Innovation in Learning Study Group

Advanced Studies in Spanish: Art as Passion

By: Keri Bristow

After returning from High Tech High I was inspired to try out some project-based learning in my Advanced Studies in Spanish class.  All juniors and seniors who are proficient in Spanish at the Intermediate level (a very high level on the ACTFL scale) explored themes topically.  Together we created a project called Art as Passion.  Each student chose an art form that they wanted to learn more about and connected it to the Spanish-speaking world.  From dance, to photography, to creative arts, animation, digital music and culinary arts, students produced a creative component.  We exhibited our work on an evening that began with a dance performance, continuing to a gallery walk and presentations in our library, with parents and friends who viewed the arts.  It included a slide show presentation with narration in Spanish that can be utilized by other teachers of Spanish.  It was a successful evening due to the public presentation in front of a sympathetic audience where art, language and learning came together.


Innovation Update

By: Matt McCormick

Like anyone fortunate enough to walk the halls of High Tech Middle, I was struck by how students had a chance to create a tangible artifact to represent their learning. And while watching students silk screen some t-shirts, I had an AHA! for how I might bring that concept into my own classroom. At the time, my students were studying the impact of their clothing on people and places around the world. So why not have them make a t-shirt to represent their learning? We studied the elements of effective designs, debated where to buy our t-shirts from, and visited the winner -- Goodwill in Rutland. Then we created the t-shirts. Here are some results:


In a reflection, one student said: “It was definitely worth making the t-shirts. It made me really think about the most important thing I learned.” While I felt the project was successful, I’m still working on getting them displayed. An appointment with the custodial staff fell through, and then...we moved on. I still have the shirts, and still hope to get them up.

On another note, my colleagues Melissa Fellows, Anne Lessard, and I took a Project Based Learning course through UVEI. We looked at the essential components of PBL, and collaborated to create a project around how climate change will impact Vermont during the next 30 years. Part of their project will be to create scientific posters making a prediction about the future of one aspect of Vermont (the ski industry, sugaring, electricity prices). They’re also working in our Innovation Lab to create stop animation videos and “data machines”. The latter projects should be done by late May. The best part of this was working with colleagues. However successful this particular project is, we’re gaining more and more confidence and momentum toward making project-based learning a regular part of our practice.

East Coast: Design Goal - Trust

By: Melissa Fellows

As we wondered through the learning spaces at Olin College of Engineering, I saw this sign posted on one of the many well-loved work spaces:


One of the students who was giving us a tour described the process of creating and revising a design goal as the driving force behind their project-based learning. As an Innovation Study Group and as a larger community, we are now at the place where we need a design goal to guide our next steps. How do we synthesize a variety of perspectives and create spaces that are nimble enough to flex, grow and change as we do? More importantly, how do we foster the idea that we are a community of learners, ready to take on the challenges that face us as both local and global citizens?

To gather another perspective, I spent some time at Olin speaking with a fourth year student about her experiences in middle and high school as well as in college. I asked her how her time at Olin had shaped her view of her earlier educational experiences. I asked her if she could take one element of her learning from Olin and apply it to those earlier years, what it would be. Without hesitation, she replied, "Trust." She explained that professors and staff at Olin trusted her implicitly from the moment she walked through the doors as a first year student. Whereas many of her friends at other institutions still considered themselves "just students," she quickly stepped into the role of engineer because of this trust bestowed upon her. Pointing to student-created projects that lined the halls, she remarked that students at Olin are expected to solve real problems while working collaboratively with their peers as well as professors. She told me that she wished her middle and high school teachers had trusted her to"build things, make mistakes and learn from those mistakes." 

I think we can learn from the design goal in the picture above. We may not be creating a "creepy crawly" experience but I think we need to trust students and each other to "play" with what learning looks like in our schools.

East Coast: Take aways from the String Theory School

By: Gabe Bango (10th grade student)

On Wednesday we visited the String Theory School in Philadelphia. It was a performing arts school and had features that I hadn’t seen in any public high school before. The first feature of the school that really stuck out to me was the amount of relevant classes they offered. They had classes that were based on and specific to job opportunities that are growing right now. The String Theory school had a “major” system where K-4th grade students would be exposed to all different types of classes. Then, in fifth grade, the students would choose a major to focus on until they graduate from high school. I think this system could work really well and make school a lot more enjoyable for the kids that realize their passion by 5th grade, although it’s hard to believe many do. Maybe a more effective way of this system is to have it open for kids to join when they realize they what they want to study for the rest of their schooling career (before college). Overall though, I think the major system or something similar is a great form of personalized learning. Another feature of this school is that not all teachers had their teaching degrees, a lot of them came from careers related to the subject they taught. Instead of the teachers coming straight from teaching school, these educators had real world experiences in their subjects. I think that sometimes kids take courses and end up not learning anything applicable to real life. This feature would help prevent that.


