Summer Program 2017

Capital Experience Lab – Summer 2017

Challenged to redesign school as we know it at Startup Weekend EDU in 2015, our team asked the question, “What if students had the option of experiencing learning not in a classroom, but in a diverse array of public institutions like the Smithsonian, NIH, and NASA?” We got some initial answers after testing our new version of school in a two week summer pilot called Capital Experience Lab. Our pilot students told us that they enjoyed learning in museums and preferred our community and experience-based model to traditional school. They showed us through their Celebration of Learning projects that our instructional model enabled them to retain complex academic material and motivated them to create quality presentations. And encouragingly, both students and their parents asked us for more.

The CapXLab team believes that engagement is the foundation of learning. In our pilot, by designing our curriculum and projects around museum exhibits, we tested how museum experiences affected student engagement. CapX students emphatically enjoyed learning through our project-based, experiential model. In their words,

“Every day I would wake up looking forward to what we were gonna do later on that day.”

In school it’s boring, and here it’s fun.

You’re going to have fun while learning.

Students gave museums a lot of the credit for making their experience engaging. Responding to the open-ended question, “What are the best parts of Capital Experience Lab that we should definitely keep?”, 12 of 16 students mentioned museums.

Students explained the benefits of going to museums in both expected and unexpected ways. The CapXLab team designed the museum experiences in order to leverage the power of real-life experiences to anchor knowledge and spark curiosity. So we were delighted but not surprised when students shared that they were learning a lot of content and that this interactive way of learning was more effective than how they typically learned in school. However, an unexpected, standout finding of the pilot also emerged—students strongly associated going to museums with freedom:

“I think we should keep going to museums because it's better than staying in one room for six to seven hours.”

“I do think Capital Experience Lab would become a school because it is different than any other school in DC and it will be cool to not to be sitting down all day but go around DC.”

“CapXLab should keep going outside because nobody doesn't want to keep feeling trapped in a school building.”

“It should be [a school] because you are able to be more free and still learn a lot.”

We’re excited about this pattern. For one, autonomy drives motivation, and motivation drives learning. In addition, as a school team committed to education for the purpose of freedom in our students’ futures, we believe that we must give our students meaningful freedom now, in the present. The pilot helped confirm that taking learning outside the classroom into DC’s museums significantly changes what school feels like for students.

Coming out of the summer, the CapXLab team is confident that it is worth continuing to iterate and expand on our model. In their end-of-pilot survey, 100% of our students responded that they believe CapXLab should become a school. And 10 out of 10 family members who completed our family survey said they would “strongly recommend” CapXLab to a friend. We asked for CityBridge Educations’s continued support in bringing the Capital Experience model of learning to life for DC students. And with coaching and financial support from 4.0 Schools, we moved on to plan for a winter pilot--it was worth investing our time and energy to learn more.

Pilot Reflection Photos