As a result of the successful 2019 Edge of Excellence Campaign, we were able to bring to transform the typical playground into an Adventure Challenge Course. The manifesto/story of this transformation is coming soon. Until then, enjoy this preview of the new possible at AFSM.
Drivers to Ideas
Quantity is prime
Listening to students express their hopes and desired for a different learning experience has been some of the best PD we could have hoped for. I wish I would have done so more often as a classroom teacher. Throughout this process we have been intentional about honoring the Design process and gaining empathy into the user experience, in this case school/education experience for our high school students. The better we listen to understand and position ourselves as ethnographers seeking to learn more, the better can facilitate the development of another experience at ASFM, a school within our school.
This has been a continue process of prompting, listening, circling back, asking why, and digging deeper, over a period of literally months. I fully recognize many schools, ours included, do not have time, or make time to do this but in doing so we have been able understand more than we ever thought possible and move forward with conviction.
A challenging, yet simple concept to dig deeper into has been, What is School for? What is the real purpose of it education? Our student group consistently kept coming back to this concept during our group empathy sessions and to be honest, we couldn’t find a collaborative or community agreed upon response. The ASFM vision statement reads that, “We believe in OPEN MINDS, CARING HEARTS, and GLOBAL LEADERSHIP as essentials for a healthy and successful life.” and resonates at a high level of frequency with our student population. Yet, we when we ask how this is expressed in common behavior patterns there is little consistency or alignment. That made us curious.
How might we prototype a series of experiences to inform and mould the future ASFM Moonshots academy? After much discussion around what a prototypes might look like it we eventually arrived at some understanding that we this needed to be a personalized experience for all students. That we had to honor their individual needs and differences in two key ways. We had to customize and personalize their learning experience as it applied to the structures of school and the structures of learning.
By “Structures of School” we are referring to the non-academic components of school. The schedule, location, classrooms, “graduation requirements”, generations, etc. Students we talked with expressed that there where various constraints to the confinements of the structures of schools but that these were not equal to all experiences. For example, one student may prefer to a classroom setting for their literature course but would like to experience science externally with an expert or mentor.
By “Structures of Learning” we are referring to the academic components of school. The standards, nature of courses, assessments, projects, assignments, tests, etc. Students expresses that in some cases they prefer to learn about a topic in isolation but in others they would like to explore cross sections between subjects. For example, what might we learn about chemistry when we explore through the lens of literature and art? These types of curiosity statements are unique to each students.
Combining this framework with the emergent ASFM emergent drivers drivers can now serve as to fuel ideas to launch prototypes of what an ASFM Moonshots experience could be like.
As part of our ongoing journey to redesign a representative sample of all learning spaces nursery - grade 12 at ASFM, we recently redesigned a High School Character Ed. Classroom. It was an amazing experience which challenged us to think differently about how community, connection, and social learning can be enhanced through spacial concepts. To learn more about the experience explore the manifesto above.
In 2014 we at ASFM gathered as a community to develop our next Strategic Innovation plan which would guide the general direction of our school until 2020. As we approach 2020 after many years of hard work, numerous prototypes, and meeting upon meeting, it is nice to be able to look back and see where we were, where we are, and be excited for where we are headed. The video below showcases the culmination of the work we as an Innovation department have been working closely with since 2014. Produced by our stellar Communications department, I hope it provides insight into some of the projects that have come to life.
Innovative Quality teaching and Learning
In 2014 we at ASFM gathered as a community to develop our next Strategic Innovation plan which would guide the general direction of our school until 2020. One such project was the Edge of Excellence Annual Giving program headed by our Superintendent Michael Adams. While programs such as these are common in many Universities and International Schools, it was a very new concept at ASFM. What has been remarkable has been the creation of spaces which would not have been able to be brought to life with out this campaign and the generosity of our community.
The ASFM Innovation department has been involved with not only the leveraging the Design Thinking process to bring a human/student centered approach to the development of learning spaces but also to the whole process of engaging with the community to bring these concepts to life. Throughout the year we engage with our community through various empathy building experiences. We draw upon these experiences as we come up with ideas for the annual Edge of Excellence campaigns and connect them with the pillars from our Strategic Innovation Plan. Our ASFM L2E2 Design Process refers to this as the “Languages and Landscapes” of the community and serves as a primary filter. Once we arrive at a compiled list, we then wash it through various community groups including, parents, students, alumni, board, etc. to see what potential projects resonate the most with our community.
From there, we select a set of 2-4 projects to build prototypes for to pitch to potential donors. Each project requires developing a design team of expert teachers, administrators, maintenance and facility leaders, and Innovation Coaches as Designers to develop a series of deliverables which translates the mission and vision of the school and for the project into a spacial concept.
