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.
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.