Winning EdSeeds Grant Application for Innovative Learning Spaces
Our passion is human centered design and using design thinking to create learning environments that specifically enhance the ways in which student teams and individuals communicate, work, play—and innovate.
Our philosophy of education views schools as living organisms. The layout of the physical space should encourage encounters, communication, and relationships. The arrangement of structures, objects and activities should encourage choices, problem solving, and discoveries in the process of learning. At its essence, this philosophy believes that the physical environment is the third teacher. In addition to practicing design thinking in the development of learning experiences and spaces, this multidisciplinary team is working to develop an innovation workshop for teachers, students and community members from the greater Denver metropolitan area to use their experiences and imaginations to meet the needs of today’s students by creating learning environments for a 21st century.
The learning spaces that we are proposing for this project would be in the common areas|pods within the DSST Stapleton high school. These spaces would be designed to be adaptive for both independent and collaborative learning on various scales. The team has decided to focus on the pods because it would not interrupt with the normal flow of instruction and elements can be added incrementally. The Rethink the Box Design student elective would use the human centered design process (hear, create, deliver) to identify the needs of the DSST community, create rapid prototypes of structures and objects, and eventually produce a proposal to fully redesign the pods.
The specific classroom-based problem that we are attempting to solve relates to increasing student engagement by creating learning experiences within the physical spaces at DSST that encourage collaboration and embrace purpose, passion & play. One of the greatest challenges that education faces today is convincing students that education is a meaningful experience and that it truly relates to the real world. We hope to create a diverse set of learning spaces within DSST that inspire students to view school as a place of optimism, innovation and where dreams can become a reality.
Examples of this student engagement problem exist in schools around the world and even here at DSST. DSST, like so many schools that are attempting to transform urban public education, have invested a tremendous amount of time and resources into the development of data-driven assessment models and rigorous college preparatory curriculum. These systems have been designed to meet the increasing expectations of state and federal standards and as a result they have created significant increases in student achievement. Many schools around Denver and the United States are beginning to follow the DSST 6-12 model and creating learning communities that are based on the successful best practices of DSST. It is so exciting to witness public education being transformed one school at a time. The challenge that we are beginning to recognize is that after students have been through a middle school program, where they are introduced to the best practices, they arrive at high school with a desire for a new experience that builds on those experiences in the middle school but provides a fresh perspective in both mind and body. When students find too much similarity between the middle school and high school experiences they tend to disengage. We intend to create brand new learning experiences that attempt to inspire students.
Solving the problem of student investment and engagement is so important because we fear that a single experience model will not meet the new needs of our student learners in the 21st century. Our greatest concern is that if so many schools are adopting our 6-12 model that schools all around the country will be creating places that lack a diversity of experiences. We see these challenges on a daily basis where tested and true ways no longer allow teachers to develop the type of relationships that are so critical to developing a solid community of learners. The faculty at DSST cherishes the relationships with students and we are keen to their levels of engagement in the learning process.
We are motivated to engage in this work because we believe that design thinking and the creation of inspiring spaces can be a powerful driver of organizational learning and change. We believe that this approach and mindset is crucial to uncovering who we are as a community and shaping who we want to become. This process will help us facilitate authentic and holistic conversations on change. Not change just for it’s own sake but organic change. An organic perspective means having an awareness of change and having the ability to make decisions based on that awareness. We see innovation as the essential tool for responding to change and as a creative expression for problem solving. One of the things that we believe is necessary in education today is the embracing of innovation as the lifeblood of what learning communities do. We also believe that 21st century learning experiences allow for student learners to play their own part in the innovative process and that it can empower them to be their own best advocates. We believe that the design of learning spaces outside the classroom helps make manifest these shared values and empowers communities to learn, work, play, create, and connect more richly.