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Prisma: a first retrospective

Victoria Ransom
December 17, 2020

We’ve officially wrapped up our first ever fall session at Prisma and are excited to share our learnings and observations with you. We started Prisma in September as a pilot, not knowing if we’d continue past 2020 (we were very candid about this with our founding families), and we are ending the year confident that Prisma’s approach to learning has enormous potential to revolutionize the way kids are educated. 


Here are our 9 biggest takeaways:

1. Kids love Prisma!

One of our biggest goals at Prisma is that kids love showing up every day—because if you’re not excited about learning you won’t achieve your full potential. Our theory was that the best way to get kids excited about learning (besides a ton of fun games, social events, and silliness, of course) was to give them control over what they learn and how they learn it. The majority of kids in our program are telling us they are happier now than they've ever been in school, and 100% of our current cohort said they’d be disappointed if they could no longer attend Prisma (82% said they’d be very disappointed). The most commonly cited reasons kids have shared for loving Prisma are: choice, independence, flexibility and the ability to move at your own pace. 

Prisma is WAY better than all of my other options and WAY more fun. I️ like the independence. In elementary school, they are basically telling you how to think. I️ also love the flexibility, and how you can grow. - Soren (6th grade)


2. Parents love Prisma too: NPS 70!

We have regularly surveyed our families since Prisma began and have used Net Promoter Score (i.e. willingness to recommend Prisma to others) as a way to capture and benchmark overall satisfaction levels. Our Net Promoter Score of 70 puts us in the ‘world-class’ zone, a level achieved by a very small set of the most admired and beloved companies. We can’t benchmark against other K-12 schools because most schools don’t systematically measure parent satisfaction. We can, however, benchmark against higher education (which is arguably harder to beat!), and here we stack up extremely well. The average Net Promoter Score for higher ed is 51, and we even beat the very best performing school in Higher Ed (a famous business school) by 1 point! Among the reasons parents have given for their high level of satisfaction with Prisma are: happiness of their child, quality of the curriculum, dedication of our coaches and overall growth of their child, especially in terms of motivation, self-direction, critical thinking and communication skills.     

Prisma has been the single BEST educational decision we have ever made for our daughter. Our entire family loves everything about Prisma’s program! We love the creativity of the badges. The quality and usefulness of the curriculum. The effective way that synchronous time is done. The learning journals. The goal setting, which truly motivates our daughter and organizes her time. The attentiveness of all of the Prisma staff, the ease of contacting each person, and everyone’s willingness to go above and beyond. The sense of community the program has created. - Andrea (Parent of 7th grader)


3. Socialization can be rich and meaningful in an online setting

One of our biggest surprises was how quickly our learners formed friendships and strong bonds despite the fact that they live all over the United States and have never met in person. They have formed clubs, collaborate on projects and socialize (via chat and video) on a regular basis. They have even begun regularly mailing each other handmade crafts, treats, and gifts! The strength of the community they have built and their loyalty to one another has been quite astounding to us.

The best part of being a Prisma learner is the friends you make…[Prisma] isn’t just a school it is a community. They have your back through thick and thin and that is truly the best part of Our Prisma. - Grace (7th grade)


4. Academic growth can go hand-in-hand with student freedom and choice

Despite the current narrative that distance learning has been an academic disaster, Prisma learners are making strong academic progress. Our learners took MAP tests in their first week of Prisma in September and again last week, and the results have been very encouraging. On average, our learners have progressed at 147% of their expected rate in reading and at 103% of their expected rate in math. In other words, they are right on track in terms of their learning in math and well ahead in terms of their progress in reading. Whilst harder to measure quantitatively, we have also seen our kids improve enormously in their ability to form strong, evidence-based oral and written arguments.


