Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Innovative Learning "Spaces"

Many posts on innovative learning spaces feature new furniture, remodeled classrooms and new technologies. At my own school, we have done our fair share of buying amazing new furniture and upgrading technologies to connect our students to each other and the outside word, yet that is only half of the strategy in creating innovative learning experiences. Innovation is about much more than the "tools" - it's about connecting with each other, connecting with the community and supporting incubation of problem finding and solving. Innovative learning "spaces" don't really have to be physical spaces at all. 

Learning spaces can be on or off-campus, in-person or virtual. With a teacher or sometimes without. Once we shift our teaching practices to allow students to be agents of change, classroom walls matter less and less. Learning spaces can be a park, a company conference room, a boat in the ocean or from a mobile device. Change of spaces within the school building signals "something different is happening here." Changing the definition of "learning space," signals a deep investment in providing opportunities for students to solve real-world problems, gain leadership skills and demonstrate their abilities to make connections, collaborate and drive positive change in the world around them. 

Every other week for three hours, Ellis girls participate in three classes that leverage new definitions of innovative learning space. While there are many opportunities for teachers and students to re-define learning spaces, these three innovative courses were developed by re-designing existing space and time in our school schedule:
  • 9th grade girls take 'Voice and Vision" a class co-taught by a history, arts and science teacher exploring water as a theme both locally and globally. The class embeds partnerships with the Carnegie Mellon University CREATE Lab, The Carnegie Museum of Natural History and schools in both Brazil and Uganda. We are also a part of the Adobe Youth Voice program - exploring how Digital Media can be used to share students' voice and vision around solutions to problems with water use around the globe. 
  • All 10th grade students take a new class called 'Culture in Context," that explores public art and its connection to people, culture and technology all across the City of Pittsburgh. Girls participate in "learning walks" across the community, acting as ethnographers and researchers. After gaining empathy for key stakeholders, the girls will code APPs that connect people to the public art around the city.
  • I am co-teaching a class with our history chair called "Global Leadership by Design" that  focuses on inspiring our girls to be leaders, have a growth mind-set, collaborators and extreme designers. The students are visiting global organizations, learning from its leaders, studying issues in developing countries with the goal of them being social entrepreneurs. This course is focusing on case studies of successful leaders from history, being advanced users of human-centered design and catalysts in their community. 
I can't imagine teaching these courses in a "traditional" classroom or in a room that is re-designed unless the approach to learning is fundamentally shifted. Breaking silos of disciplines, use of alternative assessment methods and connecting to the community are keys to the innovative learning spaces these classes require. 

Ellis students and others HS planners from across Pittsburgh came together to plan TEDxYouth@HotMetalBridge this month - an innovative learning space for expression and sharing! 

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