Mission critical at Quest is a translation of the underlying form of games into a powerful pedagogical model for its 6-12th graders. Games work as rule-based learning systems, creating worlds in which players actively participate, use strategic thinking to make choices, solve complex problems, seek content knowledge, receive constant feedback, and consider the point of view of others. As is the case with many of the games played by young people today, Quest is designed to enable students to “take on” the identities and behaviors of explorers, mathematicians, historians, writers, and evolutionary biologists as they work through a dynamic, challenge-based curriculum with content-rich questing to learn at its core.
It’s important to note that Quest is not a school whose curriculum is made up of the play of commercial videogames, but rather a school that uses the underlying design principles of games to create highly immersive, game-like learning experiences. Games and other forms of digital media serve another useful purpose at Quest: they serve to model the complexity and promise of “systems.” Understanding and accounting for this complexity is a fundamental literacy of the 21st century.
At Quest, the theme of “systems” is expressed in all aspects of the school’s design, from a standards-based integrated curriculum, to student support structures stressing the interconnectedness of academic, community, and youth development concerns. Academic standards provide the link between excellence and equity by setting consistently high, public expectations for every student, informed by an understanding of how students learn best. College and career opportunities are supported through an intern and apprenticeship model that allows students to engage in learning alongside experts starting in the 8th grade.
Core principles include:
Learning for design and innovation
Quest’s standards-based curriculum supports students in becoming active problem solvers and innovators of the 21st century. Our curriculum is design led and inquiry-based, in that it immerses students within complex problem solving contexts where they are challenged to innovate around possible solutions. Tinkering and theory building are critical practices supported across the curriculum. Students are given time, space, and purpose to tinker with systems (games, simulations, small machines, social systems, ecologies, etc.). By making small-scale alterations in both experimental and directed ways, students reveal the system’s underlying model. Breaking systems in order to discover new ways of acting within them is a core component of this approach. Students tinker and theorize as a core method of discovery.
Learning for complexity (systemic reasoning)
A core goal of our pedagogy is to help students learn to reason about their world. Systemic reasoning, or the ability to see the world in terms of the many interrelated systems that make it up—from biological to political to technological and social—supports students in meeting this goal.
Enduring understandings include:
Understanding of feedback dynamics (i.e., reinforcing and balancing feedback loops): understanding that small level changes can affect macro-level processes.
Understanding of system dynamics: understanding the multiple (i.e. dynamic) relationships within a system.
Understanding hidden dimensions of a system: understanding that modifications to system elements can lead to changes that are not easily recognizable within a system.
Understanding of the quality of relationships within a system: understanding when a system is working or not working at optimal levels.
Homological understanding: understanding that similar system dynamics can exist in other systems that may appear to be entirely different.
Learning for critical thinking, judgment, and credibility
One core component of our learning model is helping kids to understand many of the unintended consequences that may arise as part of their participation with and use of digital media. Students will learn how to judge the credibility of information drawn from online resources, for example, and learn how to reason about and evaluate content. They will learn how to manage and synthesize multiple streams of information, in order to avoid being “overloaded” with data. They will learn to be critical thinkers—able to appreciate, debate, and negotiate different points of view expressed. Most importantly, our curriculum will focus on equipping students with an understanding of new models of citizenship, civic participation, and public participation made possible within today’s networked learning landscape.
Learning using a design methodology
Our curriculum creates contexts for ongoing feedback and reflection. This approach creates opportunities for students to demonstrate and share their knowledge with teachers and peers, as well as get continual feedback on their work and ideas. Across the curriculum students act as socio-technical engineers in the creation of playful systems—games, models, simulations, stories, etc. Students will learn about the way systems work and how they can be modified or changed. Through designing play students learn to think analytically and holistically, to experiment and test out theories, and to consider other people as part of the systems they create and inhabit. Game design serves as the pedagogy underlying this work.
Learning with technology and smart tools
Within our curriculum students learn how to build smart tools, or “tools to think with.” These tools might be maps, online dictionaries, equations, or computer simulations, to name but a few. Through these tools students have access to continual and transparent feedback on achievement toward learning objectives.
Prep for college and world of work
The curriculum provides diverse opportunities for students to experience and explore potential futures, supported both by an early college program and internships beginning in the 8th grade.