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.

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

A Reflection on “The Anti-Education Era” by James Paul Gee

The Anti-Education Era by James Paul Gee is a book that received mixed reviews from students in our MSU, MAET Year 1 group. Gee separates the book into two sections, 1- Describing “How Stupid” humans are, and 2- Informing “How People May Become Smarter Before it’s Too Late.” After skimming and reviewing the first section, paying particular attention to a chapter titled, “Institutions and Frozen Thought,” I felt Gee made some valid points.

GeeAccording to Gee there are limitations humans face that prevent us from solving large, complex problems. He discusses this idea in the chapter on “Institutions and Frozen Thought,” where he writes how institutions were created to solve a particular problem. Institutions, (such as a school) are in existence as the poor solution to a problem whose other solutions seemed even worse (Gee, p. 88). This coincides with the idea of a “Wicked Problem” as all stakeholders and positions are taken into consideration, and the best possible response to this problem (in this instance) is the creation of an institution, or school. The issue institutions contain with moving forward and solving problems, is that many institutions freeze. Freezing takes place when the initial purpose for the institution is no longer being addressed (Gee, p 87). Gee uses the example of colleges. He states colleges were created to train religious thinkers, later they evolved into the training of secular priests, and now they are at the point of developing students interested in “beer and bodies or getting a good job rather than knowledge” (Gee, p. 87). After witnessing the change in outcomes colleges have produced, there is the need for a change in their purpose, as the demands of society have changed. Yet several universities remain “frozen.” Teaching students in the same manner as years past and preparing them for jobs of the past, has not proved valuable. Therefore, institutions are one factor in preventing society from solving complex problems. Just as in a wicked problem, the institutions need to adapt their system and purpose for everyone involved so that the advancement of students will continue and humans will be come smarter together. But when we say “colleges,” we really mean the people running them. The administrators, professors, and even the students. Each of these groups of people have the ability to create change.

Now, not everyone is aware of the frozen thought and the harm it is causing the world, and there are even some people who may not want to see or deal with the problem. However, there is a group of people who are reflective enough to see the opportunity to make changes, and those people have a responsibility. A responsibility not for their own individual advancement or fame, but for the betterment of all humans (Gee, p. 152). To solve complex problems smartly, they need to focus on the best idea, rather than the best man (Gee, p. 153). Gee compares the act of collaboration with ants, “Looked as an isolated individual, an ant is a pretty pitiful thing. But looked at as part of an ant colony, the ant is very impressive indeed” (Gee, p. 152). This idea also connects with How People Learn, in regards to the strengthening of ideas when people build on them together and work collectively toward a larger goal (Donovan, S., Bransford, J., & Pellegrino, J., 2000, p. 25, Pollock, 2007). The authors of both books stress the importance of experiences an individual brings to a given situation, and also value the work that may be accomplished by groups of individuals. I feel these groups coming together are working for the good of humanity, rather than an individual.

In regards to solving complex problems, on top of collaboration there are even more advantages humans have today than we did in the past. We have technology. To further our advancement, humans have the opportunity to synchronize their intelligence. What this means is meshing the strong human idea with a meaningful tool (Gee, p.174). Technology or the internet can be one of these tools, to assist with spreading ideas and connecting people with synchronized minds, providing them with an expansive platform for communication and collaboration. Through communication and the growth of their ideas, humans have the ability to create affinity spaces, where learning is taking place for the advancement of the local, national, or global community. There is a natural interest to accomplish great work when the passion comes from within (Gee, p. 174).  When these affinity spaces are functioning with multiple minds and multiple tools, they are at their best, making people smarter together, and providing them with the capability of solving complex problems (Gee, p. 174).

The pairing of the chapter on institutions, the idea of synchronized intelligence, and affinity spaces blend themselves together well, when considering schools and their improvement. The purpose or the school mission may vary, however nearly every school has student learning and advancement as a key focus. When school leaders and teachers are frozen using pedagogy from the past, or following mission statements that are not developed to suit new needs- it causes the entire institution or school to become frozen. The individuals responsible for this stagnant environment, are then in turn responsible for the (un)freezing of the entire school. It seems clear, the necessity for individuals to come together with a focused idea, that best suits the needs of the time, and to use affective tools to create a solution for the advancement of both the institution and the learning experience students receive from the institution. The question according to Gee might be, “Who is smart enough to do it?”

Reference:

Donovan, S., Bransford, J., & Pellegrino, J. (2000). How people learn: Brain, mind, experience and school. Washington, DC: National Academy Press. Retrieved from http://www.nap.edu/openbook.php?isbn=030907036

Gee, J.P. (2013). The anti-education era: Creating smarter students through digital learning. New York: Palgrave MacMillan.