Edutouring - Lights, Camera, Action at The Met School

It somehow seems appropriate that a group of teachers should begin their adventures in the big apple, even if we did only get a nibble at it. In our first five days of travelling we have been lucky enough to begin with a day and a half in NY before heading off to Providence, Rhode Island to visit our first school stop - The Met School.

The Met School was the first of a whole educational movement that comes under the title of Big Picture Learning. Established by Elliot Washor and Dennis Littky in 1995 and beginning with The Met Schools in Providence, Big Picture Learning is now an educational movement that has expanded around the globe. On the day we visited, we were lucky enough to meet (albeit briefly) Dennis Littky who was on site for the annual business plan competition. The Met School campus we visited is situated in a low decile area of Rhode Island and is made up of for schools within in a school, each with approximately a 150 students and their own Principal, the campus being overseen by a director. Each school is grade 9-12 (equivalent to NZ Year 10-12). The idea behind the four schools is driven by the belief that an effective school should be no larger than 150, so as to ensure every student being known and ensuring the school is a real community.

So what did we see?

On arrival we were greeted by the PR leader, Lynda. This itself is key. The Met School definitely understands the power of marketing...maybe even a little too much (but more about that later). Lynda gave as a brief run down of what the school stands for and armed each of us with a folder containing marketing brochures about the company. Then we got to head off to our first class. It was a Wednesday which meant the students were on campus (on Tuesday and Thursday they engage in internships or learning through interest that is often off site). The morning class was a 45 minute interest group that students selected. All interest groups appeared to have a literacy focus. Teachers had each pitched their topic the entire school meet up and then students get to submit their top three choices and teachers then negotiate best fit for the students. Interest groups run for a trimester. I spent time in two - the first one looking at 'Racism in Film', the second 'Poetry'. Classes were vertical and operated in university tutorial style with students and teacher around the table discussing ideas. The students were engaged and articulate and the teachers passionate.

Next up we got to head along to the 5th annual business plan competition. This was pretty darn awesome. The campus has a stunning purpose built entrepreneurship centre or e-centre which houses a series of start up offices (each office even has its own garage honour of the idea that the biggest ventures often began in someone's garage), a meeting room, workshop space and conference centre. Students pitch ideas at the competition, and successful students win funding and an office for their business for their venture for the next trimester. The students who pitched had already competed a entrepreneurial course that ensured that their pitches were thorough and universally impressive - ranging from shoe repair kits to a national campaign for life saving heart pins. The secret to the success of this was, in-part, that the whole competition had been turned into a seriously impressive "event" held in their multipurpose black box theatre. Dennis Littky swept in to welcome the troops, and future entrepreneurial students practiced their 30 second pitches. An impressive line-up of judges were introduced (another key factor, as these people had serious national business clout). A past e-centre student was compere. Hopefuls then had three minutes to pitch their proposals. Then it was time for a break whilst judges went out back to confer, then prizes were awarded, followed by a rather "American" standing ovation. The Met School likes a bit of fanfare, and to be fair it seems to work for them.

The afternoon saw us going on a tour with a student who attempted to explain their timetable and how it all works. I think I understood it, but to be honest it was all a bit of a struggle to get your head around how it actually worked and I got a sense that unless you paid up to be a big picture school or at least paid up for a conference they weren't particularly forthcoming with concrete plans or could however buy the book. So here's my attempt to try and explain how (I think) it works....

Monday, Wednesday and Friday are on campus days. Students begin the day with a meet up in the commons area and then head to their Learning Advisories which are their home rooms for the four years they are at The Met School. Advisories are small (15 at most) and the advisor is their key person who looks after their pastoral and academic well-being - guiding their learning, internships, interest groups and connecting with family often. The rest of these days are made up of interest groups and more traditional subjects, ending each day again in the advisories.

Tuesdays and Thursdays are all about learning through interest and internships. The aim is for all students to be partnered with a mentor in the real world, pursuing potential interests and gaining real world skills in real work situations. The Met School works hard to gather up over 2000 potential community and business contacts with the view to all students being able to work and/or study alongside specialists in their chosen field, whether it be hospitality, childcare or dance. Students are encouraged to pursue internships in an area of interest, with some continuing with the same area throughout their time at the Met and others exploring a range of interests. Those who haven't been placed (or aren't ready for this level of responsibility) seem to either work on campus or pursue other learning on campus or at other local colleges.

So what did we learn?

First up I had to say I was struck by the power of their marketing. I couldn't help but feel like, at times, we were seeing The Met School show. Everyone was "on" and very aware they were performing to a visiting audience. The Met School is a commercial beast and possibly a victim of their own success. They have seen there is a real opportunity to make money out of their school's success, but to be fair, you can see the money is being invested back into the learning and the students clearly benefit.

Secondly, I loved the interest groups. Students had the power to choose and clearly loved these sessions.

Thirdly, the advisories work. The students are nurtured and guided throughout their educational lives. No one can fall through the gaps, students are cared for and challenged.

Finally, the internships are the key! Students pursuing and developing real world skills seem incredibly powerful. The students at The Met School were articulate and confident beyond their years. They were clearly benefitting from not only from their real world learning they also clearly had a sense of self worth that had been nurtured by everyone around them.

All in all, The Met School delivered the goods. Maybe it is just the New Zealander in me that struggled with American flavoured fanfare, but then again, maybe we could all benefit from a little more celebration and "Light, Cameras, Action!" in our school lives.


  1. It sounds like an exciting 'school'! So exciting that I hesitate to call it a school. Would this be considered a charter school?

    1. It was regarded as a public school, but was initial built with private funding from Bill Gates. Definitely pushed our preconceived notions of what school might look like, but definitely delivered an amazing education. Have a look at the Dennis Littky TEDtalk, he certainly oresents a good case for change :)

  2. What sort of external standards/qualifications if any did the students have to meet to graduate?

  3. Here's info on assessment

    1. Interesting reading. Two things stood out for me - Gateways as an opportunity to stop and reflect on what has been achieved and what is still needed and the way they have been able to work with universities to enable them to translate the learning of the Big Picture schools.

  4. They were definitely gaining uni and college entrance qualifications. I think (but might be wrong) that high school diplomas are gained by passing set numbers of exams and internal assessments set by each school and that the only national standardised testing is in literacy and numeracy. There may be more state expectations. The assessment was simply more integrated and real world than we might be used to, for instance, they took a personal project and then went through an exercise of overlaying the whole curriculum and learning outcomes and identified where they had met learning goals from every subject area. I watch an advisory do this and it certainly proved that most big action projects easily covered a wide range of subjects and skills. They do also go to specific subject classes as well, but they aren't the central focus.

  5. I am very glad to find your blog for e learning. I also have a blog about education, innovative education and e learning. Your blog is very useful to teachers, educational research and for innovative schools.

  6. Hi Claire,

    We had TV1 do a clip on what e-learning looks like in our primary school with 5 and 6 year olds videoing their learning reflections and getting feedback from parents from home / work.

    I know your context is secondary but I thought I would share the clip with you to enjoy from Canada

    1. Thank you! I think Secondary schools have much to learn from our Primary colleagues - doing my e-fellowship and being the only secondary practitioner in the bunch was a real eye opener in regards to how much more focused on pedagogy primary teachers generally are.


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