Studio A

What happens when you add  a variety of artists to Project-based Learning with a Design Thinking approach? The result it Studio A. That’s what the Avonworth School District has created for the past two years as part of a summer workshop for educators sponsored by the Grable Foundation. Educators from the Pittsburgh area (and beyond) gather together with Avonworth teachers and students to engage in a series of activities led by experts in Human Centered Design from the LUMA Institute and artists that are part of the Artist Residency program at the Pittsburgh Center for the Arts.

I’ve been fortunate to have joined the activities for both this year and last year. There are few summer programs that not only stimulate educators to rethink how they work with learners, but also provide fun and engaging activities. As adults we forget how important it is to “play.” You need to use your body as well as your mind to express ideas. The Avonworth workshops used the theme of “Civic Engagement” this year. Each artist and LUMA expert developed a lesson around the Civic Engagement theme. Alison Zapata, a visual artist, provided a hands-on session where we learned how to use basic elements of art to create a design for a poster that communicated a civic message. In my case it was about how trees reduce carbon dioxide emissions. Other artists tackled the Civic Engagement theme by using dramatic ensembles to build communities that understand acceptance and kindness or by writing poetry through the lens of another “persona.” In every arts situation we were learning how to work with other people and to look at how our group ideas could solve a common problem.

The LUMA team walked us through a series of scenarios that used the LUMA strategies against the backdrop of Project-based Learning. For instance: how do you get input from students around a Driving Question? As a group we examined a “Concept Poster” that represented student responses to a Driving Question. Our challenge was to give well-rounded feedback using a strategy named “Rose, Thorn, Bud.” In this strategy, each person writes positive comments on pink Post-it notes (Roses), problematic issues on blue Post-it notes (Thorns), and potential improvements on green Post-it notes (Buds).

For two days we worked with the LUMA team and the artists. Then on the final morning we were able to work on our own problems. Artists and LUMA experts were available for private conversations. People with similar interests, elementary teachers, for example, met with elementary students to understand how the process works (or doesn’t work) from their perspective. Teams from schools that wanted to develop their own approach had the opportunity to have their own gathering.

What will I take from the Studio A experience? I’ll continue to refine the Design Challenges that I coordinate for the Energy Innovation Center for Parkway Consortium schools. I’ve already created a new schematic that will add one or two new LUMA strategies that I’ve found on the new LUMA Workplace website. I also plan to incorporate a warmup activity adapted from one of the improvisational art sessions. For the evaluation of the Design Challenges I’ll add a LUMA activity based on “Statement Starters” to gather data about the experience.

Designing Learning Spaces

[As I travel and attend conferences I’m hearing more and more people talk about rethinking how we design learning spaces. In this Edsurge article, you’ll hear from Danish Kurani, an architect who now specializes in designing educational learning spaces. He has a fresh take on concepts like “flexibility” and “modular furniture.” He objects to design that is not purposeful and relevant to the needs of learners. In Pittsburgh there have been some excellent examples where learning spaces match the needs of students. The South Fayette School District created STEAM Studios in their new intermediate building. It was critical to have an informal environment that encouraged creative team-work. The walls were bright colors; the acoustics were appropriate; the furniture was purposeful providing collaborative opportunities. As soon as students or teachers walk into the room they understand the expectations for learning.  In the near future the Children’s Museum plans to create a Museum LAB that will be purposeful providing middle school learners with spaces similar to what Kurani has designed for schools.]

Apr 11, 2017

STEAM Studio

Photo by Norton Gusky CC BY 4.0

“Flexible.” It’s a word that often pops up in conversations about redesigning learning environments, relating to choices in furniture or movable walls. But according to Danish Kurani, redesigning 21st century classrooms goes much deeper than merely achieving flexibility—it involves going all the way back to considering Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs.

Kurani is a licensed architect who focuses his work on learning spaces, and currently teaches a “Learning Environments for Tomorrow” course at the Harvard Graduate School of Education every year. Having worked on locations ranging from Denver’s Columbine Elementary to SELNY, a psychotherapy clinic and adult learning center in New York, Kurani has seen and used a variety of tactics to implement learning design in pursuit of specific goals.

This week, EdSurge sat down with him to hear about the most common design constraints, architecture gone wrong, and the work his firm recently conducted on the Code Next Lab in Oakland. Check out the Q&A below, or the recording on the EdSurge podcast.

EdSurge: Danish, as an architect, why did you decide to pursue education as a field for design?

Danish Kurani: A few years ago, when I started Kurani as a design practice, it was with the intent that we would use architecture to help solve global problems and challenges. I think, a lot of times, when we’re thinking about the biggest problems in the world—whether it’s poverty alleviation, or environmental issues, or healthy living and healthcare, or education—architects aren’t usually at that round table. I wanted to make sure that we had a seat at that table, because I think our surroundings make such an impact in our lives. Of course, you’ve got to pick somewhere to start, and being an immigrant in this country, when you grow up in an immigrant family, usually education’s paramount. Your parents understand that, for upward mobility, you’ve got to be educated. That was always of high importance in our family.

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Equipping Students to Lead In Our Rapidly Changing World

[Throughout the country students are tackling real world problems in their communities. In this Getting Smart article students from the Anne Arnundel County Public Schools in Virginia address water and space issues. In my work in Western Pennsylvania I’m working with students on sustainability projects around energy and food. I work with colleagues who are getting students involved in a variety of other real world projects, ranging from creating a marathon to raise funds for a family who lost their home to redesigning an auditorium for a historic building. In all of these cases students work as engineers, designers, and scientists to address a real world issue that tackles a social issue in their community.]

Photo by Norton Gusky CC BY 4.0

Photo by Norton Gusky CC BY 4.0

By Vipin Thekk, March 4, 2017

“We talk about consumers and producers. In much of education, the student is a consumer. The Changemaker movement has helped us to help teachers help students become producers.”

~ Maureen McMahon, Deputy Superintendent for Academics & Strategic Initiatives, Anne Arundel County Public Schools

Eighty percent of the best jobs of tomorrow do not exist today. And increasingly, social problems are outrunning the solutions. We can see that in all aspects of human life – from climate change to unemployment to racial inequality. We are living in a world where change has become the only constant.

In such a world, the art of changemaking–or working empathetically with a team to solve a community problem–becomes essential. When children and adults master the skills of empathy, teamwork and leadership to solve problems which they care deeply about, they are realizing their own power to catalyze change; learning that the status quo can be challenged, and discovering that our collective success increasingly depends on our individual strength as change agents.

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