You want to know what is totally cool? Excited teachers, eager to get blank classroom plans in their hands, knowing the possibilities and potential they represent. That's what. You want to know what's cooler than cool? Excited teachers, eager to share blank classroom plans with the students, so they an involve them in dreaming about all the possibilities and potential they represent.
When Danielle stopped by our last meeting to drop off 11x17 and poster-size plans for each teacher, they were anxious to get their hands on this tangible representation of their current space, but the comments all around the room were to the tune of: I can't wait to show the kids and The students will love to see this. Using Patti's plan as an example, Danielle gave the teachers tips for using the large and small plans with their students, pointing out how the plans were scaled and possibilities for applying math to their plans. Patti saw this moment as significant, and reached fore her phone to snap some photos.
Before teachers could set off to work, though, they took some time to individually "Download Your Learnings" from the Inspiration phase. They time warped back through the process, writing everything they have learned so far as a result of the rich experiences they have had so far: observation (looking for gorillas), Empathy (putting self in students' shoes), design visits, field trip, furniture play, furniture testing with students, designer presentations, and more.
It was interesting to witness the depth of knowledge and understanding the teachers gained so far. Their downloads reflected broad understandings and major shifts in thinking and understanding, as well as understanding the seemingly minute details that impact their students every single day.
After downloading as much as they could in only ten minutes, they took a look at their team's collective knowledge, looking for patterns and themes, and placed their insights into "buckets".
- We don't know what we don't know. The very first day we started working together, teachers agreed to remain open-minded throughout this process. They have kept their promises, leading to massive shifts in thinking about teaching and learning to the point of already wondering how to keep this momentum long past Implementation. New experiences, like collaborating with interior designers, have reshaped their thinking. Teachers are seeing gorillas now, practicing Vuja De, with eyes wide open. And it isn't about the furniture; it's all about teaching and learning.
- Empathy is the Key to Improving Teaching and Learning. With the shifts in teachers' thinking came the realization that students want and need "ownership and input" when it comes to their space and learning. Teachers stepped out of their own shoes, and placed themselves in students' shoes, and quickly noticed students are very aware of what they want and need when it comes to their own learning. When enlisting students in the process, teachers found that students would go above and beyond when teachers took time to ask and listen. As Janet's note says above, empathy makes us all better teachers.
- Empower Students with Choice and Flexibility. One benefit of travelling to Bloomfield Hills High School was challenging teachers' notions of teacher control vs. student autonomy. After all, teachers are responsible for ensuring all students learn in their class(es). Hearing the level of responsibility given to students at Bloomfield, teachers began to question their own practices. What if I no longer assign seats? Why do students need one-to-one uniform seating in my class? Why can't students eat or drink in class? Such questions have led teachers to reconsidering their classroom processes and rules, looking for opportunities for choice and flexibility (and being more flexible themselves). Teachers know that students must be given choices and opportunities to work independently and collaboratively - and every configuration in between - and the space (and teacher) must be flexible in order to accommodate a wide range of learners and activities.. As Michelle Donberger at Novi Woods Elementary said, giving her students freedom to a choose actually made teaching easier. It will be another exciting experience to witness teachers testing their new routines during Implementation.
- Movement is a Must. It didn't take ergonomics expert Dr. Breithecker's talk at RESA to help teachers see we MUST get st udents moving while they are learning. In fact, none of our teachers were able to make it to the presentation. Instead, and even better, the students told the teachers themselves. And do you know what? A lifetime of scientific research and becoming a world-renowned expert wasn't necessary to come to this spot-on realization. Every bit of research confirms students learn best when their brains are receiving generous portions of oxygen. (And you know what else? Science also confirms the power of empathy, choice, and design...but that's a topic for the Implementation phase).
- Design Impacts Learning. Not only do students need their learning space to feel comfortable and meet their brains' basic needs like hunger and thirst, they also need several other conditions to be just right, as well. Several other elements must be intentionally designed because of the great impact they have on students. Among the factors teachers have uncovered are: color, light, connections to nature, temperature, ability to see and hear others, and complexity - or simplicity, as teachers call it, noting there is too much unnecessary clutter in most classes. "Less is more" is the mantra when it comes to clearing the clutter. Once again, through their students, teachers have confirmed what years of studies have reported. And now they have a chance to act upon it.
After teachers squeezed their knowledge from their brains and sort it all out, they looked for insights, then framed them as How might we... questions. For example, one team asked How might we get students moving more during class? Answering this question became the next mission, but there was a constraint - or two. First, teachers had to try to come up with 100 new ideas in 15 minutes. As if that wasn't challenging enough, they were asked to brainstorm as though they were Walt Disney, creating magic and wonder. And the results were hilarious! They suggested celebrity visits, water slides, drones, a machine that recaps glue sticks, baristas, and many, many more wild(er) ideas. Once the obvious ideas were out, the fun and crazy started to surface, and the creativity was flowing! Though it seems weird to imagine installing a roller coaster in a classroom, these ideas provide opportunities for analysis. What elements of a roller coaster do students like and how might I integrate them in my class and instructional design?