In the Classroom

If you have any corrections or questions about these FAQs, please contact the AAOCC

IN THE CLASSROOM **2021/22 Note: There will be a few changes made here. Please stay tuned and thank you for your patience.**

What does the open philosophy look like in the classroom?

Classes at AAO run on a continuum. Each class (other than kindergarten) has two or more grades, and students remain in the same class for more than one year.

Each class’s curriculum is developed by the teacher in concert with the children. The emphasis is on learning through experience, and academic goals are achieved through an integrated approach linked with students’ interests and needs.

The teachers at AAO support the learning environment, as well as the learning style of each student. Attention is paid to the variable ways in which children learn. The idea is not what children should do at a given age or time, but what the child needs to help them develop to their full potential.

Democracy is practiced in the classroom by the students with the teachers and extends throughout the school.

What are “specials”?

“Specials” at AAO include visual arts, vocal music, instrumental music, media education and technology, and physical education/swimming. Specials classes are worked into classrooms’ regular curriculum and typically occur one or two times a week.

How does swimming work at Ann Arbor Open?

All grades take a swimming class once a week at Open, see Physical Education teacher Anne Solari's website for specific goals and printable level expectations:

What is covered in 7th grade Health class?

Health is a required class that is taken in 7th grade. Students will learn about nutrition, disease, mental health, drug use and abuse and reproductive health. Much of this class is discussion based and student participation is expected. For more information see:

What are Focus Studies?

In addition to their regular classes, students at AAO also take Focus Studies twice a year. They are hour-long daily classes of special interest. Focus studies offer an opportunity to concentrate on a specific topic that might not be covered in regular classroom curriculum. Students and the adult leader might, for example, learn about opera, study the flora and fauna around the school, take up knitting, improve their basketball skills, write poetry about Harry Potter, or distribute awards for the best picture book published in the past year. Focus Studies typically fall into one of two categories: either they provide an integrated study of a topic of high interest (e.g., a class on horses that combines math, art, science, reading, and writing), or they focus on a specific skill (e.g., a foreign language).

All Focus Studies offer students the opportunity to get to know students outside their classroom and at different grade levels.

Focus Studies are taught by teachers and by parents with a particular area of interest or expertise. If you’d like to teach a Focus Study, please let us know! We can provide lesson planning assistance and materials to help get you started.

Do AAO students go on field trips?

Field trips at AAO are viewed as key to the students’ education, a complement to the classroom curriculum. Field trips are largely up to the classroom teacher, in discussion with parents and students, although some are standard across the school or district: students might attend a play, go to the Leslie Science Center, or take a walk around the neighborhood to examine the architecture. Some classes go on overnight field trips; others have trips that last through the evening hours. Teachers will communicate all field trip information for their room as the trips are scheduled. Parents must sign permission slips as needed for their child to go on field trips, and they are often invited to come along as chaperones.

Field Trip Pledges: No fees are assessed in relation to individual field trips, and teachers are not required to raise funds to pay for their class trips. Instead the AAOCC asks that parents contribute a given amount based on the historical annual cost of field trips at their child’s grade level. Families who are able to contribute an additional amount to the Field Trip Scholarship Fund provide needed support for families who are unable to contribute the full amount during any given year.

In middle school, as field trips morph into “big trips” and become more elaborate and ambitious (e.g., a trip to Chicago), students often run class fundraisers.

Is there instrumental music at AAO?

Yes! Instrumental music is mandatory in fifth grade across the district and becomes an elective in sixth, seventh, and eighth grade.

What extracurricular activities are available to students at AAO?

There are many clubs for AAO students, most of which meet after school. Examples include an instrument rehearsal club, an art club, and a Youth in Government club. Details on how to participate in various groups are typically published in the Wednesday Packet as the year progresses.

Students may participate in sports and other activities with their classmates through Community Rec & Ed:

Intramural sports for students in the middle school grades are organized by teacher Chad Downs. Team Panda sports include soccer, cross-country, basketball, volleyball, tennis and more.

What is unique about AAO’s middle school culture?

Middle school students are in transition from being closely supervised and supported by adults (as elementary students) to having significant independence and freedom (as high school students). Middle school teachers at AAO typically try to solve problems directly with students. Parents are usually contacted when there is a persistent problem that has not been resolved or when the problem is more serious. Parents can count on hearing from teachers if their student is regularly missing assignments or frequently falling below expectations.

While AAO’s middle school teachers value a comfortable environment at school, a culture of respect and responsibility is also upheld. Students need to arrive at school in the morning on time, be attentive in class, honor break times, behave in the hallways, and respect classroom procedures. The benefits of AAO’s middle school culture include no bells, students being on a first-name basis with their teachers, and no hall passes. Within these parameters, AAO’s middle school teachers are able to form closer relationships with students, which foster increased trust.

