Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Inspiring Learning Spaces (Welcome to David Jakes)

In 2010 and 2011, I made a point of visiting as many innovative schools as I could. I wanted to see what made them different... and if there were things I could help share with other schools. One of the things that struck me then (but took a few more years to come into focus) was the importance of Inspiring Spaces for learning.

One of the first times I remember visiting what I now consider a Future Ready School (long before James Sanders gave us the phrase to describe what we were seeing) was at Minarets High School in 2010. They had gone 1:1 with laptops - and were working hard to be "all" project-based learning. Not coincidentally, many of their learning spaces didn't look like an ordinary school. Their Media Lounge in particular struck me as important. This was the building originally designated as the Library, but as Jon Corippo and Mike Niehoff pointed out to me at the time, if they had called it a Library "kids wouldn't have come." Instead they created a space "more like Starbucks" with couches, high top tables, monitors, and plenty of shared gathering spaces... nevermind the view they took advantage of. (And, yes, they still presented a collection of 10,000 books in easily accessible and attractive shelves.)

The Media Lounge at Minarets High School
Since 2012 I've had the good fortune to be able to visit many more innovative schools all over the world... the host schools of the EdTechTeam Summits featuring Google for Education. One of the first International Schools I visited was Singapore American School, where I found a wide variety of themed learning spaces and flexible furniture (often on wheels), and once again I was struck by the fact that it didn't feel like an ordinary school. At the American School of Bombay even the book shelves and walls were on wheels, and teachers (in a large shared area) reconfigured the space to meet the needs of the day. Incidentally, there were no bells at the elementary school of ASB... teachers decided when was the best time for their students to go outside or take a lunch break. The space reflected the flexibility in their practice.

At Parklands College in South Africa the importance they placed on technology serving a purpose (rather than being an end unto itself) was also clear in their spaces; their students worked in sustainable organic gardens and an impressive recording studio - neither of which looked or felt like school, and both of which allow students to express themselves in very human ways.  Iolani School in Hawaii also showcases a sustainable garden on top of the Sullivan Center, and the bottom floor is home to an expansive makerspace, where (among other things) students experiment with generating electricity while biking in order to power appliances (or video games). The students are also responsible for redecorating the building elevator each quarter, complete with sound track, lighting system, and design elements they manufacture on the first floor. The focus on student agency is evident even in their interior design.

The Maker Space at Iolani School (2014)
In New Zealand, Albany Senior High School has a building that powerfully reflects the culture of the school, with wide open learning commons (again with flexible furniture). If you can win the game "where's the teacher?" then the principal says they're doing it wrong. Glass conference rooms surround the commons for when small groups need a separate space for collaboration, and all teachers share multidisciplinary office space... not unlike what we've seen in Google's offices, which are modern spaces designed for highly effective collaboration (and creativity). The school buildings and grounds at Albany are even rich with evidence of students 20% projects (the Impact Projects that all students spend all day every Wednesday on)... including murals, windmills, gardens, open source software, and more.

Learning Commons at Albany Senior High School
Back in the United States we have also been lucky enough to host an annual event at New Technology High School in Napa Valley, where they have been 1:1 with laptops since 1996, and where they have institutionalized project based learning, complete with their own online learning management system (that looks and feels a bit more like social media, and what might be called a digital learning space). Their classrooms are all glass walled and double wide (with two teachers' classes in them... making traditional teaching methods all but impossible), and the shared spaces once again feature flexible furniture reminiscent of a starbucks... but with the addition of several projectors and monitors students can hook up to for a shared visual focus as they work.

Gunn High School in Palo Alto, host of our flagship summit has also experimented with new learning spaces, including classrooms with Idea Paint to make the walls "white-board" writable, individual white boards for students, rolling furniture, and a variety of gathering spaces. The IDEA (Innovation, Discovery, and Engagement Area) at Glenbrook North High School in Illinois also sported idea paint on the walls (and columns), a variety of collaboration spaces, and easy access to all the resources of the library.

Classroom at Gunn High School
By early 2014 our team was coming to the conclusion that Inspiring Spaces were an important part of our host schools' success with students. We believe it is not a coincidence that the schools that inspired us all look so radically different from traditional schools (and from each other, too, for what it's worth... there is no one way to do learning spaces well... but there is a common way for doing them poorly that we need to move away from). This belief led us to include "Inspiring Spaces" as one of the elements in the visual "honeycomb" we developed at this time last year to illustrate what makes a Future Ready School. We feel each of the elements is important - and dependent upon the others. You can't just add devices to a school (to go 1:1 with Chromebooks or iPads for instance) without also changing the learning spaces, especially if you want to move from substitution (and perpetuating the old ways of "teaching) to redefinition (and previously inconceivable new experiences for students).

Now we're ready to take the next step in sharing what we've learned for the benefit of other schools... and it begins with us needing to learn a lot more ourselves - and needing to build our team's capacity in this area. We've gotten to work with around 3000 presenters over the past three years producing summits around the globe, and there was someone who stood out to us as particularly well prepared for this effort.

David Jakes was a public school science teacher and technology coordinator before he left to join the Third Teacher Plus and spent the next two years working with designers and architects to create learning spaces in schools. David was a featured speaker at last year's flagship summit at Gunn High School, leading a strand of sessions on Inspiring Learning Spaces. Over the past year, I've learned a lot from David about the process behind designing effective spaces, the need to help schools and districts develop their own drivers for their designs, and the wide variety of furniture and finishings available - not to mention a whole new vocabulary around architecture and design. I've also learned how important professional development is for the educators involved, both before and after a new space is created. When David became available in March, we knew it was time to act, and started talking to him about the possibilities.

David Jakes, Director of Learning Spaces, EdTechTeam, Inc.
I'm thrilled to announce that David is now working with EdTechTeam to help design and launch our Learning Space Design Studio. We're set for a soft launch (or pre-launch) at ISTE this year and a hard launch at our flagship summit in July back at Gunn High School. Today you can already reach out to us via our request form for help redesigning your learning spaces - or for the professional development you might need in preparation for that process. We look forward to working with you to create Inspiring Spaces for your students, whether you've got a minimal budget for your own classroom - or a community bond to modernize your school. Let's build something better together...

#FutureReady #InspiringSpaces #SpacesMatter #DreamOutLoud #OnlyTheBeginning

PS. David is only one of several new members of the EdTechTeam in the past 12 months, many of whom I haven't properly introduced. Stay tuned for a number of other introductions here on the EdTechTeam Blog in coming weeks. 


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