Remake Learning Days 2022

Redesigning Learning Spaces: Hampton School District

Each spring Remake Learning sponsors a series of activities around the Pittsburgh region that showcases kids at play and learning. This year Remake Learning sponsored 175 in-person and virtual events in the Pittsburgh region between May 12-23. I had a chance to visit the Hampton School District in the northern suburbs of Pittsburgh to see STEAM in action. I’ve been fortunate to become not just a colleague, but a friend with several of the administrative team members. Before COVID hit I had intended to visit the Hampton campus, but like so many people, I was forced to wait until this spring.

I wanted to use the day as a chance to practice my documentary skills, renew friendships, and learn what was going on in a school district in the region. As soon as I entered Central Elementary School I felt like I was back in a land where I belonged. Elementary schools are always filled with bright colors, student work, and welcoming people. The first Hampton person I saw was Rebecca Cunningham. She started her administrative career as an assistant principal in the Fox Chapel Area School District and worked with me for five years when I was the Coordinator of Educational Technology. She’s now the assistant superintendent for Hampton. She gave me a huge hug. After a few minutes my friend and colleague, Ed McKaveney, the Director of Technology at Hampton, appeared with his film camera and tripod. Ed and I have worked on joint projects, presentations, and even traveled together with CoSN. It was just good to see him in person.

The tour group waited in what the school calls the living room. It’s wonderful to see how schools have placed comfortable furniture in the lobby of buildings to reduce any tension for parents or visitors. Once the group was in place, the building principal, Amy Kern, shared the agenda for our visit. 

Photos by Norton Gusky CC BY 4.0

The artwork behind Amy came from a project with the schools’ first artist in residence. The artist-in-residence worked with teachers and kids on the project. It’s a great example of infusing the arts into the curriculum. The art piece really is the welcoming showcase for the building. 

Central Elementary transformed two courtyard areas into incredible learning spaces. Amy Kern and one of her staff members gave a short slide presentation to show how the space became transformed and who were the key players. Hampton has a very strong educational organization that works with local businesses and corporations to raise money. The school also found funding from local foundations and businesses. Today the result is a Nature and Sensory Garden and an Outdoor Learning Lab where just an outdoor garden had been until last year. Hampton tapped into its students, faculty and staff to design the spaces. They also enlisted the assistance of two local businesses who provided the technical support for the construction – Blue Fox Landscape and Lady Fox. The spaces were designed to provide hands-on, project-based, outdoor learning spaces aligned with the Next Generation Science Standards.

It was wonderful to see the kids engaged in a variety of hands-on activities. The young lady on the left is an “Ambassador.” She not only takes people on tours of the garden, but she has been part of the outreach to younger students. The kids on the right are working on a series of engineering challenges. They have to assemble these large building blocks working with a team of fellow students. 

From Central we jumped back into our vehicles and drove down the road to the Middle School. (I’ll have to return in the fall to see the high school. The building is going through a major renovation and wasn’t available for us to visit on this round.) The Middle School principal, a former math teacher, was challenged by the superintendent to rethink a courtyard area that housed a collection of stuffed animals. The space had no real learning purpose. She reached out to her staff and students and they came up with a design for a Learning Pavillion. She enlisted the help of the Children’s Museum and Carnegie Mellon University’s Entertainment Technology Center. The Learning Pavilion serves the needs of all teachers and students. It’s a modular construction that provides for a variety of group activities. Teachers bring their own manipulatives to the pavilion and then divide their class into working teams. In the next phase a student team will build a hydroponics station where they’ll grow basil that they’ll give to the Pittsburgh Food Bank. The space also incorporates an interactive, augmented reality environment using CMU’s ARCADE system to position the animations, build interactive narratives, or layer content to the real-world environment.

I actually forgot to share our first stop at the middle school. We went into the library where high school students from the AP Research class were available to share their work along with a team of AP Computer Science students who had created Edtech solutions. I had several wonderful conversations with students who did research on topics like Critical Race Theory in Schools and physical training ways to improve the lives of people with Parkinson’s. Each student was incredibly articulate and were well prepared. The Computer Science guys (yes there were no girls) tackled software issues, like the tutoring program at the high school, and a virtual reality setup for weight lifting without the weights. 

After lunch we had a chance to visit a variety of classrooms that included a Robotics Studio, Innovation Studio, Print Studio, TV Studio, and the Learning Pavillion. Each space showcased Hampton’s desire for collaborative, interactive, project-based learning. Teachers deploy Human-Centered Design activities to engage students in brainstorming ideation as well concept building. The furniture allows students to write on the table surfaces so they can creatively share their ideas. Students tap into traditional arts, such as printing, as well as technological tools such as 3-D printers, Hummingbirds, Finch, Spero, Cosmos and other robotic tools.

By the end of the day I was exhausted. It had been over two years since I had a full day interacting with kids, educators, and community members. I had learned a great deal and more importantly, felt inspired to share my findings.