This becomes the primary document/manifesto we reference as we work with architects as we translate a provocation into a set of drivers and constraints, to spacial concepts to prototypes, layouts, sketches and renders and eventually blueprints and construction documents. By the time we inaugurate a space we know it as well as our favorite book or spot on the couch and we work for about a year afterwards to optimize use, effectiveness, and to align desired behavior with a spacial concept. These need to be living spaces which are agile and responsive to student needs for learning.
The progression to this point where we have a clearly defined Design process with clear deadlines, deliverables and tasks to be completes has been a hugely collaborative and iterative process. Each year we learn from the last and optimize for impact with the student learning experience at the heart it. This is a very brief summary of said process but I hope it provides a glimpse into the great projects brought to life when leveraging the Design Thinking Process.
Special thanks to Dr. Michael Adams, Helen Trevino, Marcela de le Garze Evia, and the whole Edge of Excellence Campaign team who made this possible and continue to “Dream Bigger” for our students.
Since November we have been engaging with our Moonshots students on an almost weekly basis. The invitation brought students who were interested in redesigning school yet were unsure what that meant. Truth be told, we as a teacher group were a bit unsure as well. Our next step was to engage with students to provide some clarity and direction in regards to where we were going, how we were going to get there, and start putting some work in.
What has been amazing is that our students have gone far further than we could have ever mandated. As mentioned in a previous post, in our first few meetings we explored the current reality, a desired result, and a better plausible future. As a design team, this allowed helped us develop Drivers, (Choice, Autonomy, Motivating, Personalized) and Constraints (Tired, Homework, Stressed, Tests) but we needed to understand what students meant by this. In design we call this activation and validation, the process of saying to the user group, this is what we heard, did we hear correctly? Can you tell me more? What did we miss? Over the next few weeks, a series of group empathy activities took place where we prodded and probed for deeper understanding of the students experience and future desires for learning. Below are the initial findings from that series of meetings.
When we dug deeper for understanding we were very impressed with the level of sophistication to which our students could express and advocate for choice, autonomy, personalized and autonomous learning. We couldn't have scripted better responses if we tried. For example, “ we’re learning at a superficial depth in courses and there are topics which I would like to spend a significant amount of time on because I am interested and this would further develop my general understanding in the course or topic.” For personalized learning students would express that , “in a class of 20+ students I am always held up or holding up other students as we go through the content. This always results in non-optimal learning for everyone.” These are not students who are trying to escape from learning, they are trying to escape from learning which does not respond to their needs and enhance their talents and passions nor is the learning applicable in the “real world”.
When it comes to understanding constraints we had to really understand what they are enduring and what obstacles to learning exist. I used to think that students were playing a collective con on teachers by claiming they were “tired”. By far when we have asked students how they feel when they are at school this has been the most frequent response. It’s impossible that they coordinated at this level. We had to dig deeper.
Something we mention to students as we are going through this process as “Designers” is that everyday they are victims of design and I can think of no better example of students being a victim of someone else's prototype which is entrenched in tradition and ignores the needs of a user group than the “school schedule”. The user group it does respond to is parents, business, and adults in general but with what we now know about brain research ,sleep patterns and the needs for youth now, how is it that we we have not dramatically altered how we schedule school? This seems to be a major obstacle to optimal learning for this student group and greatly contributes to their stress levels and anxiety. Second to this is the general nature of assessment they are experiencing, mainly homework and tests. They are not seeking to absolve themselves from work but rather work which they see useless, irrelevant and uniformed.
An example of their passion for learning and willingness to work, is the behind the scenes, out of the sight of us, creation of an ASFM Moonshots Project website. While we were working on facilitating this process and meeting with them once a week during their Access period, they were continuing the conversation and exploration among each other and with other students, even elementary students, on topics they felt were work challenging. Such as, schedules, sleep patterns, extra-curricular activities, teacher’s mindsets, and the overall purpose of school.
Again you couldn’t have scripted this and we cannot be thankful enough. We just have to be the best we can be to listen to understand and guide the process with as little bias as possible. The challenge and opportunity continues.
This is the story of the transformation of outdoor “Spaces in Between” into vibrant Eco-Patios at the American School Foundation of Monterrey, Mexico. Special hanks to the leaders of the Edge of Excellence annual giving campaign and the generosity of Fundacion Deacearo, Additionally, this would not be possible without the open mindset of the ASFM community which was willing to explore the possibilities. These spaces will be a source of curiosity and wonder for generations to come.
Last school year we were given the opportunity to think differently about our previously unused outdoor spaces in-between the wings of our Middle and High School at ASFM. Thanks to the success of the Edge of Excellence annual giving campaign and the generosity of Fundacion Deacearo, we have been able to transform the spaces in-between into these vibrant Eco-Patios, which were launched August 2018. The video below tells a bit of the story, more to follow soon.