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.
How might we develop creative capacity and increase the social impact education has in our communities NOW. How might we “Design for Change”. I believe schools should have an impact on their neighboring communities NOW, not in the future. While many schools do a great amount of community service work it tends to be community service as an event, rather than a way of being. I wanted to explore how we can pivot that extra-curricular experience into a curricular one.
It turns out we are not the only school in the world wrestling with this. A while back a friend of mine, Christian Long, shared the Design for Change program, a community of schools from over 60 countries who are designing solutions to complex problems in their schools now and sharing their stories. Their website poses:
“What if – Every Today - education believed its mission was to empower every child with the ‘I CAN mindset’ – that children are ‘Not helpless, Change is possible and They can drive it’.”
The “I CAN Mindset” is what really resonated with us.
Introducing, the Change by Design course for middle school students which we launched in August 2018. I know this is a late post, better late than never. This semester Mercedes Ugarte and I are co-teaching this course with around 30 students enrolled. In this series I am going to try to share the process, product, and stories of this experience. Next up, the intro with the Fix It Challenge. Stay tuned.
Going back to the classroom after four years out has been an invigorating and re-energizing experience I think all leaders need to experience. I don’t understand leaders or teachers who say they “need(ed) to get out of the classroom.” I think what they are really saying is, they need to get out of education. You would never hear this from a musician or athlete. They’d never say, “I just need to get off the stage or field”. Nonetheless, going back into the “classroom”, which is actually a design studio in this case, has been a great experience I look forward to sharing more of.
In early October the ASFM Tech Action Committee gathered to discuss innovation at ASFM. Most of the committee, comprised of our Superintendent, Assistant Superintendent, Principals, Assistant Principals, Directors, Coaches, etc, had just returned from the annual Tri-Association Educators conference in the Dominican Republic. As a result we asked, “what are you curious about?” The responses were varied yet interesting. From there we shared out, partnered up, and committed to plan the next steps to explore. I shared for example, was that “I’m curious about authentically published learning platforms,” but that isn’t the focus of this post.
What I want to share is the journey we have started as a result of Sheldon Guenther and Jonathan Chenier’s being curious about an alternative education program which starts with our students as the designers. I am proud and honored to say that this week, less than a month after the spark was lit, we started with just that, students. We created an invitation to a journey to think differently about school with the video below. When the 9th grade generation met for an assembly, we took five minutes, pressed play, and walked away. We wanted to be as faceless as Daft Punk and let the idea move them.
As you can see, we started with “Why” and were purposefully unclear as to the direction we are headed. We also shared this out with students before we pitched to teachers. We are not sure to what extent that is a good idea but we wanted to emphasize our commitment to students being the focus.
On Thursday, November 1, we waited to see who this message resonated with enough to move them to take the first step. To our surprise, 15 grade 9 students felt compelled enough to explore the better plausible future. And so it has begun.
One non-negotiable aspect of this project is that we are going to follow the Design Thinking process and cast ourselves as designers and therefore relinquish, as much as possible, our biases admin, principal, teacher, adult. Those are layers of self which we want to inform but not influence. This an experience we are designing with students. As we move forward, we want them to be advocating to their parents, the board, teachers, community members, peers, etc, for a more personalized and autonomous learning experience.
The first step of our ASFM L2E2 Design Thinking Process is Discovery. We need to know how students feel about their current learning experience, understand how they want to feel, and explore alternative mindsets and challenge the current model altogether. Everything is on the board to be redesigned. When we shared this with our Explorers, their posture changed. We have lift off.
What has been most impressive has been the extent to which our students have been able to express themselves with precision and articulateness. They have been able to express that they understand the structures and needs of education but also state why and how it doesn’t maximize their potential, time, or abilities. I have summarized the findings from our first sessions below.
How we feel about school?
Emerging Driers: Tired. Stressed. Unmotivated
How we want to feel?
Emerging Constraints: Inspired, Happy, Excited
If you were given a day to learn about anything, what would you choose to learn about?
What amazed me here is that what they chose to learn about wasn’t all that exotic but learned towards the practical. First aid was definitely not what I expected. The group also very quickly decided to increase the frequency of meetings from once to twice a week, with some also looking to extent the Discovery process beyond their grade level by connecting with Elementary students. In their words, “this may impact us in the short term but will mean more to them in the long term.” I’m going to let that breathe and wait to see where it lands.
The journey continues.
Looking for a little break from the reviews, marking, reporting, prep, and generally work in general, well look no further. Below you will find hours for wasting time, escaping, or recharging, depends on your mindset. Brought to you by Google.
1. Experiments with Google: You may have heard of Google Quick Draw or Emoji Scavenger hunt but these just scratch the surface of the Google Chrome Experiments available showcasing web browser based experiments, interactive programs, and artistic projects. Enjoy the journey down the rabbit hole into the web-based, VR, AI, and AR world. One of my new favorites is the Morse Code Experiment, check it out.
