and look forward to adding the CUBE school to our list of schools worth visiting upon its opening this coming school year.

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Getting Smart Staff

The Getting Smart Staff believes in learning out loud and always being an advocate for things that we are excited about. As a result, we write a lot. Do you have a story we should cover? Email [email protected]

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