Vision

#ATL’s Urban City Studio: An concept for engaging with your community

The City of Atlanta has big plans for the future especially since they are projecting 2.5 million new residents over the next 25 years. The city has created a comprehensive development plan and one of the ways that they are increasing awareness and gathering information from Atlanta residents is through their new Atlanta City Studio. The lab has a variety of displays, many of which are interactive. This pop-up lab will be at Ponce City Market for 6 months and then move to another area of the city. During my visit I was greeted by a staff member who took me on a tour and explained all that the projects on display and the process they are using to engage with the Atlanta community.

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The goals for the urban design studio space are to:

  •  through a shared vision for vibrant urbanism, raise awareness about urban design and plan for a better Atlanta…one that will continue to advance Atlanta’s people and places;
  •  create urban design policies and enhance design sustainability and livability for the city;
  •  direct urban design services on projects throughout the city;
  • spark urban interaction amongst people who visit our city and those who live here;
  • engage residents and stakeholders in identifying goals for the City of Atlanta and create a new narrative;
  • enhance the socioeconomic, ecological and sustainable urban design form for the city.

My visit there this weekend got me thinking about how we could use a space like this at Mount Vernon Presbyterian School. My first thought was that we can use it to gather information from our community that will guide us in our strategic planning process and to share information on our academic program. The space can also be used with prospective families who are thinking of attending your school. Visitors can maneuver on their own or be shepherded through by faculty members, students, parent volunteers or administrators. Take a look at what #ATL City Studio has and how your school can benefit from a pop-up lab.

Bike Network

Bike Network Plans

 

 

Character Areas Maps

Explaining Ideas and Asking Questions

Character Areas Questions

 

Imagine a student showing these panels to parents and having a conversation on the topic. Any community member who serves in a host role will have to truly understand these ideas and what they mean for the school.

Good Urbanism 1

Good Urbanism 2

 

Clipboards 2

Visitors can provide feedback by answering strategic questions

Let's Play

This interactive model allows visitors to redesign city blocks.

Kids Area

Younger children can also participate

Meeting Space

A meeting space for small groups

Work Plan

And a work plan with markers on glass. (These are really trendy now)

Who has influenced you lately?

For some reason I have had the good fortune of being influenced by some brilliant, talented and dedicated individuals these past few months. While I’ve only scratched the surface of their work, I find their work to be inspirational.  Our students, at Mount Vernon Presbyterian School have been fortunate to hear Jeff Shinabarger, Kitti Murray, and Terence Lester tell their stories. Jeff is the founder of Plywood People, which is here in Atlanta, and Kitti and Terence have worked closely with Jeff to build their organizations. My wife and I were fortunate to meet met Len and Georgia Morris this summer while we were visiting Martha’s Vineyard. All are passionate and impactful “engaged citizen leaders”.

Jeff Shinabarger

 

 

Jeff Shinabarger spoke at the Class of 2016 Graduation Ceremony and each member of the graduating class received a copy of his book, More or Less, Choosing a Lifestyle of Excessive Generosity. I love their slogan, “Better is Possible”. After reading Jeff’s book I am conducting an experiment to determine “what is enough in your [my] life.” My three takeaways from the book were:

  • We can lead richer and fulfilling lives if we determine what is essential for our living.
  • “The good life is not found in luxury; rather it is found in a life that enhances the life of another human.””
  • I must continue to develop an understanding of individuals who are different than me. I must walk in their shoes. This understanding can totally change my mindset.

Kitti Murray

Kitti Murray is a social entrepreneur and the founder of Refuge Coffee. She spoke to our students earlier in the year and Kitti and her team participated on this year’s fuse16 conference. After working with Kitti’s team to develop solutions to how they can better integrate members of the Clarkston and greater Atlanta communities I am obsessed with learning more about the Clarkston community. The weekend after fuse I traveled out there to explore the neighborhood. Within two square blocks there are probably 12 different markets. I can only imagine that each market caters to different ethnic groups. I felt like I was overseas again, except I wasn’t sure which country I was visiting. I’m also reading Dave Eggers book What is the What. I’m also having conversations with colleagues on how our students can learn from Clarkston residents.

Terence Lester

Terence is the founder of Love Beyond Walls. Terence shared his story with our students and his team also participated in fuse16. I’ve been fascinated by how Terence walks in the shoes of others to better understand their world. He lived on top of a bus for 30 days to raise money to buy a bus that has been transformed into a mobile makeover salon, lived for a week on the streets, and he is preparing to call attention to poverty in this country through MAP16. Terence, and volunteers will be walking 648 miles from Atlanta to Washington D.C. I hope to participate in MAP16 and a group of MVPS students is preparing to promote and recruit participants for the event.

