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.

Where Are You in Your PLN?

We are now in the middle of Connected Educator month 2016. This is a great time for educators to reflect on their Personal Learning Networks. In my opinion PLNs run in three stages. While it is definitely possible to flow between different stages depending on what is going on in life, take some time to reflect on where you are momentarily. Now might be the time to take it to another level.

Develop

1. Development. Teachers are constantly learning from each other within the school walls. This is a great thing, as there is a wealth of knowledge and experience we can learn from. It takes about the same amount of effort as walking down the hall to a colleague’s classroom, as it does to begin learning from educators beyond the brick and mortar of a school building. Once the development of your PLN is underway, the process eases as you can begin blending your learning and can grow from information on any mobile or digital device. To develop your PLN and become a connected educator, decide which tools work best for you personally. If social media is your venue, try Twitter, Facebook groups, Google+, Pinterest, or Linkedin. For alternatives to social media, check out educational blogs, webinars, or curating articles through bookmarking websites. There are plenty of avenues to take in terms of developing or broadening your PLN. Decide which you tool(s) you want to use, how you want to learn, and when you want to learn. If you already find yourself in this developmental stage, I challenge you to broaden your reach. Stretch yourself to find people to connect with outside of your immediate region or even outside of your content or grade level. Push yourself to connect.

Consume

2. Consumption. Most people enter the digitally connected arena by participating through consumption. This may include reading Tweets, searching for articles, maneuvering through blog posts, watching YouTube videos, or viewing webinars. The learning and growth generally comes as a result of what is being read or taken in by the user. The learning, while more passive in the digital sense, may be shared with colleagues actively or implemented into daily practice in the physical world. If you identify yourself within this stage, I challenge you to consider sharing content or articles of your own. Try Retweeting an article you read, or reflecting and writing a blog post about a lesson that went well. It can be intimidating to put yourself out there, but take an initial step and begin to go beyond consumption.

Contribute

3. Contribution. The natural next step after consuming content is a progression of participation within the PLN. Contribution may grow in the form of writing Tweets, sharing articles, or reflecting on learning through blog posts- to hosting a webinar or sharing educational videos created on YouTube. The individual at this point is in a give and take environment, where they are not only learning from others- but others are learning from them. If you already contribute within your PLN, I challenge you to push yourself outside your comfort zone. Try creating and sharing beyond the medium you are accustomed to. If you are a YouTube creator, try writing a blog post about your learning, or vice versa. If you solely learn through Twitter, try Google+ for a change. Experiment with not only broadening your PLN but also yourself as a contributor to open educational resources.

PLN

If you are finding it tough to define yourself within any of the categories above, it is never too late to exercise your growth mindset and learn from those around you. Connected Educator month is a great time to begin, as you are among many educators who are ready and willing to provide you with the support you need.

Tech PD and Speed Geeking with Digital Teachers at ASFM

Since the implementation of the first Technology Integration Specialist and Technology Vision at ASFM 4 years ago, so much has changed. Professional Development went from nothing… to teachers reflecting on adopted tools and using staff created video tutorials to improve their tech knowledge and purposeful use of technology in lessons and units. Whether most of the staff know it or not, the teachers at ASFM are in a very good place, especially considering where we were just 4 years ago.

This year, we have 3 Tech Integration Specialists and 1 Director of Technology Integration- all who work collaboratively with IT, administration, curriculum coaches, teachers, and students to make the learning experience at ASFM the best it can be for everyone.

For our first “official” Tech PD session of the 2014-15 school year, the Tech Integration team decided it was time to move away from our standard PD practice. In the past we met together as a full staff for a few nuts and bolts and then headed in separate directions for teachers’ individual needs. Again, while this has helped develop staff knowledge and capability, we wanted to begin the year with energy and excitement and something different. We decided on Speed Geeking- ASFM Style.

6 volunteer Digital Teachers were each willing to showcase and share what they were doing with technology in their classrooms, a solid start. With these 6 volunteers leading different Tech Sessions, we were able to divide the 100+ staff into groups of approximately 18 teachers per group. Since we decided to showcase the talent in ASFM, we wanted to be sure every staff member was able to see exactly what each DT was implementing. Therefore, we set up a time table for our Speed Geeking:

  • 6, 2 minute presentations
  • 2 minutes for staff to travel from classroom to classroom (a chance to see each DT session)
  • 6 tools/practices would be showcased
  • 24 minutes to complete the entire cycle

Following the 24 minute Speed Geeking format, grade level teams met to discuss their individual needs and to reflect on how they would be able to implement/adapt one of the ideas presented during the Speed Geeking time into a lesson, assessment, or unit.

There were multiple reasons why the TIS team chose to follow this Speed Geeking PD style.

1. Being a risk taker. Sure- things could go exceedingly well, and we could celebrate innovation, staff learning, and DT leadership. Or- they could completely fail, especially during our first attempt at something new. But no matter what- we spoke to teachers about how we would reflect on the experience and work on improving the portions that did not work so well, and work even harder to replicate the sections that did prove successful.

2. Learning from Within. We can pay a lot of money for consultants and outside sources of knowledge to come in an guide us- and there is absolutely nothing wrong with that- when it’s needed. However, there are such power practices coming from right within the walls of our school, this was a great time to give exposure to those practices, and recognize the fact that- we have experts right in our building!

3. Developing Leadership Skills. DTs had the chance to lead a PD session, and for some of them this was their first experience in participating in such a task. It was a great time to provide them with an opportunity for planning and executing their own session, in a supportive and comfortable environment.

4. Enjoying learning. The teachers at ASFM work harder than in any other school I have witnessed. If there is any chance to take a moment and have fun learning during a PD session, take it! Why not sing and dance between sessions? Why not Tweet your learnings? Why not leave an afternoon of PD feeling energized and inspired?

5. Promoting Creativity. Not only were the 2 minute presentations in need of being creative and energetic, but how teachers ended up adapting what they learned from the Speed Geeking sessions proved creative as well. The very next day, teachers were implementing tools and practices into their lessons in ways we hadn’t imagined.

Based on feedback from teachers, it appears as though Speed Geeking at ASFM proved a valuable learning experience.

6 Sessions Presented:

  1. Use of iPad app Coaches Eye by P.E. teacher, Ernesto. @ernestoer5
  2. Flipping the Classroom with librarian, Fiona. @FiMora71
  3. Clamation and Stop Motion with art teacher Babbi and Monica. @BabbiArt @MonyGdD
  4. SMARTBoard usage by Nursery and Kindergarten aides, Paula and Miriam.
  5. Use of Chatterpix app by 1st grade teacher, Mireya.
  6. Appsmash of Explain Everything and ThingLink by 5th grade teacher, Laura.