Microschools Offer Montana Families Creative, Learner-centered Education Options

microschools

Montana families are choosing microschools for personalized, learner-centered education. Educators like Christa Hayes are creating small schools focused on outdoor learning and project-based academics. These microschools offer new educational options and a strong sense of community for students.

Covid was the catalyst. When her children’s schools shut down in the spring of 2020, and her college classes went online, Hayes began hearing from parents who wanted tutoring services. She also wanted to help her own three children stay on track academically, and find a way for them to have small, safe social interactions. 

In fall 2020, Hayes leased a gym downtown with large garage doors that opened wide, providing for maximum ventilation. She spaced children six feet apart, enabling them to meet in person while working through their remote public school curriculum. In addition, Hayes offered all kinds of enrichment activities, focused on project-based learning and frequent outside expeditions.

The Micro-School Builder’s Handbook: Personalized Learning for Your Child, and an Amazing Business for You
  • Linaberger, Mara (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 176 Pages – 04/08/2018 (Publication Date) – Independently published (Publisher)

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A bit of techno typing

What happens when you give kids support and an open playground?

Austin Kleon’s son, Owen, dropped his latest SoundCloud album.

He’s 11.

My favorite track, Typing, is embedded here. It’s a banger of creativity. And heavily influenced by Kraftwerk and Daft Punk, just like I am.

Oh, the possibilities.


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NASA, Voyager, and long-term project-based learning

voyager 1 probe

The premise for the first Star Trek film featuring the original series cast proposes that a probe from Earth, Voyager 6, traveled so far and accumulated so much information as it traveled the cosmos that it achieved sentience. And when it did, it wanted to return to “The Creator” and deliver all that information.

Trust me, that first Star Trek movie is the most “sci-fi” of the entire series, except maybe Star Trek: Beyond.

While no probe named Voyager 6 ever launched, the idea of a probe transmitting data back home after traveling billions of miles is still very much a reality and not science fiction.

However, you may have heard that Voyager 1, launched nearly 50 years ago, began transmitting gibberish back to NASA a few months ago. Many feared the worst. Voyager kept transmitting data, signifying it was alive, but something happened to the data transmissions.

After five months of work, the Voyager team worked some coding magic to restore the code and restart regular transmissions.

“When the time came to get the signal, we could clearly see all of a sudden, boom, we had data, and there were tears and smiles and high fives… Everyone was very happy and very excited to see that, hey, we’re back in communication again with Voyager 1. We’re going to see the status of the spacecraft, the health of the spacecraft, for the first time in five months.”

Linda Spilker, project scientist for NASA’s two Voyager spacecraft at JPL

Talk about project-based learning at work…

Perhaps there’s no better example of the importance of project-based learning in schools than a story like this. When has anyone tried to change the code on an object over 15 billion miles from the Earth?

Never. There’s no guidebook for a project like this, no curriculum to refer to, no content standards. Just a group of experts trying everything they know to solve a problem.

And this project has been going for nearly 50 years. Share that with your students when they think they’ve been working on a project for too long.


Thanks for taking the time to read this post. If you’ve enjoyed the insights and stories, consider showing your support by subscribing to my weekly newsletter. It’s a great way to stay updated and dive deeper into my content. Alternatively, if you love audiobooks or want to try them, click here to start your free trial with Audible. Your support in any form means the world to me and helps keep this blog thriving. Looking forward to connecting with you more!

Counting what counts

pexels-photo-1010973.jpeg
Photo by Miguel Á. Padriñán on Pexels.com

“It would be nice if all of the data which sociologists require could be enumerated because then we could run them through IBM machines and draw charts as the economists do. However, not everything that can be counted counts, and not everything that counts can be counted.”

William Bruce Cameron

If there was a better quote for how many schools assign grades to student work, I don’t know what it might be.

Yes, the US’s most popular form of grading still uses letter grades. I know I know, those letters have numbers assigned to them to make it easy for teachers to score.

But who decided what the numbers meant, and why is the range for failure so huge compared to everything else?

Normally, on a 100-point grading scale, more than half of the “numbers” give you a failing grade.

Really? Can we finally admit that, much like Whose Line is it Anyway, the points don’t matter?

Authentic work, the goal so many of us in education are working toward, isn’t easy to “count,” no matter how you frame it.

But the skills students learn when they are presented with real problems and shared with a real audience absolutely count.