How are the middle school grades structured at AAO?

Each seventh- and eighth-grader at AAO is assigned to an “advisory.” An advisory is similar to “homeroom”: it provides a physical home base for the student and a single teacher as the main point of contact for any individual needs and concerns. The advisory also functions as a group and has an identity within the larger middle school program. Advisory sessions are used for school business and a curriculum focused on character development (such as anti-bullying and using electronics wisely).

As with the lower grades, all absences and tardies should be reported to the main office. The office staff will inform teachers as needed. If you have an issue with a particular class, start by contacting the teacher of that class (by email or phone). If you have an individual need or are having trouble getting through to another teacher, contact your child’s advisor. Ann Arbor Open Staff Directory.

If you wish to have a conference regarding your middle-schooler, you may want to see the Humanities, Science, and Math teachers in three separate conferences. If you feel comfortable with your child’s performance and don’t need to raise other issues with all teachers, you could choose any one teacher for a conference. If you’re not sure what to do, schedule a conference with your student’s advisor, and you can talk together about which other teachers to contact from there. Note that some parents do not schedule middle school conferences at all, particularly if there are no concerns with student performance or behavior.

Are grades given in middle school at AAO?

The A to E letter grade system was rejected by Open School pioneers for a variety of reasons. First, a grade is not a descriptive assessment. Open education strives to consider each student as an individual, with different strengths and talents. One student’s best work may not look the same for another. Second, AAO teachers strive for a non-competitive environment. When students compare themselves on the same scale, they start to categorize themselves. AAO’s teachers want every student to be intrinsically motivated to work at his or her highest level.

Thus, following the Open School philosophy, there are no grades given in middle school at AAO, with the exceptions of eighth-grade Math, Spanish, and Health, which are mandated by the school district.

Math, Spanish, and all electives send report cards every nine weeks. Humanities and Science send report cards three times a year. Because of these different schedules, you may receive a report card with only Math, Spanish, and electives; or with only Humanities and Science.

Is there homework in middle school at AAO?

There is daily work in Math, though assignments are often completed in class. If a student is working well in class they might have homework only two times per week. There are also periodic math quizzes and tests for which students should study! There is a weekly “Monday News” assignment in Humanities, along with a requirement of thirty minutes of novel reading at home each night, as well as occasional projects. There is rarely homework in Science, but students will need to study for quizzes and prepare a science fair project. Parents should expect a communication from teachers by email each time there is an additional homework assignment and for tests/quizzes.

Are students allowed to use electronic devices in middle school?

Yes, seventh- and eighth-grade students may use electronic devices at AAO under certain very clear circumstances. The belief of the staff at AAO is rather than imposing a complete ban on personal electronics (which would certainly be simpler), that teachers have the opportunity to help students use devices appropriately. Students this age have a lot to learn about how to avoid trouble in social networking and how to communicate with friends and family in a respectful, appropriate manner.

Each fall, the teachers and students reach agreement on parameters for the use of personal electronic devices. These parameters will be shared with parents. Students are expected not to loan their device to others, not to share passwords, and to sign off from their accounts and/or lock their device when it’s not in use. Any instance of cyberbullying (using electronic media to bully, intimidate, harass, threaten, or demean) will result in a loss of student privileges and disciplinary action.

No seventh- or eighth-grade student may use personal electronics at school without a signed contract! This contract (available from AAO staff) will be monitored by parents and students. Any violation must be reported to school staff. If a student knows of a violation and does not report it, he or she may also be in violation of the contract.

What about the use of electronic devices in the lower grades?

Decisions about the use of electronic devices in the lower grades are made on a class-by-class basis.

What about students’ use of computers in middle school?

Middle school students at AAO are also expected to sign a contract (available from AAO staff) regarding appropriate use of the school’s computers. The contract makes clear the circumstances under which a student may use a school computer and the consequences of any misuse.

Where can I get more information about the school?

Both the AAO website ( and this website are good sources of general information about the school. The school’s media center site is an excellent resource that can guide families toward age-appropriate enrichment and research material. In addition, several classrooms have websites that provide both information about classroom activities and occasionally more general information (Class Sites).

Families can learn more about open education online and by attending the annual Open School Conference (discussed below).

A wealth of information on school happenings, issues and culture can be obtained by attending AAOCC meetings and volunteering. Often, the very best way to really know what's going on is to get involved!

What is the Open School Conference?

The Open School Conference is a Friday-Saturday conference held each spring, often within an hour of Ann Arbor. Parents, teachers, and administrators, as well as other educators and community members interested in the open philosophy, can attend this retreat, either staying overnight or simply participating in the Saturday sessions. The conference allows all the various members of our community to spend time with each other, enjoying guest speakers, camaraderie, and informal conversation in a relaxed and engaging setting.