2. Google Doodle Games: Google Doodles are more than amazing pieces of art celebrating holidays and icons figures. The best ones are interactive but the trouble has always been that they are only there for a day. Great news, now you can turn back the clock into the archive of Google Doodle interactive games. Check out a few favorites below.
Rubix Cube: See if you can complete the digital version.
Basketball: With the NBA Finals going on, kids would love to see if they can sink 3s like Steph Curry.
Birth of Hip Hop: My favorite by far. Not only does the intro provide a great history lesson but the game is just pure fun.
Pony Express: Fun racing game that is as expected, addictive.
Pac Man: An oldie but a goodie.
3. Let me Google That for You: This is my favorite resource for responding to people who have questions that a simpple Google Search can solve. Have a little fun and start responding with one of these linked in your responses to emails which ask simple questions. Be aware, people’s responses to this may vary.
I think we are at a stage in 2018 where we can all get behind the necessity of what we learn being transferable to the real world. In his presentation, Grant Higgins -Understanding by Design states, and I paraphrase, the largest misunderstanding of Understanding by Design was that people missed the necessary balance between content and performance with the goal being student autonomous and authentic performance similar that of a soccer player during a match. The problem we continue to see is the lack of fields and authentic competition.
How this manifests this is schools is, students, creating representations of learning, awareness posters, pieces of writing, performances, product and prototypes, and sharing them for the most part, within their internal community. Anyone can get their family and friends to identify with their cause or garner a purchase of their new hip prototype of a t-shirt or food product. My question is, how does this prepare this for the real world?
In 2018, the most valuable commodity of any organization is it's ideas. We live in a time where the largest taxicab company, owns no cars. The largest hotel chain owns no hotels. The largest shopping market owns no malls. Etc, Etc. When Facebook acquired Instagram for one billion dollars, it wasn’t for it’s capital investments, it was for it’s intellectual property, their ideas. Ideas are the currency of 2018. Since that is the case, how can we teach our students to be better at creating, cultivating, curating, and floating ideas? I believe we have to do so in the most authentic way possible and that buy not holding our students to authentic standards by floating ideas in a public democratic marketplace, we are handicapping their creative capacity.
Below are a collection of places where students can float ideas, share prototypes and get real feedback from a real audience. Uploading a product to Kickstarter or entering a design contest on Instructables is a real as it gets. It doesn’t matter if students win, what matters is they are going to be more conscious about what they develop, get feedback from a real audience, and will get better while immersed in a real-time marketplace. If at first, they get no feedback, then obviously what is being created isn’t that great, yet. To have good ideas, you need to have lots of ideas. The more our students are active in the process of creating content for the real world, the better they will be.
1. Instructables: This is an amazing site and community to plug your students into and for teachers to get started with Engineering Design and Maker education. If you are teaching the IB or Common Core standards, they are rooted in Design and this resources can get you started. Students are also given clear instructions and guides to submit an “Instructable”. This goes far beyond just posting an idea, but postions students as teachers in the creation of their ideas, thus truly embracing collaboration. There is also a community which shares skills via classes for free. If students can’t bring their ideas to life, start learning how to. If they are experts at skill, teach someone else and share here.
2. Etsy:If your students are creating products for sale, Etsy is the market to leverage. “Sellers” can build profiles telling their story, build their brand, and get feedback based on more than sales with a review system with stars and comments. No different than amazon or ebay but for Makers.
3. Kickstarter: If your students have an idea but don’t have the capital to get it off the ground, give Kickstarter a try. Their deliverable becomes a marketing campaign rather than product development. In 2018, if you need funding for an idea, Kickstart is the place to go.
5. Story Wars: A collaborative writing platform for students which can be gives them the opportubity to write the next chapter in a story in various genres. To quote:
“Story Wars is a place where random writers with amazing ideas in their head come to express their thoughts. Any person can pitch an idea and create a story, but the moment the story is published, it is no longer truly theirs, but it is adopted by the Story Wars Community. Different users can write a chapter to a story that they like and want to contribute to. The twist is that for your chapter to be official, it has to be voted in. By going up against different authors, you actually have to try. Because of that, you slowly start to become a better writer."
If you want to stop writing a certain book, you can. You can give it to the hands of the community, and watch it flourish into something beautiful.In short, Story Wars is a place that challenges you to be the best that you can be, while having fun and enjoying the experience.
6. Teen Ink: Teen Ink, a national teen magazine, book series, and website devoted entirely to teenage writing, art, photos and forums. Students must be age 13-19 to participate.
7. GitHub: Currently our Near Space program is hosting and sharing a variety of files here. If your students are developing software. GitHub is a web-based hosting service for version control using git. It is mostly used for computer code. It offers all of thedistributed version control and source code management functionality of Git as well as adding its own features. GitHub brings together the world's largest community of developers to discover, share, and build better software. From open source projects to private team endeavors.