Len and Georgia

Len and Georgia Morris haven’t spoken to MVPS students…yet. The two are the founders of Media Voices for Children. Meeting Len and Georgia was an added bonus to our trip to Martha’s Vineyard. For over 20 years the two have been on a mission to protect human rights for children. They have documented poverty and human rights abuses in countries around the world (including the U.S.). Len was the 2012 recipient of the Iqbal Masih Award from the U.S. Department of Labor.

“This award recognizes the life’s work of Len Morris in raising public awareness about the plight of working children around the globe,” Ms. Polaski said. “His films and advocacy highlight child labor, hunger in Africa and homeless child laborers.”

Below are the trailers for each of their three films.

I look forward to learning more from Len and Georgia and finding ways to connect them with our students.

Searching for Flexible Learning Spaces to Study

In my last post New Learning Spaces = New Flow of Learning, I shared the plans for a new Upper School building at Mount Vernon Presbyterian School.  I have been fascinated by what this new campus will mean for learning at our school and am fixated on finding comparable spaces. Earlier in the year, I had the opportunities to visit the James B. Hunt, Jr. Library and North Carolina State University and the G. Wayne Clough Learning Commons at Georgia Tech. Both places provide learners with flexible and open spaces.

While these amazing facilities help me to study how learners use the space, I keep asking myself, “Is the type of use in these libraries different than how are teachers and students will use our new building?” (What I’m about to write actually makes me chuckle.) In general, it appears that students determine how the space will be used. They can work individually or in groups. They can play video games when they want. They can get assistance from librarians or writing tutors on demand or they can use the technology when needed. These spaces don’t seem to be teacher driven or collaboratively driven by teachers and students.

So, if we took over Georgia Tech’s Learning Commons for a week, how would we organize the space? Where would the teachers and students go and how would the space be used? What would the flow of learning by like? These are the questions that I am wrestling with now.

We are planning to convert current classroom space to make it more flexible next year and we are searching for schools who are already experiencing teaching and learning in these flexible spaces. If you’re one of these schools, let’s talk.

New Learning Spaces = New Flow of Learning

For over a year now Mount Vernon Presbyterian School has been working with Trung Le, Christian Long, and Sam Chaltain of   Wonder by Design to develop a state of the art Upper School building. It’s been fascinating to watch them in action capture the spirit of our school and how they have translated that spirit into a design for our new building. While the design is still undergoing iterations, there is no doubt that this new facility will require us to reconsider our approach to curriculum and teaching and learning. The Wonder Team introduced us to the design drivers and our community settled on these three.

  • How might we make school more reflective of real life?
  • How might we empower all learners to be seekers and explorers?
  • How might we inspire one another–and the larger world–through the work that we undertake?

The building includes:

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Below are several photos of the model that was presented to community members in the fall.

Exterior 1

Front of Building

Exterior 2

Side of Building

Inquiry Zone

Inquiry Zone Layout

Inquiry Accelerator

Inquiry Accelerator

Cafe

Cafe

During the curiosity conversations with community members people kept asking, how will our current academic program fit into this building? They also asked, how are you going to prepare faculty for this shift? Along the same lines we keep trying to image what the schedule will be like for teachers and students. What will Mr. Jimenez’s class be doing at 10:00 am on Monday? Will Mr. Jimenez have a class like we know it today? Will Mr. Jimenez and his students be assigned a specific space?

These are all fascinating questions that we are exploring now. Robert Rhodes from Horace Greeley High School, said of their renovation project, “It’s a space, but it’s really a curriculum project.”

 

 

#IMAMUSTANG – Highlights from My New School

So excited to be a Mustang at MVPS

So excited to be a Mustang at MVPS

As many of you know I joined the Mount Vernon Presbyterian School community this year serving as the Head of the Upper School. Mount Vernon is a school of “inquiry, innovation and impact” and we are redesigning the school experience for our students. So far, the experiences and challenges seem to be just what I was seeking.

Take a look at what I’ve been experiencing these past few weeks. This laundry list will provide you with a taste of what life is like at Mount Vernon.

On September 22 and October 6 Trung Le, Christian Long and the rest of their team from Wonder by Design held Curiosity Conversations around the current prototype of the proposed Upper School building with members of our community.

The current model is nothing like your traditional school building. “Flexibility” was the number one word used by those who participated in the conversation. There are “Inquiry Zones”, “Inquiry Accelerators”, “The Plex”, “The Mobile Action Lab”, and STEM areas. This building represents the school that we want to be and our efforts to create a program that fits the space are continuous.

Our students are working on their iProjects and those students who are seeking to find the topic that hooks them have had access to mini-field trips around town (The Beltline, CNN, College Football Hall of Fame, Historical Sweet Auburn Market), entrepreneurs and social entrepreneurs like Corbin Klett (you have to see his 3 min speech at the Georgia Tech Commencement Ceremony), Ted Wright, from Fizz, Chantel Adams from Forever We and designer Jenn Graham of Atlanta Streets Alive.

