Recently, a team of various staff members from the American School Foundation of Monterrey had the opportunity to explore innovative and creative schools and spaces in the Bay Area. Within the three days of learning walks to multiple campuses, we witnessed a wide variety of physical spaces, pedagogical practices, and core values. While each of these attributes looked different in practice at each site, what stood out between these eight locations were the consistencies between them. Passion, flexibility, a willingness to grow, a sense of community, and student centeredness were easily visible during each visit. (Schools and work spaces are listed in the order we visited them.)
With a robotics team 20 years old, this was the heart of passion, sense of community, and student centered learning that were visible at Gunn High School. Students work collaboratively on creating a robot that will maneuver through a challenge or set of obstacles in a competition put on by FIRST Robotics. The learning space (which might also be referred to as a Maker Space, though it is used most heavily in the robotics field) is equipped with materials you would find in a professional wood shop or mechanical garage. Students have full privileges to use the equipment and space as they see fit in order to complete the challenge. Local businesses and parents also contribute their assistance to the team by providing guidance to students throughout the process, as well as setting up the mock obstacle course based on the theme of the robotics challenge that year. Students in this facility are in a “real life” scenario- working with professional equipment with professionals practitioners, applying knowledge and learning in the moment.
Blended learning was the highlight of student centered learning at Everest Summit School. Working with programmers from Facebook, Everest has a Learning Management System that is original to the school itself. High school students work through a personalized learning plan and monitor their own learning, with guidance from their teachers as mentors. In math, they are bordering on a system that would eliminate grade levels completely- as students would move at a pace based on their skills and benchmarks, no matter their formal grade level or age.
Everything at the d.school encourages flexibility, creativity and collaboration. Just walking into the building gets you excited to begin creating. In a space well known for its use of Design Thinking it is easy to see why students at Stanford University flock to the building to work, redesign, and learn. The learning space can be made into any type of model the user desires. Whiteboard walls are moveable and nearly every table, storage device and seating arrangement is on wheels, which allows the transformation of an open space to be altered into sectioned off, more private work spaces within a matter of seconds. To assist in keeping organization among rooms that promote chaos, reset displays are posted so users can put the room back together after using it.
Since we couldn’t get into the Google offices, we did the next best thing and headed to their flagship merchandise store. Biking around the headquarters, playing around in the Android playground, taking pictures of a Google maps Street View car, and purchasing some Google merchandise was a fun way to end the day.
Gever Tulley himself, co-creator of Brightworks school provided us with a tour and description of how things work at this “extraordinary school.” With five years in its history and approximately sixty students in total, Brightworks offers a unique learning experience where passion, flexibility, a sense of community and student centeredness are definitely present. Teachers are referred to as “collaborators,” and students advance, and sometimes move back, through “bands,” versus traditional grade levels- depending on their skill set and maturity. Students have a large amount of autonomy over the direction their learning will take them. The physical space in Brightworks is just as unique- it resembles a maker space and indeed there are multiple tools to be used for making. It has an open concept which encourages collaboration among bands, while smaller, more private work spaces are also incorporated. Students learning in Brightworks will without a doubt feel comfortable moving into a creative professional working environment.
The office at Double Robotics is another unique and creative space. We had the opportunity to test out a Double and have a conversation around how the robots might be used in an educational setting. Another young company, just five years in making, Double Robotics provides employees with a physically open concept with smaller workspaces also available. It is easy to witness flexibility, collaboration, and a sense of community.
Student Centeredness and community are at the forefront of what can be seen at New Tech High, with Problem Based Learning at the center of the school’s pedagogical approach. Students collaboratively work through the PBL model with the opportunity to take classes at a local community college to prepare them for college careers. Students are given privileges to reserve rooms throughout the school to work on projects or present information to peers- rooms that may be completely empty or fully equipped with production technologies.
Culminating our visit were the Remind Offices- a very flexible, collaborative, fun, and “teacher-obsessed” space. Walking into this office invites you to be playful and creative. By approaching a ruler-lined desk with hopscotch, swings, and enlarged paper airplanes hanging from the ceilings, it promotes creativity from the very beginning. The Remind app encourages collaboration between teachers, parents and students- and their offices encourage the same collaborative theme. Again, open rooms and flexible furniture allows the space to morph to any format the user desires. It is easy to feel the sense of community the employees have while walking around this innovative and creative work space.
A HUGE thank you to the EdTechTeam and Amanda Hensley who did an amazing job scheduling each day, driving us around, providing facts about the Bay Area, supplying great snacks, and being a wonderful guide.