Innovative and Creative Learning Spaces

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.)

1. Gunn High School, Palo Alto, CA

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.

 

2. Everest Summit School, Redwood City, CA

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.

3. The d.school at Stanford University, Stanford, CA

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.

 

4. Google Merchandise Store, Mountain View, CA

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.

 

5. Brightworks, San Francisco, CA

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.

 

6. Double Robotics, San Francisco, CA

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.

7. New Technology High School, Napa, CA

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.

8. Remind Offices, San Francisco, CA

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.

Flat Stanley Redefined

This Flat Stanley traveled among 22 cities and 10 countries including Brazil, Chile, China, England, Iceland, Italy, Mexico, and the United States!

A group of second grade teachers was looking to reach a broader range of friends and global connections with the Flat Stanley project. They had progressed from the traditional stamp and envelop model to emailing and receiving Microsoft Word Documents that contained text and photos from different countries around the world. While this switch did increase the breadth of connections- the organization of emails, ever increasing size of Word Documents with numerous images added, and desire to compile all of the incoming information in one location proved a hassle. Upon sitting down and investigating which universal collaboration tool might create a more streamlined experience, we decided on Google Slides. The free tool allows for real-time collaboration and the only thing needed for functionality is an internet connection, as Slides is cloud based and software is not necessary.

The process was as follows:

1. The team of 8 teachers collaboratively created a single Google Slides template.

2. Each teacher “made a copy” of the original document, adding some minor personal adjustments pertaining to their classroom.

3. The presentation’s share setting was set to “anyone with the link can edit.”

4. A screen cast tutorial was made to provide directions for recipients on how to add content to the Google Slides presentation.

5. An email was sent out to parents introducing the project, and parents assisted in forwarding the link of the presentation and tutorial out to friends and family living abroad.

6. Friends and family added to the presentation.

7. As the presentation was updated, students and teachers witnessed how far their digital Flat Stanley was traveling.

8. Students and teachers broadened their global connections and understanding of different cultures.

Here is the “Travel Journal”

With Change Comes Frustration… and Learning

With the desire to encourage students to develop creativity and collaborative skills, a 4th grade team of teachers was willing to scrap a traditional project that had been implemented for years, relinquish control, and provide students with some autonomy over the demonstration of their knowledge.

For about 10 years, culminating a unit on electricity, approximately 160 students showcased their knowledge through the creation of an electrical quiz board. With this particular project, there were limited opportunities for creativity and problem solving to be explored. Because technically, the quiz board was limited to 2 formats of completion.

The approach to the final project needed to be shifted. Students were given the prompt to work with group members to address, “a problem in their lives that could be solved applying their knowledge of electricity.” The final products would be presented at an “Electrical Engineering Fair.” With a more open ended task at hand, students had the opportunity for multiple problems and solutions to be addressed- which increased student agency as it provided autonomy over their task, technique, and team- 3 of the 4 “Ts” Daniel Pink refers to in his book, Drive, which examines motivation.

To encourage creativity, students explored different Maker Kits and alternative forms of electricity that allowed them to address their problems from an unconventional perspective.

A FaceTime call with David Patrick, an engineer and green home designer in New York, also allowed students to witness adults as life long learners who address their problems with solutions- as well as the process of developing prototypes and having to learn and adapt to unforeseen obstacles along the way.

The project was a roller coaster of emotions and learning for students. Initially, there was quite a bit of hype over the amount of ownership they had for demonstrating their learning. However, as the building phase began and students ran into hitches and stumbling blocks with their plans, emotions changed. Frustration levels escalated for both students and teachers- as failure was a territory that was rarely experienced and did not play a role in their culture of learning. Students were challenged with the need for adapting their blueprints or starting over completely from scratch. Teachers were confronted with the hurdle of not simply providing answers for students, but responding to students with questions to push and stretch their thinking, while boosting tenacity. On top of experiencing these frustrations, it was an additional challenge for students and teachers to move forward through the process, and reflect on the amount of skill development and learning that was ongoing simultaneously. However, as both stakeholders proceeded, perseverance and creativity around problem solving were exhibited and cultivated. By the time the Electrical Engineering Fair arrived, emotions and excitement returned to where they were at the introduction of the project. What was most exciting to witness was the authentic enthusiasm students had over their own learning, and how devoted they were to completing their product, as they had a personal investment in solving a problem they themselves had identified. Teachers walked away with a wealth of learning as well, upon reflecting on questioning techniques and being a partner in their students learning versus a leader.

