Tue07292014

Mountain View on the Move

A quantum leap for campus: MV school offers new way to experience the sciences


Photos Courtesy of Quantum Campus
Quantum Campus science instructor Angela Sia, right, supervises an experiment.

What began as a creative experiment has transformed into a school that promotes a new style of education.

Quantum Campus, a program with a location at 2065 W. El Camino Real in Mountain View, strives to fundamentally change the classroom environment by creating interactive, engaging sessions that focus on real-world applications.

Michael Finnegan, Ph.D., and Ryan Nurmela founded Quantum Campus in 2008 to teach a challenging topic – quantum physics – in a way that could be simplified and understood by middle-school students. Their quantum physics course re-created many of the key experiments and calculations that led to the development of the discipline, and they found their course accessible to students as young as 12.

Finnegan and Nurmela led three educational camps in the Bay Area in 2009. Word spread about the courses, and they opened Quantum Campus within two years, expanding the range of courses offered to math, science, history and language arts.

According to Finnegan, The school emphasizes the concept of “show, not tell,” opting for an educational style completely different from that typically found in public schools.

“It became clear to us that public and public charter schools were not designed to excite kids and keep them curious,” Finnegan said. “Even Herculean efforts by teachers are oftentimes not enough within the confines of the public system. There are too many institutional barriers. ... Lack of resources and time for the professional teacher to think, innovate and practice means that there is no mechanism for improvement in the classroom.”

Activity and discovery

Finnegan and Nurmela set out to develop courses that addressed such barriers, providing teachers with months to create personalized, engaging classes with plenty of activities. There are no lectures or textbooks – learning has been boiled down to “pure activity and discovery,” Finnegan said.

Classes are capped at 10 students, maximizing teacher-student interaction. Students spend two days a week in school, a “microschool” model of education that Quantum Campus supports.

“Our students learn more, in less time,” Finnegan said. “Students can pursue the arts, acting, sports, spiritual and cultural activities. They are not exhausted, but rather energized by their time in school.”

Teachers spend minimal time lecturing and aim to provide students with most of the class period to engage in experiments and activities. Instructors are encouraged to step outside the classroom to allow students time for independent thought.

“Quantum Campus courses allow students to take control of their learning,” said math and science teacher Sharon Woodburn. “Our goal is to have students guiding themselves during the class period, so they learn to be independent learners and also learn how to find answers to their own questions as they come up.”

Satisfied parents

“I love the high, in-depth level of teaching,” said Diane Roggenbuck, whose child attends Quantum Campus. “It is a great fit for my son, who has ADHD and likes to think outside the box.”

Roggenbuck said in traditional schools, her son would be bullied or labeled a troublemaker by teachers, but “the (Quantum Campus) instructors really ‘get’ him and he is thriving.”

Elizabeth Lo, whose 11-year-old daughter, Emily Penn, attends Quantum Campus, said she and Emily’s father like the combination of the “rigorous” curriculum and the way it’s taught – not with lectures and textbooks, but with real-life applications.

“It gives the student a deep understanding of what they are learning,” Lo said.

Woodburn said Quantum Campus teachers are noticing students’ success and improvement through the microschool curriculum.

“Having taught at more traditional schools before coming to Quantum Campus, it was a strange feeling the first time I walked out of a class while the students were performing experiments,” she said. “However, when I returned to the room, I realized that students were so engrossed in the activity that they hadn’t noticed I was gone.”

Quantum Campus, which also offers after-school and summer programs, is in the process of expanding to new centers in the Bay Area in 2014, with plans to add courses in theater, engineering, arts, design and the outdoors.

“We want to bring our unique, engaging pedagogy to all students,” Finnegan said.

For more information, visit sites.google.com/a/quantumcamp.com/campus.

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