Sherwood Education Foundation

November 2013 Sherwood Gazette article: Idea Lab, 10/7/13

Idea Lab a Place to Teach and Learn Differently

This year, the Sherwood Education Foundation (SEF) is helping to fund an Idea Lab at Middleton Elementary. It’s an experimental, nontraditional classroom space that Middleton teachers and students will use to innovate their way to new ways of teaching and learning.

Instead of rows of desks and chairs, the Idea Lab will have moveable foam cubes, to encourage collaboration. Instead of a blackboard at the front of the room, there will be no “front of the room.” Instead, there will be rolling white boards with piles of sticky notes, for easy idea generation and rearrangement. There will be a construction corner, for hands-on building and learning. A stage and costumes for “performing” ideas. And a lab coat for every student who enters, to reinforce the idea that you’re not in Kansas anymore; you’re in a completely new learning space where anything is possible and every crazy idea welcome.

The Sherwood School District (along with every other school district in Oregon and 45 other states) is in the middle of adopting the Common Core State Standards. These standards require new ways of teaching and learning to help students enter a 21st Century economy fluent in innovation, creativity, collaboration, and connectedness. Big surprise: the classroom that every generation since the Industrial Revolution has learned in is not an ideal environment for teaching such skills.

So Jeremiah Patterson, Principal at Middleton, is building a prototype classroom of the future where these skills can more easily be developed. Last spring, Patterson asked Middleton students to help design the space, and nearly 80 students ponied up ideas. A jury of creative fifth graders sifted through the stack and came up with key design principles.

This fall, Patterson took funds provided by SEF and the school’s PAC and went on a shopping spree at Home Depot, buying lumber, sheets of “shower board” for creating inexpensive moveable white boards, castors, and sheet metal. He and his staff are building the Idea Lab now, and this winter, teachers will start cycling students through the Lab, experimenting with teaching in completely new ways.

“We need a space that looks and feels different enough to give both students and teachers permission to think in a whole new way,” says Patterson. “As teachers use the Idea Lab, they will figure out what works and what doesn’t and gradually evolve lesson plans that address new 21st Century workplace needs.”

As teachers become comfortable with the very different mindset required by Common Core-inspired teaching, they can transfer Idea Lab concepts back into their own classrooms.

“With the move to Common Core, all teachers have been asked to think differently about teaching, but at the same time budgets are shrinking,” Patterson says. “Having SEF as a resource to assist with this is amazing. It never would have happened without the Foundation’s help.”

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