East Coast: Take aways from Harvard Innovation Lab

By: Gabe Bango (10th grade student)

The Harvard Innovation Lab was a space for students to work on start-up companies. The really innovative thing about it was the use and organization of the space. The lab had different rooms and sections for different purposes that were equipped for those purposes. They had larger spaces for group work and collaboration, as well as small spaces that were available to reserve for either individual or small group work. There was a conference room that was perfectly soundproof and had an oval-shaped. This design allowed the sound of a person’s voice to be heard clearly throughout the room. Another characteristic of the space was a woodshop that was open for anyone that needed the space. To me, this seems like it could be very useful during project-based learning and an opportunity to use your hands. One thing that the architects wanted us to pay close attention to was how the iLab was furnished. There were very comfortable spaces with sofas and arm chairs, as well as areas to work more efficiently. This is a great idea for our school because it provides options for students to choose from, as well as creates a comfortable environment to work in.


East Coast: Design elements of STEM

By: Hannah Thein

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In our inquiry-based expedition to the EAST COAST schools, some questions we had were: Exactly what is STEM and what goes on inside STEM classrooms?  What elements can be applied to all subjects, not just science and math?   


The following are some STEM design elements we observed in the schools we visited:

Most schools we visited emphasized the importance of using guided inquiry instead of open inquiry.  We saw so many displays of students’ explorations and how they began by posing good questions.

Students are guided in the development of critical thinking. There is an expectation that students approach problems from many angles, and they must also be able to articulate their thought processes as they move through their projects.

Students develop their multiple intelligences (ala Howard Gardner). Students are given many opportunities to express their creativity (sometimes through STEAM). The integrated art often illustrates concepts in an entirely different way.

Students work in teams with the option to go to breakout rooms when they need to work alone. This teamwork helps the team to develop diverse ideas and grapple with opposing viewpoints. This teamwork is scaffolded and team members evaluate themselves and others. (Intervention is sometimes required!) One teacher joked that things would go much better if the adults in the school followed the same practices.  

Students are encouraged to use metacognition and reflection to discover what kind of learners they are. This also helps students build emotional intelligence.

Teachers do not behave as “sages on the stage” but work BESIDE students to support, coach, encourage students as they make progress on their goals.  

Students are part of assessment: they help design and build their portfolios and projects. Formative assessments are frequent and rubrics help guide student work so that they  know what they must do to demonstrate new knowledge and skills. Many times the final assessment is a real world project.

Students are encouraged to develop their curiosity and passions ALL THE WAY THROUGH their education (not just in primary school).

Students use technology to achieve their goals, and do not just use technology as an end in itself. Innovations in technology are growing exponentially and open up new possibilities for enriching student learning every year.

Students  produce pieces of writing and products for REAL audiences, not just for the teacher. When they discover that others are interested in viewing/ listening, they develop poise and self confidence.

Inquiry/problem solving cycles are VISIBLE and practiced. This helps students with challenges.

Learning is active and hands on, and again connected to the real world. Students partner with others outside the school.

Students have choice and autonomy. They are engaged and energized  because they are given time, space, materials  and tools to best learn what they are most interested in.

Some of these elements are further explored in the article  “Considerations for Teaching Integrated STEM Education”.


East Coast: Final Thoughts

By: Julie Brown


We wrapped up our innovation trip with a visit to Olin College of Engineering in Massachusetts.  Both of the students traveling with us marvelled at the level of engagement and the constant designing/building/solving taking place at the college level.  There was nary a professor to be seen - just students fully invested in their team work and projects. Students were able to articulate how they work together, right down to the importance of “Team Health” and how to foster emotional and physical health amongst their groups.  In the end, we came away with a real picture of what students who are directing their own learning can accomplish.  Yes, there were course objectives, carefully crafted learning goals, grades, and due dates.  But students were involved in designing the curriculum, architecture - even the furniture - themselves wherever possible.


The schools we visited were inspiring not only for what they are doing, but also because they served to remind us that we, too, are innovative.  Much of the teaching we observed is only beginning to approach the quality our classes have already achieved.  What made these schools truly visionary was what I can only call their “super-structures” for lack of a better word.  Their overarching vision of student directed learning was matched with an overarching system of schedules that reflected their values - they put their time where their goals are.  For example, no school we visited had “Study Halls” - and I did not see or hear of any homework assignments.  Students collaborated, created, and actively developed talents together every minute of the school day.

There is nothing preventing us from following these schools into the student-driven model of education.  Indeed, many of the educators I spoke with were envious of the academic rigor and interventions we offer our students and are themselves working towards modelling what we are doing in these areas.   We already have an incredible student body, innovation-minded teachers, a driven administration, and a supportive community.  We are very fortunate to have been  given this opportunity to begin re-imagining “school.”  It is a very exciting time to be a member of this dynamic school district!