Count what counts, leave the rest to the number-crunchers.


Thanks for taking the time to read this post. If you’ve enjoyed the insights and stories, consider showing your support by subscribing to my weekly newsletter. It’s a great way to stay updated and dive deeper into my content. Alternatively, if you love audiobooks or want to try them, click here to start your free trial with Audible. Your support in any form means the world to me and helps keep this blog thriving. Looking forward to connecting with you more!

An Ethic of Excellence

an ethic of excellence

After letting it sit on my bookshelf for almost a year, I dove into this book from Ron Berger. I wish I had started sooner. So many thoughts and ideas about what school can be for our students showed up in this book, helping me feel like I’m not crazy.

Anyone interested in remaking schools into something more than a place where students are forced to learn things they don’t care about should read this book. The stories and ideas are well worth the quick read and can give you fuel to make a change in your own building.


Thanks for taking the time to read this post. If you’ve enjoyed the insights and stories, consider showing your support by subscribing to my weekly newsletter. It’s a great way to stay updated and dive deeper into my content. Alternatively, if you love audiobooks or want to try them, click here to start your free trial with Audible. Your support in any form means the world to me and helps keep this blog thriving. Looking forward to connecting with you more!

Sing A Note

Do you remember the old Sesame Street song that encouraged all of us to sing a song?

C’mon, if you’re the same vintage as me, you know what I’m talking about. This one?

Ah, a stroll down memory lane. On that note…

What if you didn’t sing a song but just had to sing one note? I imagine it would go something like this…

Louie Zong asked his viewers to send in a single singing note and received over 200 responses! He then organized and assembled these notes, keeping them as true to their original form as possible, and added some beats, creating an entirely new song from their community’s voices.

What might this look like at your school?

Using Multiple Tools for Content Creation in the Classroom

We’re wrapping up the 2022-2023 school year, and several teachers in my district are continuing their journeys into deeper learning.

Rather than freaking out and focusing on end-of-year testing that means nothing (you know I’m right), I’m working with several 8th-grade classes on worthwhile projects.

One class is designing tourism resources for Bardstown. If you’re not familiar, the tourism industry is HUGE in this area thanks to two things: history and bourbon. Kentucky tourists spent $5.9 billion in 2020, and many of those dollars can be traced to bourbon tourism.

Students are working in groups to create materials for different tourist destinations in Bardstown. They got to choose the location, the format for their materials, and how they will ultimately present them.

Let’s connect this work back to the 4 Shifts and how we’re using it to foster deeper learning in classrooms:

Deeper Thinking and Learning

  • Students are researching famous local places. Some of them are taking tours after school hours, conducting interviews, and doing independent research
  • Students are discussing what information needs to be included in their information. What should be in a brochure? What do we need to mention in a video?

Authentic Work

  • Students are using design tools that are used in the real world to create and publish their work: Canva, YouTube, CapCut, etc.
  • Could these projects be used as part of a tourism promotion? Perhaps. This work will likely be a “first draft” of a potential business or tourism department collaboration.

Student Agency & Personalization

  • Students chose the format and tools.
  • Students chose the topic

Technology Infusion

  • Any technology usage is secondary to the research and information presented. Technology is merely the tool conveying the message, not the message itself.

I could go on, but I’ll save a further discussion for the project completion. Suffice it to say the kids are very interested in these projects and what they are learning about their hometown.

Student working on a brochure for a local restaurant
Student work on a brochure for a local restaurant

I came in to assist in the combination of technology with content. Students are creating on different platforms and need to tie the information together. Several have made videos that we’ve uploaded to YouTube. We created QR codes and added them to the brochures. We’ve used royalty-free music for the videos. Some students even used AI (yep) to help write the script before recording voiceovers.

My point for sharing this work is this: diving into deeper learning can be fun for you and your students. Will some resist? Yes. Will some still find ways to disengage and not really accomplish anything? Yes.

But it’s all part of the adventure of learning. For them, and for us.



Thanks for taking the time to read this post. If you’ve enjoyed the insights and stories, consider showing your support by subscribing to my weekly newsletter. It’s a great way to stay updated and dive deeper into my content. Alternatively, if you love audiobooks or want to try them, click here to start your free trial with Audible. Your support in any form means the world to me and helps keep this blog thriving. Looking forward to connecting with you more!