While change can be a difficult experience to manage and frustrations have the potential of running high, great learning is there to uncover when willing to reflect and find it.

Quick Fire Challenge with Digital Teachers @ ASFM

This morning the Digital Teachers (DTs) at the American School Foundation of Monterrey, met for our bi-monthly morning meeting. The DT role at ASFM is an applied position for teachers interested in taking on leadership responsibilities with technology. DTs are their grade level’s “go to” person for technology needs, they provide staff with professional development, and are often the school’s guinea pigs for sandboxing tools in the early adoption phase.

QuickFire 8/19/14

Today, the Tech Integration Specialists provided the 14 member DT team, with a Quick Fire Challenge. A Quick Fire Challenge (adapted from the TV show “Top Chef”) is a task presented to a group with a limited amount of time and particular parameters for completion. Prior to the meeting, digital teachers were split into 4 groups and pre-assigned an article to read, taken from one of our favorite resources, Edudemic – Connecting Education and Technology. After a few nuts and bolts were discussed, groups were given 20 minutes to create a visual of the key points from their article. They were then given 2 minutes to present their creation to the rest of the team. We provided DTs with the choice between 3 different creation tools/apps for an iPad to present their findings: Penultimate, Haiku Deck, and iMovie.

Creation Tools

Following the presentations, we reflected on the Quick Fire. Some of the ideas were:

  • It is okay to be outside of your comfort zone. When testing new tools and being rushed with time, learning still takes place and we let go of the need for perfection. Learn from the mistakes.
  • It is important to test tools prior to using them in the classroom. Some DTs found it difficult to use a particular presentation tool they had committed to, and reflected on the importance of choosing the best tool to match the content that is to be presented.
  • There was a common theme among each group beginning the activity. They started out by discussing the content they would present, then selected a tool to host the content. This is especially important to consider when selecting tools for learning. Think content and pedagogy, then find the appropriate technology.
  • Taking risks is important, especially as leaders of technology use at ASFM. We need to be a model for testing tools out, learning, unlearning, and relearning.

The Quick Fire was a new activity to the DT meeting this week, and based on the reflections from teachers, it was an activity that proved valuable and one we may return to later down the road.

Below are links to the articles and results the DTs produced and shared.
Article: 10 Things Every Teacher Should Know How To Do With Google Docs


Article: 7 Characteristics of A Digitally Competent Teacher


Article: 3 Must-Know Tips For Anyone Nervous About EdTech


Article: 5 Time-Saving Ways Teachers Can Use Google FormsPenultimate

Youth Media Team

The Youth Media Team is a group of teenagers who attend and report on a wide range of educational conferences all around Ireland. They came together in May 2013, and have been nicknamed the “red shirts” bringing a technology based mix of interviewing, blogging, and Tweeting to a various number of educational events. Recently, they attended the #GREAT14 Conference in Galway, Ireland, that was hosted at the National University of Ireland and presented by the Year Two cohort of Michigan State University Masters of Arts in Educational Technology students.

The Youth Media Team were the keynote speakers for the conference, actually demonstrating two interviews in front of all of the attending participants. They then went on to discuss how they became involved with the group, and also filled attendees in on their goals in life.

After a session I led on Developing 21st Century Skills using Mystery Skype, I was lucky enough to have the chance to be interviewed by Jack, one of the Youth Media Team members. What surprised me most when being interviewed, was how quickly Jack had taken information from the session and created well composed questions to gain more knowledge around the content area. You can access the interview through this link.

YMT

To can check out more of the Youth Media Team’s interviews from the #GREAT14 conference as well as past conferences, access their website: ymt.fm.