After 6 months of lockdown, Luke and Peter, Primary Coordinators at the Cambridge International School of Slovakia wanted to offer students something different upon their return to school. They knew their students’ primary needs would be to reconnect with old classmates, forge new social connections, and re-acclimate to in- person learning.
But there was a problem. Their packed, six period school day with multiple classes and short lessons hardly allowed for this kind of flexibility.
That’s when Peter and Luke got creative.
Gathering teachers across multiple grade levels together in the small staff room, they posed a simple but provocative question;
“What if for one week we ditched the traditional timetable and organized learning around a single theme: Re-Designing Our School?”
Their primary teachers had questions of their own.
We’ve never led learning like this, how do we coordinate and plan with other teachers? How do we organize the schedule? How to ensure students stay on task- they have never been given this level of freedom? What if our students aren’t capable? Many students are second language learners; how do we support them? What will students create?
To answer these questions and provide teachers with the confidence to lead students, Peter and Luke organized short training sessions and extended planning time for each grade level to design project-based experiences around the overarching theme. Some grade levels would engage students in playground design and more inclusive outdoor games; while others would embark on designing ‘classrooms of the future.’ Each grade level project included an open ended question to launch students into investigation, and an exhibition for students to share their ideas and final designs with a professional audience.
The Re-Designing School Project
On Monday morning, students gathered in the auditorium for the project launch. After excitable conversations, they all fell silent in unison when the lights went off and the big screen flickered on. ‘WHAT IF’ was written in big letters across the screen. The words slowly disintegrated as short intervals of inspiring designs from schools and classrooms across the globe panned across the screen. From high-tech classrooms with touch screens, to minimalist, eco-friendly outdoor spaces, students marvelled at the possibilities. By the end of the video, they could barely contain their excitement. One brave student shouted, “What’s this got to do with us?”
And then, with clinical brevity and decisiveness, Peter revealed: “This week as professional architects and engineers, you get to re-design Cambridge International School.”
The Initial Investigation
After the short assembly, teachers engaged students in immediate investigation. Some classes begin exploring ‘games across the world,’ while others embarked on a photo scavenger hunt for unused space around school. Some classes wrote up interview and survey questions, while others dusted off the trundle wheels and begin measuring out space. Teachers allowed students’ curiosity to run wild, and provided provocative questions for those who were a bit apprehensive.
After a day of investigation, it was time for students to begin ideating possible designs. In small groups, students allocated roles and begin sketching plans. Some group members would be responsible for logistics and budgeting, others for layout and space. Grade 4 students created their initial prototypes out of cardboard, pipe cleaners and other craft supplies, while grade 5 used CAD programs like sketchup to imagine theirs.
Feedback and Revision
By mid-week, it was time to receive feedback on their work. Some grade levels posted the designs across the walls of each classroom, with space for feedback via sticky notes, while others ran more formal critique sessions with each group first presenting their ideas, and then receiving feedback via structured protocols to ensure it was kind, helpful and specific. Some even brought in parent experts to help identify strengths and limitations of each design.
Preparing for Exhibition
Students spent the remaining day and a half organizing their findings, and compiling them in a cohesive presentation. Some used power point slides, while others used props and manipulatives. One group wrote out and memorized an entire script.
By Friday morning it was time for students to exhibit their work. With small stations spread across the school, it was the first time the entire elementary school would be on display. Students took centerstage. Parents and teachers beamed with pride as they watched their children- some for the very first time, present their designs, share supporting research and detail relevant benefits to the learning environment.
While the exhibition of learning is now only three days old, students and staff have already been transformed by the learning experience:
“I feel less isolated and far more collaborative.” – Year 2 Teacher
“Students benefited from seeing more teachers and students across grade levels. They got to see different approaches and learn from people from different countries and backgrounds.” – Year 3 Teacher
“I learned the importance of starting learning with a BIG question!” -Year 4 Teacher
“I learned that I am a really good designer and good at technology. I learned a whole new program (Google Sketchup) and am proud of what I accomplished.” – Year 5 student
Stay tuned for the video around the school re-design project. If you want to design a similar experience for students at your school, reach out to Peter at firstname.lastname@example.org. If you want to get started designing right away, here is a useful template.