Debbie Harris, Educational Technology Director at Solomon Schechter Day School of Metropolitan Chicago, shares with us her dream learning space and its realization – The Innovation Studio Space which greeted the Schechter staff and students the beginning of this school year. We learn how the school community took to the Studio and what might happen as the school year moves on.
“G’veret Mazor wants a hall pass.”
“I’ve got my design for the Apple Pencil holder.”
“I need to print a poster that I designed.”
“We’re designing logos for the Israel Experience trip.”
This is what I hear as my 7th and 8th grade students gather in our new innovation studio space for their innovation exploration special. They can’t wait to spend time learning how to use design software and apps, print using the 3D printer or moving furniture to facilitate better collaboration.
The room is the culmination of a long process which began with an application for a library upgrade grant and ended with the renovation of an adjacent classroom into a 21st century collaboration and innovation center. The library/learning center director and I began by carefully examining how students are using devices. We noticed that students often configured seating to facilitate collaboration when sharing a device. Sometimes this meant working chevruta-style, and sometimes small groups of four needed to be able to work together. We also learned that some kids just can’t sit at all. We watched students who, as they become more and more engrossed in a task, would rise from their seats and end up typing on a laptop on a table while standing, so we incorporated a counter-height surface for those who prefer to stand. We also wanted the space to be flexible and give us the possibility of opening it up to the adjacent beit knesset. And, finally, we wanted it to be incredibly enticing for students to be in there: we wanted it to be bright, we wanted it to encourage creativity and collaboration, and we wanted it to representative of the dreaming and innovation that we hoped would happen within its walls.
Of course, we had to think about the equipment that the room would hold. A 3D printer seemed like a must in order to support our move to more STEAM-like activities. We’ve also longed for some time for a poster printer to support various student and teacher creations, as well as an electronic paper cutter. Closed but flexible storage was also a must-have.
For input devices, we chose a combination of desktop computing (the “brains” of the poster printer, 3D printer and electronic paper cutter), iPad Pros featuring design, painting and video apps, and Chromebooks for database access and Google Apps for Education. We felt that this combination provided us with the right selection of creative apps as well as support for research and writing. We added a couple GoPro cameras and a green screen to facilitate creative video creation.
During faculty planning week, I created “Innovation Go” to teach my colleagues about the spaces and the equipment within. Using the app Aurasma, I created augmented reality experiences that were patterned after the game Pokémon Go. When teachers scanned various Pokémon characters, they were presented with text, tasks or videos that explained concepts like 3D printing or using the Apple Pencil. The faculty loved the activity, it gave them a great introduction to the space, and it got my colleagues talking and excited about the possibilities of the Innovation Studio.
Three weeks into the school year, we’ve printed more posters for faculty than we ever thought possible, our students are experimenting with creating 3D designs (beginning with a holder for the twenty Apple Pencils!), and artistically-inclined students are learning how to use the painting apps on the Pros. We have a space that our students can’t wait to get into, and all of us - students, parents and faculty - are incredibly excited to see what the year brings.