ASFM Edge of Excellence Inspiring Spaces 2016-2019

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.

Produced by our stellar Communications department, I hope it provides insight into some of the projects that have come to life.

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.

Designed by David Jakes Designs

Designed by David Jakes Designs

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.

ASFM Business Incubator

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.

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The ASFM Eco-Patios Manifesto: The story of the redesign.

ASFM Eco-Patios Manifesto

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.

ASFM Moonshots: The Pitch

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.

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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.

Join us in redesigning the future of education, now.

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.

By David Jakes

By David Jakes

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.

Friday Funday: 3 Googley Ways to Have some Summer Fun Now.

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. 

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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. 

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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.   

Popular Questions:

How to upload a word file to google Docs.

How do I create a short URL?


12 Places to Float Ideas and Prototypes for Students

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.

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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.

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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.

4. ThingiVerse: A great space to share ideas and engage in contest that involve 3D printing. Student can submit solutions to the various “Challenges” which again helps engage with an authentic audience and gives them real world feedback.

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.

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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

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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.