The curriculum at the Grand Rapids Public Museum School is designed to help students be curious. When a child is curious about something, they are more likely to learn. Click here to learn more about curiosity’s connection to learning.

The Grand Rapids Public Museum School Difference

  • Active learning environment
  • Uses the Public Museum as a classroom
  • Students explore and learn throughout the community
  • Challenges students to be problem solvers
  • Encourages creativity
  • Incorporates the latest technology


Key Components

High Expectations

The Grand Rapids Public Museum School will prepare students for college and the workforce. Students will surpass grade-level expectations in all areas, including language, mathematics, social studies and science. Students will be able to apply their knowledge to local and global challenges and opportunities.

Immersion within the Museum

Museums use “primary sources” to help people learn. Every item in the museum collection is a primary source. Primary sources are physical objects that tell a story. Our museum has objects and artifacts from our community and around the world. Students can touch, feel, and see these artifacts from throughout history every day. This hands-on approach to learning activates the mind. Primary sources and their stories help students connect history, culture, art, science, and other subjects.

Place-Based Education

Place-based education gets students involved in their community through real world problem solving. Learning to solve a problem in their community makes education more relevant for students. Place-based education is different from traditional education because it uses the local community as a textbook. Students learn from their own community but can apply their knowledge to other places or situations.

Design Thinking

Museum School Design Thinking

Design thinking is a widely valued creative problem solving process.  As represented in the graphic above, design thinking occurs in stages, with frequent reflection and feedback. Some unique qualities of the design thinking process compared to traditional problem solving are:

  • Values open exploration
  • Allows for many possible answers
  • Students learn from trial and error and creating prototypes
  • Gives the student freedom to choose how they approach the problem
  • Instills a desire to learn beyond the classroom
  • Encourages students to bring their individual skills, experiences, and knowledge to the process.

In the classroom, design thinking processes encourage students to be curious, creative, and collaborative. The Grand Rapids Public Museum School staff will use design thinking to develop lessons and curriculum; guide students through projects and problem solving; and foster a school culture of curiosity, creativity and collaboration.

A Practical Example

Design challenges will help students dive deep into a subject and practice creating innovative ideas. For example, during a unit on health and nutrition, students may be asked how to improve the health and nutrition of children in Grand Rapids. The learning process may look something like this:

Frame it:  How might we improve the health and nutrition of children and youth in the Grand Rapids area?  Students will consider what they think about this and what they need to find out.  The students will influence the direction of the study.

Find it: Walk to the Downtown Market and interview a chef and a nutritionist.  Invite a panel of pediatricians to be interviewed about health.  Find examples in the museum collection of how our culture encourages or discourages health.Head to the YMCA and experience a workout led by a personal trainer and interview them about ways to be active.  Make surveys about health to give to kids in Grand Rapids.  Look up data online to discover trends and statistics.

Play and plan it: Students take the experiences and learnings from “Find it” and brainstorm!  After they have generated many ideas, they will vote on what ideas to pursue further.

Make it:  Students work in small groups to tinker and build the chosen ideas to address the design challenge.  One group decides to make a new lunch tray that encourages health.  Another group decides to create a podcast about how to make your own healthy after school snack.  A third group decides to work with a local organization to offer outdoor exercise.

Try it: Students’ families and the organizations who have worked with them along the way are invited to a presentation of ideas and give their feedback.  Students choose one of the ideas to develop to the next level.


Constructivism helps students build knowledge through experiences. Our teachers create these experiences using design thinking, the museum, and our community as a classroom. Students learn language, mathematics, social studies, and science, but they learn from real artifacts and places. Our unique “classroom” encourages students to ask questions and explore their world in new ways. This curiosity helps students gain new knowledge and exceed their own expectations.

The Student Experience

The school day will begin later than typical secondary schools and will last approximately 7 hours. This is due to the regional theme school transportation that students will be using to get to school.

Each day will start and end at the Grand Rapids Public Museum, but the activities during the school day will change frequently and often involve leaving the classroom. Some of the places we will explore include: Grand Rapids Public Library, Kendall College of Art and Design of Ferris State University, the historic Public Museum space at 54 Jefferson, Grand Valley State University, Gerald R. Ford Presidential Museum, City of Grand Rapids parks and public spaces, and Grand Rapids Community College. Sometimes we will stay a little closer to the Public Museum and use the available open and public spaces surrounding the school for structured and unstructured student learning and reflection. Students will be active every day and outdoors frequently, so they will need to be prepared for the weather.

Art, Music, and Physical Education

Students will participate in a visual art and music program each year. For physical education, students will have individualized health and wellness education. The unique physical education program is being specifically designed for the Grand Rapids Public Museum School.


Students will have the opportunity to take electives. Examples of elective courses are foreign language, coding, and special interest projects.


Students are expected to fully participate in and give their best effort each and every day. All students will participate in a professional presentation, performance, or production each year. Students are also expected to participate in community-engaged learning (academic service learning) to give back to local partners, organizations, and families in a way that connects to the curriculum.

Students will interact with local designers, scientists, historians, artists, and other experts, to enhance learning in collaboration with school staff and help connect students to new professions.


Dr Christopher Hanks

Christopher Hanks, Ph.D.

Tricia Mathes
Assistant Principal

Kimberly Rowland
Learning Experience Coordinator

Jennifer Teaker
Head Secretary

Matthew Beresford
Executive Director of PK, Elementary and K8 Instructional Support and Child Discovery Liaison