S3: E8: The Inventive Design of Learning Spaces feat. Pam Moran, Tim Fawkes, Ryan Hopkins-Wilcox, & Discovery Lab

Today's podcast is all about designing spaces for learning. Often, we think of a teacher's role as creator - someone who is making the learning happen within their room. But we can look at this in a more nuanced way. To completely steal Ryan Hopkins-Wilcox's explanation from in this podcast, when we plan an experience, we're already aware of what outcomes will be achieved. We're planning for what's going to happen next and already have each step in mind. In contrast, to design an experience - or space - we're opening possibilities for students to learn in multiple fashions. We have a general idea of where we want to be, but we're side-by-side in that learning experience.

This is an incredibly powerful message that is core to progressive education. We speak about student voice and choice but that's not choosing from preset options given by the instructor. When we say choice, we're referring to a plethora of possibilities that each student has to meet a learning goal. And we want to make that learning goal as broad as we possibly can to ensure that all students are engaged.

I think the thing that excites me most about education is the ability to craft learning experiences. My "why" in education is to find cool ideas, make simple foundations and structures for them to flourish, and pass almost all control over to students to make it happen. Of course, a lot of barriers exist to making the why of our purpose as educators happen.

Some of us get caught up in the systematic barriers to learning - whether they be topics that seem meaningless, students who aren't getting enough support, our lack of free time or pay, or just the general way our classrooms look and feel. And I think many - if not most - students are in the same boat. They may be excited from time to time on their why at school - after all, everyone loves to learn about things they care about...there's just a lot getting in the way.

Walk into most school buildings and you'll find a fairly bland and sterile environment. It may be even prison-like. Lack of funding is partially to blame, but there's also a system of control that manifests itself in having a comatose environment. Make everything too crazy and maybe the students will go crazy? I'm not sure. The fact is that as educators, we have the capability to design learning spaces that tear down the barriers as much as they can be torn down.

Sure, there's a lot of things outside of our control - and sometimes we're working against the best interests of our employer, the state, board, etc. that may have lost their way on what learning is (as they're more concerned about state test scores or upholding the way things were when they were in the school.) But we can continue to press on and design the most open and interesting environments we can.

These learning environments are both physical - the ways things look and feel, as well as conceptual - how our learning is designed.

We have four guests on today that exemplify these ideas - from a superintendent who designs schools to be honestly incredible, to a music educator who's making his classroom equitable and democratic, to an administrator at an International school who's designing experiences for students and staff, to two parents and educators who created their own school to do what's best for their children.

GUESTS IN ORDER OF APPEARANCE

Dr. Pam Moran, superintendent of the widely acclaimed Albemarle County Public Schools and co-author of Timeless Learning. Pam is an avid proponent of progressive education and designing schools that ignite learning.

Tim Fawkes, a high school music educator set on redesigning the classroom as an equitable, democratic space through embracing student voice, choice, and experiential learning.

Ryan Hopkins-Wilcox, an international educator and current assistant principal at the International School of Uganda, where she focuses on igniting learning through well-designed opportunities for staff and students.

Tosha Woods and Natalia Parker, founders of the Discovery Lab, a self-described “micro school.” Tosha and Natalia started this school as concerned parents and community members to provide an outlet of progressive learning to students.

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