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Hogwarts For Hackers: Inside the Science and Tech School of Tomorrow

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The Hogwarts seal.

At the Illinois Mathematics and Science Academy, students are studying string theory and nanotechnology, researching cancer, and launching startups, all with minimal guidance from teachers.

Credit: Suvevo/

The Illinois Mathematics and Science Academy (IMSA) is a public live-in high school for students in Illinois who excel at math and science.

Founded in 1986, the school follows an inquiry-based learning model that enables students to learn as they go. Instead of lecturing, teachers hand out worksheets that students complete using their own resources and help from other students. On Wednesdays, students are free to do as they wish, either studying or relaxing, to prevent burnout and encourage creativity.

Although critics argue that a minimal guidance approach is problematic, the school's alumni include accomplished technology startup founders, early PayPal engineers and developers, and astronomers.

Students at the school are studying string theory and nanotechnology, researching cancer, and launching startups.

To succeed, problem-based education needs an appropriate amount of debate and discussion, a well-constructed problem, and an appropriate level of guidance, says Lauren H. Bryant, research scholar at North Carolina State University's Friday Institute for Educational Innovation. Although this approach would not work at every school, IMSA president Max McGee says any school could assign more student-originated group projects and allow students to devote one day a week to independent study, volunteering, or internships.

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