East Coast: Hands-on, project based learning & Ninjas!!

By: Luis Bango


By the time our day-long tour of Olin College ended, we were both energized and inspired.  Most of the three hour drive home was dedicated to excited talk about everything we saw during our visit. The small, prestigious engineering school in Needham, Massachusetts prides itself on offering courses that focus on project-based learning, collaboration as well as student voice and agency.  We saw many examples of these elements throughout the day.

One example that stood out was support and collaboration through the use of student ninjas. Most Olin courses have at least one student assigned to them to serve as a course assistant, also known as NINJA (Need Information Now? Just Ask.)  Ninjas typically hold office hours and/or study sessions and generally serve as a resource for students in the class.  They often review homework assignments in conjunction with a faculty member.


Ninjas are also trained “experts” in many of the machining tools available for student use.  The heart of the academic learning takes place in the Machine Shop.  This is where the ideas and concepts of student projects take physical form.  Students can fabricate their projects using shop equipment but first need to complete an introductory course led by a student ninja.  The objective of the course is to provide students the knowledge to safely operate manual devices and machines such as milling machines and lathes.  The tutorials are machining projects designed to emphasize basic machine shop operations.  This mini-courses becomes an important foundation from which students can build their skills and knowledge.


As you can see from the photos that accompany this blog entry, many of the ninjas are women engineering students.  Only about 20 percent of undergraduate engineering degrees in this country go to women.  Olin College is proud to be an outlier: half its students are women. One reason for this might be a contextual approach to engineering that emphasizes purpose and design.  


One of our student guides emphasized that projects like SCOPE (Senior Capstone Program in Engineering) that emphasize communication/presentation skills as well as have a strong collaborative component also contribute to the strong female presence.  SCOPE connects teams of Olin students with organizations and major businesses where seniors work in multi-disciplinary teams to provide innovative solutions to a company’s real-world problems.  This supports the philosophy is that learning occurs through immersion in real-world applications.  Students engage in a hands-on approach from day one; the solutions they devise in the classroom must work for open-ended problems.


I’m thrilled we were able to visit not only secondary schools during this tour  but also institutions like Olin College that offer wonderful ideas, philosophies and methodologies that can inspire our designs for increasing student engagement and preparing our students with hands-on, real-world, authentic learning experiences.


East Coast: Creating a Space that Fosters Innovation & Collaboration

By: Luis Bango

The Harvard Innovation Lab is a space that invites creative thinking, collaboration and community.


We visited the Harvard Innovation Lab which is nested within the Harvard Business School.  It’s an open, flexible, unique collaboration and education space designed to foster entrepreneurship and innovation across many Harvard communities.  It also works to connect Harvard students to outside community assets like businesses and legal consultants.  

The iLab has been the incubator for more than 600 startups since its launch in 2011.

The resources support student ventures spanning social and cultural entrepreneurship, health and sciences, technology, and consumer fields. Furthermore, it’s student-centered and faculty-enabled, with programming supplied by schools across Harvard to help students take their ideas as far as they can go.

I was struck by the openness of the entire space, for its flexible and varied configurations and for its invitation to collaborate!  Everything in this dynamic space is in a state of flux. All the furniture seems to be on wheels: from tables, to whiteboards, to the bright yellow team lockers that students roll around to create instant workspaces.

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Visiting the Harvard Innovation Lab reminded me of an article that first appeared in Learning & Leading with Technology in June 2013, titled “Australia’s Campfires, Caves, & Watering holes”.  The authors, Ann Davis and Kim Kappler-Hewitt,  present the importance of designing our educational spaces to encourage and facilitate engagement, communication, collaboration and reflection.  They drew from the work of David Thornburg in transforming learning spaces that involved constructing spaces to support personalized and differentiated instruction.  There are three archetypal learning spaces: the campfire, the cave, and the watering hole and we witnessed all three at Harvard’s iLab.

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The campfire, is a space where people gather to learn from an expert (a teacher, another student, a community member). Through this shared experience we learn and can go on to share this with other people, face to face or through technology and social media.  The campfire spaces at the iLab might be a breakout room that affords more focus and privacy for a small group or just a table and comfortable chairs that have been pulled away and reconfigured.

White board space like this promotes asset-based thinking.  We all have gifts and interests and making connections with one another is important to make our ideas better, stronger and to move our ideas and ventures forward.

White board space like this promotes asset-based thinking.  We all have gifts and interests and making connections with one another is important to make our ideas better, stronger and to move our ideas and ventures forward.

One lasting impression for me was the number of resources the iLab provides that help students further inform, improve, and advance their ideas. Community partner organizations play an important role and come in to offer resources to both Harvard students and members of the public including: office hours, workshops, and counseling sessions.

