The Having of Wonderful Ideas

Learning, PreK-12 / by

Expeditionary Learning is a national network of more than 150 schools that share the coolest design principles including “The having of wonderful ideas.” More broadly, EL schools feature “dynamic leadership, compelling curriculum, engaging instruction, continuous assessment, and a positive school culture.”

We caught up with Richard Stopol, CEO of the NYC Outward Bound Schools yesterday. I agree with Stopol, the EL design principles are “great statements of what good teaching and learning should look like.” Stopol’s team helped launch 11 schools in partnership with the NYC DOE, the last one being the first charter school, Launch, featured last week.

The NYC EL schools are 6-12–Stopol thinks it provides a running start to college readiness.  “The next area of growth for NYC Outward Bound is elementary–new for NYC  but not for EL. Washington Heights Expeditionary Learning School (WHEELS) has been approved to add on a K-5.

Competency-based learning starts with engaging students in authentic work and ends with demonstrations of mastery.  I asked Stopol if, like some project-based schools, EL ran the risk of high engagement with low rigor.  He said standards-based assessment has been a focus on the NYC network. In fact, a recent IZone Mastery Based Learning video, which features students from Validus Preparatory Academy in the Bronx.

EL schools focus on learning targets and use a mastery-based grading system with 1-4 scoring. They use  checkpoints along the way to scaffold students to mastery.  Students learn and shift in dynamic small groups, but the “crews” (advisory group) stay together.

Leadership teams in NYC gets together every 6 weeks.  They meet with Paul Tough earlier in the year to discuss resilience. “Grit,” said Stopol, “is what they learn from EL and that is what is getting them through college.” The NYC Outward Bound schools have a great college enrollment record–topping 98% of NYC high schools.

“We’re thinking deeply about demanding academics along with an emphasis on character development,” said Stopol, “They go together, character development is not is separate thing.” For example, students at Launch express accountability, craftsmanship, wonder, and mindfulness in the way they conduct their expeditions and Presentation of Learning.

NYC Outward Bound Schools plans to grow from 11 to 15 schools in the next few years.

For more, check out this great video on NYC Outward Bound Schools.

This blog first appeared on Huffington Post
Tom Vander Ark

Tom Vander Ark

Tom Vander Ark is founder and CEO of Getting Smart. He is also a partner in Learn Capital and a director of iNACOL, Digital Learning Institute, Imagination Foundation, Charter Board Partners, Strive for College, and Bloomboard.

1 Comments

Getting Smart Staff /

Bob Pearlman sent this note via email:

The Having of Wonderful Ideas is, of course, the wonderful 1987 book by Eleanor Duckworth, much admired in EL circles. This book was an inspiration to many, including my old boss Albert Shanker, who featured it in a January 1989 Where We Stand column. 1989-91 was Shanker’s most radical period as an education reformer when he advocated for authentic student learning, for innovative schools, and for charter schools.