8- 10. Pixabay, Unsplash, or Mourgefile: Most schools teach digital literacy and have their students publishing photos online. Not many though have their students upload their photos to an open source database which can give them exposure, feedback, and help them build profile for their work. Pixabay Unsplash, and Mourgefile are great places to share high quality royalty photos for all photographers.
11. Hit Record: HitRecord is an online collaborative production company founded and owned by actor and director Joseph Gordon-Levitt. The company uses a variety of media to produce such projects as short films, books, and DVDs
12. The Guardian’s “Blogging Students”: The Guardian has created a great platform to showcase student writing and they aren’t at all afraid of controversial content. Imagine the reaction your students would have being published on one of the worlds largest newspapers.
In September of 2015 we at the ASFM Tech Integration department embarked upon the journey of redesigning experiences such as STEM, Blended Learning, and Learning Spaces. We took a group of educators on the on a week long tour of the possible through various schools and innovative organizations in California. I had previously been on trips of a similar nature when we were rolling out the 1:1 program at Seoul Foreign School and found it to be highly valuable as a new Tech Integration Coach. You don’t know what you don’t know and that trip broadened my horizon of what was possible so I thought we could do the same in Mexico.
Now while the insights compiled on that trip still serves as a valuable resource and was also a great team building event, what often happens is schools go on trips to other schools, or search the web for insights and end up adopting someone else's solution. The trouble is that is their solution which works for their community and when we are talking about space as a Third Teacher, you want to make sure that teacher knows your students. Therefore, I would encourage you to approach insight into concepts rather than tangible solutions.
Below are a brief collection of resources which we have found very helpful and I hope will provide guidance as you start thinking differently about learning spaces. Think of redesigning spaces as a continual journey into the possibility of a vision for learning and the space as a resource and tool for that. An articulate new vision for learning and process for bringing that to reality are essential to inform the space which act as a "Third Teacher". Until those aspects are clear, hold off on redesigning your space.
1. Third Teacher: 70 Ways You Can Use Design to Transform Teaching and Learning Book and Website: For us, this has been the most used and relevant resources for kick off the conversation about thinking differently about spaces with educators. Even though I have read it dozens of times, I still find a new insight whenever I pick it up. In a previous post, “Discovery as Insight”, I expanded on the potential use of this resource.
2. Make Space Book: This is the story, guide, and archive of the development of the d:School at Stanford, the Mecca for design. When redesigning spaces this resource really offers some tangible and achievable ideas for “setting the stage for creative collaborations.” Not a page is turned without a spark being lit.
3. Steelcase 360 Magazine: For us, and many schools and organizations, Steelcase is the industry standard when it comes to furniture solutions. Their 360 publication has released three publications, The Education Edition, The Creative Shift, and Making Space Disappear, which have pushed us to think differently and offered valuable resources. Click the link to download copy or view online. While Steelcase products are generally only appropriate for middle and high school at best, the concepts discussed in these publications are universal.
4. Create Magazine by Spaces Oasis: Space Oasis is furniture company based out of England and while we have not been fortunate enough to prototype their products, due to the cost of shipping from England, we have found their publication intriguing. Specifically their size and color guides which have given us a great jump off point for developing color palettes for spaces and design custom furniture with local designers and artists.
5. 7 Spaces for Learning: Ewan McIntosh’s video expands on Matt Locke’ 6 Spaces of Social media from 2007 and translates and applies them to education in a physical context. We have found this resources useful in the context of differentiation of learning spaces and while discussing the status of learning spaces in relation to this pre and post installation. I have summarized the main points below for a quick reference.
6. Redesign of Spaces Deliverables/Manifestos: Sometimes it is hard to understand how the Design process translates a vision for learning into a spatial concept. For us at ASFM, we had a good understanding of the Design Process and an evolving depth of knowledge of what was possible, but it wasn’t until David Jakes shared some of this sample deliverables that we really started to understand the possible. Over the past 2 years we have redesigned a number of spaces and published the Deliverables and Manifestos of the spaces below. These are just a snapshot of the process but should give you an idea of the process.
7. Inspiring Spaces YouTube Playlist: These are a series of videos which can give you an idea of the process and purpose behind redesigning learning spaces. There is a variety of case studies, process walkthroughs, and tutorials or speeches to provoke thought into thinking differently about learning spaces.
These are a brief collection of resources which we have found very helpful and I hope will provide guidance as you start thinking differently about learning spaces. There are many more out there which are highly valuable and many which we have not come across yet that I hope you will share. Think of redesigning spaces as a continual journey into the possibility of a vision for learning and the space as a resource and tool for that. An articulate new vision for learning and process for bringing that to reality are essential to inform the space which act as a "Third Teacher". Until those aspects are clear, hold off on redesigning your space. For more, check out my post, "Process Matters".