Redesigning Learning Spaces

For the second year in a row the K-12 Horizon Report included “Redesigning Learning Spaces” as a mid-term (3-4 year) emerging trend in education. Throughout western Pennsylvania I’m observing not only spaces like libraries take on new shapes and functions, but entire buildings designed for active learning. On November 7 I’ll join Justin Aglio, Director of K-4 Academic Achievement and K-12 Innovation, and Dr. Chris Stone, the superintendent of the Montour School District, at the Three Rivers Educational Technology Conference (TRETC), to share a framework for rethinking how to design learning spaces and an experiential activity for conference attendees to discover some of the elements in the new Montour K-4 Elementary School.

Key to any redesign of a learning space is the awareness of “why” we need to rethink how the learning space looks, feels, or responds to the needs of the learners. Prakash Nair, an architect for the Fielding Nair International, has developed four criteria (Blueprint for Tomorrow, 2014):

  • Be welcoming – this includes the colors, furnishings, greenery, or adding a coffee bar with WiFi access.
  • Be versatile – this goes beyond flexibility. It looks at how learning spaces can be reconfigured and rethought to meet needs over time. A versatile space may be an open commons area today, but it may become multiple classroom spaces in the future.
  • Be supportive of varying and specific learning activities – spaces may have different designs based on what type of learning is desired. Collaborative learning requires tables and LED screens that allow for groups of learners to work together, whereas a research zone may have individual tables and no projection needs.
  • Send positive images about activities and behavior – spaces need to showcase student learning. There may be exhibit spaces that have special lighting and sound to highlight student work.

Photo by Norton Gusky CC BY 4.0

Montour’s new K-4 Elementary School is a great example of the transformation in thinking about the use of space as part of the learning experience. The entrance makes a strong statement welcoming parents, community members, as well as the student population. Every space provides a learning opportunity. Learners in the hallway, in the Minecraft Learning Lab, or in a flexible Maker Spaces are active investigators working collaboratively or on personal projects using design thinking infused with easily accessible technology. Every classroom has a variety of furniture options to meet the needs of different student learning. The gymnasium provides not only a home for sport activities, but becomes a an open learning space. For TRETC it’s the center for vendor exhibits and for the opening and closing sessions. Throughout the building student work is prominently presented.

TRETC 2017 Redesigning Learning Spaces

Preview of 2017 K-12 Horizon Report

[This year I was part of the team selecting the Emerging Technologies, Trends, and Challenges for the global K-12 world. The team had members around the world. I served on the team representing the Consortium for School Networking (CoSN). When I served as the Coordinator of Educational Technology for the Fox Chapel Area School District, I used the report annually to benchmark the district goals for integrating technology into the learning process. In my teaching at Carnegie Mellon University I always shared the document with my students who worked on their technology plans or other planning document. ]

Photo by Norton Gusky CC BY 4.0

The expert panel has completed voting and the topics for the NMC/CoSN Horizon Report > 2017 K-12 Edition have been selected — below. The K12 Project as whole is led by the New Media Consortium, in collaboration with the Consortium for School Networking (CoSN) and made possible by mindSpark Learning (formerly known as Share Fair Nation). The report is set to be released in August, 2017. We’re now looking for any projects, programs, policies, or leadership initiatives that fit any of the below chosen areas, to be submitted here. Download the official NMC/CoSN Horizon Report Preview > 2017 K-12 Edition to view definitions of the topics below or check out the related discussions of all of the final topics in the 2017 Horizon.k12 Workspace.

I. Key Trends Accelerating K-12 Tech Adoption

 Long-Term Trends: Driving edtech adoption in K-12 education for five or more years

  • Advancing Cultures of Innovation
  • Deeper Learning Approaches

Mid-Term Trends: Driving edtech adoption in K-12 education for the next three to five years

  • Growing Focus on Measuring Learning
  • Redesigning Learning Spaces

Short-Term Trends: Driving edtech adoption in K-12 education for the next one to two years

  • Coding as a Literacy
  • Rise of STEAM Learning

II. Significant Challenges Impeding K-12 Tech Adoption

Solvable Challenges: Those which we both understand and know how to solve

  • Authentic Learning Experiences
  • Improving Digital Literacy

Difficult Challenges: Those we understand but for which solutions are elusive

  • Rethinking the Roles of Teachers
  • Teaching Complex Thinking

Wicked Challenges: Those that are complex to even define, much less address

  • The Achievement Gap
  • Sustaining Innovation through Leadership Changes

III.  Important Developments in Educational Technology for K-12

Time-to-Adoption Horizon: One Year or Less

  • Makerspaces
  • Robotics

Time-to-Adoption Horizon: Two to Three Years

  • Analytics Technologies
  • Virtual Reality

Time-to-Adoption Horizon: Four to Five Years

  • Artificial Intelligence
  • Internet of Things