Monthly Archives: October 2015

Low-Definition, High-Definition, & Re-Definition: Constellating Stars Along I-280

Among the many hobbies we here in the Library & Learning Commons share, tracking shifts and evolutions in the landscape of education is one of our favorites, and Twitter serves as our central hub to peer into these developments throughout the world. Given the medium’s frenetic pace, we often feel situated in a camera obscura, catching emerging shapes and moving figures without much chance for the fullest clarity, so any opportunity to get on the ground in one of the most exciting environments for education is an opportunity for a high-fidelity view.

This past week marked the second occasion we have sent a team of educators down to The Nueva School’s Innovative Learning Conference. We’re incredibly fortunate that Annie Wright commits to immerse its educators in the zeitgeist shared by so many in the Bay Area. Worldwide, there is no higher concentration of people and organizations committed to transformation outside of the I-280 corridor. Even as whispers of another tech bubble continue their crescendo, it’s almost impossible to imagine that area becoming unseated from its dominant position. That place, like no other, has built itself on learning, and such learning will ignite rapid resurrection. Excess capital might take a sabbatical, but it will always return to this environment’s infrastructure of fervent thought.

We see this learning in major Silicon Valley tech firms, start-up incubators, world-class universities, and, for our purposes, the many schools committed to honing best practice in progressive education.

Aside from the conference itself, our trip featured visits to The Hillbrook School, Stanford’s d.school, and MKThink. The learning spaces of these places are so easily alluring.

Hillbrook has its I-Lab.

The d.school is the gold standard for formal education’s move to make space for critical collaboration and creative thought.

MKThink holds incredible expertise in shaping such spaces, and their own headquarters features a makerspace and small collaborative hot seats within a historic roundhouse that sits along San Francisco’s Embarcadero.

Round out our Thursday visits to these three organizations with a Friday dedicated to orbiting around the Nueva School’s triple threat of i-Labs, and we received a front seat to education’s most interesting furnishings and technology features.

We can easily depart SFO with airline napkins and hotel stationery filled with scribbled blueprints and quite a set of shopping lists. But to do so would be to miss the Bay Area’s most important lesson: transformation occurs by examining the ecosystem of evolution, not its tools. Not the makerspaces. Or the sticky notes. Or the furniture. Or iPads. LCD screens. Dream Director position descriptions. Centers for Teaching Excellence. Service learning projects. Internal start-ups. Online classes. Global education. Coding. STEM/STEAM/STEAMS/SHTEAM. Makerspaces. Group process toolkits. Meditation techniques. Assessment practices. Pedagogical approaches. Even delicious salads served at school lunch. Design Thinking as a proper noun. All and all and all: the tools and deliverables so easily seen from the camera obscura. It’s wonderful to realize the expanse of tools at our disposal, but what might we put them in the service of?

What constellates Hillbrook, the d.school, MKThink, and Nueva among the many, many stars along I-280 are their commitments to modes of thought that shape their learning ecosystems, ecosystems that are poised to evolve exponentially and infinitely.

Hillbrook was an early adopter of 1:1 iPads. This enabled the school to transform their computer lab into the iLab. The school performed in-house research on how the iLab affected learning outcomes, and this research motivated educators in Hillbrook’s community to adopt the features of the iLab in individual classrooms. The iLab has since morphed into a makerspace. This makerspace will soon move to a yet unbuilt hub at the center of their campus. Their engine of further evolution is fueled by an in-house researcher and a teacher in residence program that will continue to measure the impact of their prototypes and prepare their community for whatever they choose to scale out next.

We can take Hillbrook’s shopping list and their how-to guide. What’s more challenging, and what I-280 does so well, is maintaining thoughts on higher aspirations with each incremental shift and assuring each development arrives with contrails that ask everyone to interrogate how that development might impact the next step, even if that next step has yet to be imagined.

The d.school advocates and educates towards mindsets and practices that enable organizations and individuals to navigate their evolutions with the intellectual elegance that is on display in ecosystems like Hillbrook’s. Stanford empowers professional and personal transformation, launching those that connect with their mode of design thinking well into the future.

MKThink is increasingly involved in constructing conceptual frameworks for identifying problems within problems and quantifying the impact of solutions in order to ignite continual iteration.

Nueva showcases standing evidence of a school very experienced in such evolutions, and their decision to expand into educating high schoolers displays their evolving savvy in thinking towards these next steps.

This year’s lineup of speakers and workshops at the Innovative Learning Conference also presented such maturity. Almost every presentation we attended focused on the process of evolution. Here is how we aligned a community around a set of values. Here are the many levers we have at our fingertips to drive us towards fulfilling those values. Here is how we measure our effectiveness. Here is how our measurements motivated pivots along the way. Here is the ecosystem we created. Take it in. We’re set to evolve.

But don’t copy us or our direction—it’s truly about the messy work of developing the ecosystem that will sustain your community’s values, not ours.

Umberto Boccioni: “The City Rises”

All in all, It’s easy to get wrapped up in the aggressive futurism embedded throughout I-280. Credos abound:

At its face, we might easily be turned off by such aggression that harkens back to F.T. Marinetti and Company:

“Do you, then, wish to waste all your best powers in this eternal and futile worship of the past, from which you emerge fatally exhausted, shrunken, beaten down?”

We know the environment is also competitive and cutthroat, and extremely problematic are issues of race and class, which also makes the Bay Area a central node for both social innovation and social unrest to the extent of outright riot (ex 1., ex. 2.).

We can also point towards other stars outside of the valley, from the transformative Mount Vernon and Shattuck St. Mary’s to the upstart Iowa BIG, Watershed, Big Picture Learning, Nuvu Studio, the latter allowed the luxury of developing an ecosystem from scratch.

But it’s the thoughtfulness, warmth, and calculated elegance with which organizations dedicated to learning employ empathy driven design thinking and lean methodology to engage in the messy process of transforming ecosystems along I-280 that makes a visit there so thrilling, as the area offers such a concentration of schools and school partners prepared shape the continued brilliance of the Bay Area for years to come.

Thanks to community members at the Hillbrook School for the warm welcome, Durell Coleman of DCDesign for an engaging tour of the d.school, Signo Uddenberg for exposure to MKThink and its work, and everyone who worked so hard to put together the Innovative Learning Conference at Nueva. And thanks to Annie Wright for dedicating the time and resources to make this experience happen.

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