I, along with colleagues and students attended the Creative Mornings – Atlanta meeting where Aarron Walter spoke about Empathy and designing for emotion at MailChimp. Our students then visited the Museum of Design Atlanta and had lunch at Atlanta Tech Village.

While the MVAllstars provided our community with a powerful drama around Armenian immigrants to the US, our World History students were conducting interviews of local Armenians to learn more about the their knowledge of the genocide that occurred 100 years ago. Our photography students prepared an exhibit that set the tone as viewers entered the theater and one of our teachers shared his family’s immigration story. This was an excellent example of teams working together to craft the entire experience for theater goers.

Oh, and it’s been so long ago that I almost forgot about having the honor to attend Plywood Presents where we heard from many inspirational problem solvers.

To provide our students with opportunities to travel abroad and within the US we kicked off sign up for our interim trips. Students can chose from trips to Australia, London, Greece, Costa Rica, Seattle, New Orleans, Crystal River, FL, local internships and other local experiences. Plus, our Innovation Diploma students will be visiting the Stanford d.School to work with graduate students on a Future of Food challenge.

More later on our work on improving assessment practices and designing a MVPS Upper School Humanities program.

Join us at Graded for Innovate 2015 in March

We are looking for forward-thinking, dynamic and passionate educators who want to lead the learning at Innovate 2015.  Submit a proposal to workshop, present and lead learning at Innovate 2015!

Innovate Proposal

 

 

Innovate Page

Do parents really want schools with innovative learning environments?

Defining what it means to create a culture of innovation and especially a culture that cultivates innovators has been on my mind for some time now. I wrote, Jumping on the Innovation BandwagonInspired by Passionate Students and The Minerva Project as a Disruptive Innovation Case Study which all included views of innovation. I know that innovation is a hot buzzword these days and I’m hearing it more and more from parents. Questions like, “How can we make the school more innovative?”, “What innovative ideas do you have for our children?”, and “What will innovation look like in our school the future?”. I’ve also noticed that when pressed to describe what they mean by innovation the answers are shallow. There seems to be little understanding of what innovation in education looks like. Lately, I’ve been wondering if parents do really want their children studying in an innovative environment. Why? Because for this to happen the current system will have to change.

I’m a big fan of Tony Wagner’s work on this subject and he lists the 5 contradictions between current school culture and a culture that cultivate innovators.

Wagner points out that innovative cultures of learning have the following characteristics.

1. A high level of team work  where accountability is built into every single project. Most school systems promotes individual performance where students may work collaboratively at very low levels. The level of cooperation is typically superficial. This requires less time spent on content and more time on developing collaboration skills. It will also lead to highly sophisticated projects that require high functioning teams.

2. Interdisciplinary study of complex problems and solutions. Much of our curriculum today is designed by subject matter and there is little room for diverting from this course. Standardized state mandated tests are created by subject matter, AP and IB exams are also for subject matter courses.  Wagner states, “innovation happens at the margins of academic disciplines…” Will parents support schools who create trans-disciplinary courses that will look very different than what they had in school?

3. Active and engaging classroom cultures where there is no one expert that the students rely on for gaining knowledge. Traditionally the teacher has been the only expert in the classroom and the students are lulled into passivity. Students can be the consumers instead of creators. Often when teachers do take on a role as a facilitator or coach students and parents question why the student has to make sense of the learning on their own. There is an expectation that the teacher will spoon feed the students.

4. Promoting failure that leads to learning. A focus on grades and earning high grade point averages to get into colleges can easily lead to risk aversion. This is a fixed mindset where the grade is the end of the learning process and the results better be good. Innovators understand that there will be trial and error in the learning process and that without failures, the learning will not be as deep and the challenges not as great.

5. Intrinsic motivation that leads to passion and purpose. Again, many of our students are driven to success that is measured by grades and grade point averages. As educators, we constantly talk about how many of our students spend way too much time checking their grades online. Innovative learning cultures are filled with learners who are passionate about learning because they can see the current and future applications. They see how the learning can help them make a difference. This means finding ways to take the emphasis off grades and to put it on the deeper feedback that teachers can provide students with.

Are parents really willing to have their children’s schools make these types of changes? First of all I believe that very few understand what innovation in education really looks like. My hope is that by educating students and parents we can help them to better understand what changes will need to occur and what the benefits will be for students.

There are already educators, students and parents who are latching on to these ideas and taking steps to create innovative learning cultures. My hope is that, in time, we will see a new type of fish bowl with teachers and students engaged in practices that cultivate innovators.

fishbowl jump

“Fishbowl Jump” by Kay Kim is licensed under CC BY 2.0