In an upcoming post I am going to share how we have taken all these insights, along with empathy building and observations, to develop our universal design principals which now inform all spaces redesigned at ASFM. We are on the journey towards redesigning a representative sample of learning spaces in grades Nursery through 12 and in all content areas. We will continue to share the story here an on www.ASFMLearns.com.
If you're starting to think about redesigning spaces, don’t take another step until you have a process. The product cannot proceed the process. Luckily, our journey at ASFM into the redesign of learning spaces coincided with my attending an event with David Jakes. Afterward we spent most of the 2015/16 school year researching and developing teams proficiency in Design before we installed our first space. This included reading of numerous books, pull out days for PD, bringing David to Mexico, and running various groups of students and teachers through numerous design charrettes. We intentionally went slow, listened to understand, and challenged ourselves to be vulnerable to fail loud and fast.
At the end of it all, we had collaboratively, with David Jakes, developed the ASFM L2E2 Design Process, a process not just for the redesign of spaces but for thinking differently about the learning experience. Process matters and Design is the creative and problem-solving process of the world, period. Better yet, we have modified it to meet the needs, respect the traditions, and respond to the language of our community. We now are in our second year of redesigning spaces and we can confidently say our process guides us to redesign the learning experiences based on our needs, goals, and collaborative vision for learning.
It’s been almost 10 years since my wife Kyla and I decided to take the leap and embark on an adventure of teaching overseas. At that time in 2008, we had been married for little under a year, owned a home, two cars, a lot of debt, and I had a permanent contract with Edmonton Public Schools and Kyla had just graduated from her B.Ed program at the University of Alberta and had an offer on the table the same district. Life you could say, was going to plan.
But that wasn’t the plan. There are things you say and things you're going to do and Kyla was not going to let teaching overseas be something we always said we would do. So we dove head first into the international job market that May of 2008. Little did we know this was very late for the international teacher job market, so we were left with jobs which had remained unfilled since October. We also had little idea where to look, what questions to ask, what contracts looked like, nor what work conditions were. Our only exposure to the international education lifestyle was from a colleague I met during my student teacher placement who had taught ESL in Asia and referred me to the famous Dave’s ESL Cafe as well as passed along a book, the title of which I cannot recall. Needless to say, we have learned a lot about this “International Teaching” gig since then and have a lot of paying it forward to do.
For some reason around this time of year I get contacted a lot by teachers outside of the “International Education” scene asking what it is all about and how to get started. This is my response not only to those who mail me directly but also for those who are just curious. I’ll do my best in this series of posts to give back what we have received and more in terms of guidance and support.
FAQ #1: Do you teach english overseas?
A: No. There is a major difference between those ESL teachers and International School educators. In a nutshell, international educators teach content, like History, Science, Math, English in private K-12 educational institutions aimed at providing students an International/American/British/etc learning experience, primarily in the language of english. For the most part, to teach in an International School, you need an education degree, certification, and a couple years experience in your home country.
AQ #2: How do I find a job?
A: There are two agencies I would recommend you start with, especially if this is your first time applying, Search Associates or International School Services. We have found jobs with both but have had a better experience with Search Associates. This may have been due to the fact that we started with Search Associates early when we were hoping to move to Asia and attended their annual job fair in Bangkok. What I wouldn’t recommend, is going with neither if you are new to the job market. Both will connect you with available jobs/positions in hundreds of schools around the world, contract information, the ability to apply directly, and a mentor who has experience connecting educators just like you with teaching positions. If you are able to, I would highly recommend going to a job fair. That being said, more and more schools are trying to hire at least half of their positions via Skype before they have to go on the fair circuit.
FAQ#3: When do I start looking?
A: Teaching positions tend to open up between October and December 31st for most international Schools. I would recommend being ready to apply within that time frame. That means having all your traditional applications documents ready as well as a strong web presence. I cannot emphasize the importance of this enough. In this market, you have to market yourself to gain that edge and share the best of yourself in the most efficient manner possible. International schools process hundreds if not thousands of applications for dozens of positions and having a strong and active website showcasing your practice is often a tipping point in the hiring process, especially for progressive schools.
FAQ#4: How do I know if a school is a “good” school?
A: This is a tough questions. There are a wide range of international school out there servicing a wide range of demographics and it is very subjective as to what qualifies as a good vs bad school. International Schools Review is a resource which receives mixed reviews but one which I have found valuable as a reference amongst many including Google searches, reaching out to my expat network, and the previously mentioned agencies. It is important to understand that ISR is an open review site where anyone can post a review on any school.
I hope this is helpful to those exploring international education for the first time. Blog posts to come in the future will expand upon the experiences we have had and some other things you may want to consider before taking that leap.