To truly understand who AltSchool was and what made their pedagogy so revolutionary, we spent a full design phase speaking with parents, giving questionnaires to the students, hosting design workshops with the teachers, and in depth conversations with the engineers to figure out not only how students can best learn, but how AltSchool students can best learn.
We drew our design inspiration directly from those interviews. We left the questions to the students open-ended so as not to pigeonhole their creativity and honesty. When asked "where do you best like to read?" we got answers like "in a tree!" and "under a table!". So we designed them a tree and gave them plenty of spaces where they can feel cozy and protected.
We heard from the teachers that their biggest issue had to do with storage space and places to display the children's work, so we designed cabinets that lined the rooms and fitted them with self-healing bulletin board doors, solving both issues at once.
We heard from the engineers that their software platform was designed to give the students agency and choice in how they learn, so we designed the school, avoiding technology that would quickly antiquate, and modeled it after the thinking behind the technology. The resulting design is student-centered: it gives trust and autonomy to the student so they make choices on how they best learn, It offers a framework of support and accountability but doesn't condescend to the child. Our constant refrain in designing the school was "playful, not childish".
We heard from the parents that they wanted their children to feel curious, safe, and engaged, so we designed spaces that have clear line-of-sight for teachers to monitor them and loads of spaces to explore and call their own.
When the students first entered the space, they immediately ran up to their "tree", cozied into the upholstered nooks, grabbed books from the library and started reading and asking questions to their friends, and they recognized that their wishes and feedback are in the space — that it was purpose-built for them.
photos by Magda Biernat