5. Kids’ ability to be independent and self-directed should not be underestimated

It's been amazing to see how independent our students have become in such a short time. We put a lot of responsibility on them to manage their schedules, set deadlines, design and complete projects, and select their focus areas, and the vast majority are really thriving in this environment. We're hearing from parents that they never imagined their child could be so independent, so self-driven and could blossom so much. As expected, some kids are taking longer to adapt to our self-directed approach, but across the board all our learners have become more independent and self-motivated. 

Ben is being challenged academically and personally in so many ways. I'm already seeing him grow in how he organizes and manages his time and takes ownership of his learning. I'm also seeing him step up as a leader in ways that are surprising and wonderful. - Nicole (Parent of a 4th grader)

6. When given the chance, kids will learn for the love of learning

It has been deeply inspiring to see the effort that our kids are putting into their academic work despite the complete absence of extrinsic incentives (i.e. grades). Kids are going above and beyond—coding websites, starting small businesses, writing multi-chapter novels—for the pure joy and satisfaction of doing so, not because they are being assessed. Of all the positive outcomes we are seeing at Prisma, this is arguably our favorite: 

I am proud of how I learned to learn again; before my intrinsic motivation was gone and I did not feel that I needed to learn but now it’s back and I love learning again - Toby (7th grade)

7. At-home learning need not be a heavy lift for parents

Contrary to the narrative that distance learning requires heroic efforts from parents, we've been pleasantly surprised by how hands-off our parents have been able to be. Ninety-six percent of our families say that the amount of time they spend supporting their child at Prisma is either just enough or less than they are willing to provide, and the vast majority spend less than one hour per day. Only one family reported spending more than two hours per day supporting their Prisma learners (and this is a family with two children participating in Prisma). Our Prisma parents care deeply about their child’s education and are eager to support their child, but many of them lead very busy lives so it was always our explicit goal to make Prisma a low-lift for parents. We are excited that we have been able to deliver upon this.  

8. Our pedagogical approach can work for a wide variety of learners

Our founding group includes public school, private school and homeschool families, and we have found no meaningful difference in their level of satisfaction with Prisma. We also have learners with a wide range of abilities, from academically gifted kids to those with special learning needs, including dyslexia, dysgraphia and ADHD. Thanks to the self-paced nature of our model and our ability to provide certain accommodations (e.g. voice-to-text applications), we have found that we can comfortably support this wide range of abilities and that these kids bond meaningfully with one another irrespective of where they’re at academically. 

9. Our mixed-age model is working even better than expected

Our founding cohort includes kids ranging from 4th through 8th grade, and, while we do separate by maturity level for many of our workshops, our oldest and youngest kids interact daily. In a recent survey, 80% of our learners said they want to maintain or increase the number of mixed-age interactions at Prisma; only 20% said they’d prefer to stick with kids from their own grade. We’ve found that even our youngest learners, i.e. our 4th and 5th graders, are thriving at Prisma. We’ll admit that when we decided to include elementary age kids in our program we were concerned that they might not cope with the self-directed aspects of our model, but we have found that some of our best performing learners are 4th graders.  

While Prisma’s pilot program has exceeded our expectations in almost every respect, we still see enormous room for improvement. Consistent with our philosophy to always be innovating and improving, we are making a number of improvements to our model and curriculum during our winter session, including: the introduction of interdisciplinary themes that follow a 5-week cycle and tie together our synchronous workshops and badges (sneak peek: our theme for next cycle, by popular vote of our learners, is Cities of the Future), the inclusion of individualized learning plans that better address the particular academic growth needs of each learner, and some brand new synchronous workshop formats, including interactive Team Challenges where groups of kids collaborate to solve real-world problems over a series of weeks using data, artifacts and other clues, and Writing Workshop where kids practice their writing in real-time in a way that’s uniquely engaging and relevant. 

Of course our Fall pilot would not have been possible without our founding families who took a leap with us back in September, our incredible learners whose enthusiasm, creativity, deep thinking and empathy never cease to inspire and amaze us, and our phenomenal coaches who are the true backbone of our cohort experience. We thank you all and can’t wait to see what 2021 will bring!

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