Founded by teachers, the nonprofit aims to disrupt lectures with a modern approach to teaching


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As a freshman teacher in Hawaii, Kareem Farah taught his high school math classes the way he was trained—lecturing the material at the beginning of each class and then giving the students an assignment based on the lecture. and then move on to the next part of the syllabus.

The problem was that he noticed that the students were not engaged during his lectures, did not understand the material and did not perform well in the activities. Farah was also frustrated by the format of the lessons.

“And then you just go to the next day and pretend nothing happened, and that’s — and was — teaching as I knew it,” he said.

Now, 10 years later, Farah hopes to break the traditional model of teaching through a non-profit organization he co-founded with colleague Robert Barnett.

Adult sits at a table with three students and talks to one of the students.

Robert Barnett, co-founder and chief program officer of the Modern Classrooms Project, speaks to a student at Eastern High School in Washington, DC, in 2017.

Permission granted by Modern Classrooms Project

The Project Modern Classrooms Approach to teaching in the classroom puts the students at the center as leaders of their learning, not the teachers. The strategy eliminates lectures for the whole class and instead uses instructional videos created by the students’ classroom teachers.

Students view the videos at their own pace during class, and teachers’ class time is spent helping individual students master concepts and demonstrate their knowledge before everyone moves on to the next lesson. Teachers also monitor student progress daily to keep them on track.

“When you create an effective student-centered learning environment like the ones we’ve created, students have greater control over their learning,” Farah said. “When we got out of here [traditional] Model is the first thing you would see, an instant drop in my stress level and my students’ stress levels.”

“A New Way to Teach”

After teaching in Hawaii for three years, Farah moved to Washington, DC for the 2016-17 school year to teach at one of the city’s high schools, where he met Barnett.

Farah had maintained the same traditional class structure and continued to feel suffocated. “A lecture format is oddly ineffective,” Farah said. “It’s ineffective when everyone is in the exact same place in the learning experience. It’s fundamentally broken when you have a variety of learning levels and socio-emotional levels.”

As Farah recounts, Barnett noticed Farah’s distress and showed him how to conduct his classes using instructional videos he created himself. Both educators experimented and developed today’s Modern Classrooms Project approach, which Farah says can be used across grade levels and academic courses.

“That’s the problem with K-12 ed: we keep throwing strategy at a broken instructional model. You can’t throw strategies at a broken approach. You need to change the approach.”

Karem Farah

Co-founder and CEO of the Modern Classrooms Project

To ensure students are mastering the concepts and not just jumping from one lesson to the next, students take “mastery tests,” or short assessments, to measure their progress. Students cannot move on to the next lesson until they have mastered the previous skill. The number of lessons in a learning unit is determined by the teacher.

This teaching format requires teachers to plan entire sessions, including videos, in advance. This may take some time when teachers are first trying this approach. The upside, however, is that the videos allow students to set their own learning pace, either by repeating lessons they don’t understand or by fast-forwarding through lessons of skills they already master, Farah said.

Students also spend time in class working individually or in groups with the teacher or with their peers. Farah has the format as “controlled chaotic environment” as students work independently or in groups during class time.

Four students stand in front of a white board and work on math problems in a classroom.

Sixth graders at the Grace M. James Academy of Excellence, an all-girls middle school in Louisville, Kentucky, work together on math concepts during a lesson with Cory Rawlins.

Permission granted by Cory Rawlins

Because students watch the videos and take the proficiency tests in class, Farah says the approach differs from the flipped classroom approach, which requires students to do research or watch videos at home before class.

“I know it’s hard for people to find their way around, but we’re just a new way of teaching,” Farah said. “That’s the problem with K-12 ed: we keep throwing strategy at a broken instructional model. You can’t throw strategies at a broken approach. You need to change the approach.”

Benefits of Blended Learning

As Farah and Barnett tweaked their model, they shared it with other educators at their school. Word got around and interest soon grew. The Modern Classrooms Project started in 2018 by helping a small group of teachers learn the model.

The co-founders left classes to work full-time on the Modern Classrooms Project. They estimated that by 2022 the organization would train about 300 teachers in a free course on how to use the model. As of mid-February this year, about 50,000 teachers had taken the course, Farah said. In addition, 7,000 teachers have participated in a paid virtual mentoring program.

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