“I love learning but I hate school,” Michael Strong tells Parentology. “Many of the dysfunctions of our society are due to the pain and the agony of schooling. I’ve seen so many young people suffering because they can’t stand school. It can be an uncomfortable place, both emotionally and socially.”
So, with that in mind, Michael Strong created Expanse to do something about it.
What Is Expanse?
Expanse offers a full middle school program for children ages 10-14. It uses Socratic practice, a form of text-based intellectual dialogue, as the cornerstone of Expanse’s educational experience. As the website states, “Unlike a traditional English class, Expanse doesn’t have teachers who lead students to a particular understanding of a text or idea. Instead, our goal is to encourage students to pull out what they see in the texts we bring to them.”
There is a mentor/guide who “provides encouragement, fosters discussion among peers and provides insight,” but learning is student-led.
Asserting that reading is a “superpower,” Strong is convinced that “middle school students [in Expanse] are often learning high school level concepts more deeply than do the vast majority of high school students.” When “their blood is boiling” from debate and discussion, Strong believes they also learn persuasive writing, another core skill.
Students also have a daily session called Community, where they share announcements, appreciations and frustrations. Afternoons are dedicated to STEM education, for which they use QuantumCamp curriculum, followed by individual projects.
Perfect Timing for Expanse?
Recent studies have noted learning loss in students as a result of schools going virtual. Strong, who founded a charter school in New Mexico and a system of high schools around the country known as the Academy of Thought and Industry, says that Expanse students don’t get behind in math or lost in asynchronous lessons; instead, their guides and mentors focus on academic, personal and life-design issues.
Boredom can also be a hindrance to learning, so students wanting more of a challenge can also sign up for the weekend STEM programs of partner Nobel Explorers. Here, they learn tech and leadership skills while interacting with peers from around the world.
“Young people are losing perhaps a decade of their lives. For me this is a catastrophic loss for them and for society,” Strong says. He believes conventional schooling isn’t properly preparing students to be participants in startup culture, either. He notes, “The kind of thing we at Expanse immerse them in is highly interactive. We’re thinking and talking about things all the time. We give students a lot of ownership and leadership. We want to empower young people.”
Expanse for High School & Into 2021
As it ramps up, Expanse will refine its model and test new ideas. One goal in 2021 is to equip students with Scosche devices, part of a pilot conducted by Immersion Neuroscience to measure student engagement. If Strong has his way, engagement is likely to be quite high.
“I’m fascinated with the uniqueness of every individual and the potential of every individual to be extraordinary,” he says. “Bit by bit, they develop the ability to take initiative and, with support, including expert mentors, actually achieve great things.”
While Expanse is focused on middle school students, the company is also creating the Talent Development Accelerator for high school students. Strong expects to fill this supplemental learning program with a mix of scholars, artists, entrepreneurs, and communicators. And though it’s designed for high schoolers, the first students to enroll have actually been younger.
Expanse sees the Talent Development Accelerator as a natural bridge to—and advantage in—college admissions. These days, it’s not enough to present top grades and test scores to colleges. (This year, a record number of colleges were test-optional as a result of COVID-19.) Strong says that what admissions people really admire are students who do what they love and elaborate on in an innovative way.
As Strong tells students, “Our entire program is designed so that it fits you rather than focusing you into a school program that may or may not fit you and almost certainly doesn’t support you. We’ll help you get into high school, college, the workplace in various ways. But I see that as details after we figure out how you have the potential to be amazing.”