Imagine a school without classrooms, subjects, or grades. To some, it might resemble a six-hour long recess, filled with chaos, spitballs, and name-calling. Yet to three MIT alumni, such an environment looks like a hotbed of innovation.
NuVu Studio in Cambridge—founded in 2010 by Saeed Arida SM ’04, PhD ’11; David Wang ’05, SM ’10, PhD ’15; and Saba Ghole SM ’07—aims to break the mold of contemporary education and foster creativity above all else for school-age children.
“When we go to traditional schools, things feel frozen in time,” says Arida, NuVU chief excitement officer. “The minute people come in the door, it becomes really clear to them how different this environment is from their traditional environment.”
Instead of courses, NuVu has studios where 12 students, aged 11-18, work with two coaches on solving open-ended problems. Rather than learning separate and segmented subjects, students move between a studio that requires them to design a robot to another that requires them to re-imagine Boston with a cable car system.
They’ve enrolled over 3,000 students over six years from around the world. Their reputation spread through word-of-mouth and coverage from NPR. As a result, they’ve formed partnerships with public, private, charter, and international schools that allow students to enroll full-time at the studio for a semester or trimester.
NuVu also enrolls long-term students who spend one to four years full-time at NuVu completing their middle or high school years.
“We really do teach creativity, and we let all the other skills fall in line behind it,” says Wang, NuVu chief technology officer.
Upon entering the studio, you immediately notice there are no classrooms nor a schedule that divides each class into one-hour intervals. Students are given a prompt, and they spend two weeks from 9:00 a.m.–3:00 p.m. solving that problem in an open space before presenting their final product to their peers.
“When students are actually applying and experiencing and learning by doing, that has a greater impact on how students are processing that information,” says Ghole, NuVu chief creative officer. “We see it day in and day out.
Not only is the studio changing the learning experience for students, but they’ve also changed how educators approach teaching. Every summer, teachers are invited from other schools to experience their learning model.
“We’ve had many teachers come from around the world, and the first question they have once they see what the place is all about is, ‘How can we bring this type of work back to our schools,’” says Ghole.
The teachers undergo a similar process as the students. They develop an idea, the coaches at NuVu will critique it and help evolve it, and they work together to build a project for students to complete. Essentially, the teachers become students immersed in a world of wonder.
The NuVu co-founders envision the future of education as incorporating more hands-on learning with an emphasis on fostering individual creativity. Through charging students a tuition, they can afford the equipment necessary to establish an atmosphere of innovation.
“We want to motivate students, to let them see that they can have an impact,” says Wang. “Everything they learn, they can use to improve themselves and the world around them.”
To Ghole, this vision came from their shared experience at MIT.
“Learning by doing is a really important motto,” says Ghole. “MIT’s model is ingrained in that philosophy. A lot of my pivotal educational moments have been focused around experiences where I got to create things.”
However, Arida says, as important as reshaping education is for NuVu, the students always come first.
“What makes it worthwhile for us at the end of the day is seeing the impact something like this has on the students.”