I have been a teacher for my whole life really, working with kids in the music and art field before official certification 14 years ago. Having taught Preschool, Kindergarten, First and Second grade, I have a passion for young children and their developmental miracles. Currently I teach Second Grade at Mammoth Heights Elementary School in Parker, Colorado, a suburb of Denver. My focus of late is experimenting with educational models and theories in regard to 21st Education, especially for primary students. I am in the process of combining tried and true theories with new ones to form an environment and model that is very conducive, empowering, inspiring and engaging for 7 and 8 year olds.
Students are changing. Information is available at the click of a finger. The Victorian model of teacher delivery and student skill and drill is not going to propel our students toward the jobs and personal exchanges of tomorrow. Having contemplated these shifts, learning about Douglas County School District’s Strategic Plan–especially the caveats of choice, world class education and system performance, and most of all–watching my students become more disengaged in a traditional setting, I started to dream.
My dream has been the creation of a model 21st Century classroom. What would it look like? What would it feel like? What would kids be doing? What would the teacher be doing? For weeks, I imagined this space. Ideas started to flood my thinking, and I decided to start writing these thoughts down. The thoughts did not only consist of fancy furniture and technology, but they included shifts in teacher delivery and student opportunity within a new second grade classroom experience.
I had to research. I read Thomberg’s Campfires in Cyberspace: Primordial Metaphors for Learning in the 21st Century; I studied Yong Zhao’s theories of identifying students’ unique strengths and enhancements of their experience; I studied Paul Tough’s thinking as he asserted that students need to develop qualities of persistence, self control, curiosity, conscientiousness, grit and self-confidence; Tony Wagner’s mantra of play, passion and purpose started to sing throughout the DCSD district; Educational models such as Reggio Emilia, Artful, Expeditionary and Project Based Learning were inspiring components of my thinking.
My brain was exploding with a vision of what young students need in a 21st Century classroom space.
It was important not to call this place a classroom—with new thinking, I needed a new phrase to describe my ideal. Primary was important as many educational transition focus on intermediate and older students. The concept of Innovation kept jumping out of my research; moreover, it is at the core of our hopes for the 21st Century learner. And Studio replaced classroom, as I envisioned the artist’s studio where personalized pursuits happen freely with a high level of expression and choice. Encompassing this name, are the 21st Century Skills of creativity, communication, collaboration and critical thinking.
A Primary Innovation Studio. What will be different about this space?
Environment will be a more “living room” space where there is not a focal point for the teacher to lecture and regurgitate information. Furniture will be quite moveable as experiences within the classroom will be ever changing as well as ergonomically fitted toward young wiggling bodies. The teacher’s role will be more of a coach, organizer and guider. Of course, primary students will need explicit instruction and leadership, with careful models and expectations; however, in the Primary Innovation Studio, the teacher will impart routines and rituals which allow students to achieve district standards and outcomes in a more personalized way. State and district academic standards will taught in ways that are relevant and naturally integrative, and assessed with rigor. These will become a vehicle for students to achieve other skills such as citizenship and responsibility. Student growth will be monitored and delivery and intervention choices will be contingent on students’ unique needs. Community will be the ultimate goal of this space, as students will learn from mistakes, take risk and learn to communicate their emotional needs, hopes and goals. Many teachers are doing these things, and doing them well—but not in a a modern space.
Technology will be readily available for students, realizing that their everyday lives are accompanied by these sorts of tools and student engagement peaks with modern technology. However, in the Primary Innovation Studio, technology devices will be one of the many tools available for students. Students will be able to show their thinking in other ways: writing, reading, math, art, music, storytelling, drama, kinesthetic accompaniments, and more. The bottom line is: the student’s talents and inclinations will be honored.
The dream is coming true. Thanks to the Morgridge Family Foundation and supportive district personnel, a room is being constructed at Mammoth Heights Elementary School in Parker, Colorado. Having communicated, sketched and discussed my vision, it is coming to fruition.
The Primary Innovation Studio has been born. Now it is time to bring in the students and make 21st Century learning accessible and successful in unique ways for each student.
All too often we are giving young people cut flowers when we should be teaching them to grow their own plants. John W. Gardner