Experiential Learning is an important element as well at the iLab.  For Harvard students and teams wanting to test and refine their ideas and ventures, iLab programming includes a number of resources that place students in less structured environments in order to ‘learn by doing’. Challenge competitions, hackathons, coding bootcamps and career fairs.

The Harvard iLab was a great way for us to start our Innovation in Learning journey.  It really got us excited and the ideas flowing.  Our tour inspired us all to think more creatively and to break down the barriers, both physical and contrived, to create a climate at WUHSMS for greater collaborative and innovation.  

Smaller, portable whiteboards on wheels are ideal for brainstorming, mind mapping and general sharing and communication.

Smaller, portable whiteboards on wheels are ideal for brainstorming, mind mapping and general sharing and communication.

The daVinci room is a makerspace nested within the innovation lab that allows for hands-on 3D desigining and prototyping.

The daVinci room is a makerspace nested within the innovation lab that allows for hands-on 3D desigining and prototyping.

East Coast: Our magic

By: Erin Hanrahan

For most of us, the idea of "choosing a major" conjures memories of college. But at the String Theory schools, 4th grade students are about to embark on that very journey. Starting in 5th grade and continuing through senior year, students at the String Theory charter schools in Philadelphia spend 90 minutes every day taking courses in their major; instrumental music, STEM, ballet, digital design, or one of several other options.


What does this mean for their educational experience? The school is hoping majors will spark passion, and that seems to be working. When I asked students at String Theory what their favorite part of the school day was, every one replied, "my major." Students work on authentic projects in their majors, designing artwork for banners that fly near City Hall in downtown Philly, and producing stop-motion films to market products that are being developed at Particle, the school's 8th-floor incubation lab.

Over and over, students at String Theory raved about the 90-minute "major" block, explaining that it gives them a chance to really "get good at something." They crave mastery. Administrators and faculty refer to this enthusiasm as "Our Magic," and have codified it (their words) on every staff member's ID badge.

Students' enthusiasm for majors makes them a compelling pedagogical prospect. But even more compelling, I think, is the question of how we can get that magic and enthusiasm to permeate all classes in a student's school day. Why should students have to wait until D Block to have an authentic, real-world learning experience? It strikes me that, although we do not have a major program at Woodstock, and although our school cannot boast a major with a professional grade motion capture studio, we are working hard to integrate authentic learning experiences into core classes every day. There is magic there, too.

East Coast: String Theory - What???

By: Julie Brown

Just like string theory in physics attempts to reconcile concrete rules of the physical world and their irrelevance in the microscopic and macroscopic realms, “String Theory Schools” try to reconcile the tangible aspects of education like grades, proficiencies, and curriculum with their intangible counterparts such as joy, passion, and empathy.  For, like our old friend John Dewey espoused, education is not something you (only) measure.  It is something you live.

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There were far too many exciting discoveries made today to cover in a blog post, but I encourage you to investigate these schools online for yourselves.  Fortunately, each teacher who visited today will write about one aspect of what we saw here in our blog.  


The big picture take-away for me was calming and empowering: these visionaries did not wait to engage their student’s passions until they had all of the potential problems figured out.  These risk takers jumped in and just got started.  Their classroom instruction is similar to ours, and in several areas lagging our school’s rigor and innovative engagement.  Their physical space is not spectacular (albeit much more conducive to collaboration than ours) nor are their students more advantaged.  What then, is so unique and special about String Theory Middle and High School?  Their schedule.  


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To a one, when asked what they loved about their school students replied, “I love that I can develop talent.”  Their faces lit up when explaining their music, dance, or STEM majors.  These young people, from the earliest grades, have the opportunity to investigate their interests and choose a “major” by the 5th grade.  They have an hour and a half each day above and beyond core classes to focus on their chosen major.  And the heights they achieve!  The sense of joy, accomplishment, belonging, and competence among the students is palpable.  They exude what we all want for our own children and students - purpose.  It is String Theory’s acceptance that, yes, it IS alright to specialize, develop, and focus - even as a young person - that makes this purpose flourish.


It is my sincerest hope that we as a school and community can similarly take risks and allow beauty, compassion, and talent to steer our decisions as we move forward in this visioning process.  Because, as you know, our students have boundless energy already - they are programming computers and operating machinery, hunting and skiing, building and designing, writing and acting, drawing and painting.  May we have the courage to further - no, radically - engage their natural passion and curiosity in profoundly meaningful ways.  Why courage?  Because we must bravely let go of certain parts of our curriculum and as students shape their curriculum.  And live their education in the process.

East Coast: My lens...

By: Nerissa Edwards

In 1985, the Higher Education Research Institute at UCLA  found that 18% of incoming freshman were anxious.  By 2016 it had skyrocketed to 41%.  The American College Health Association has it at 62%.  At WUHSMS,  we are seeing this increase in our students anxiety as well.   But why? Some research correlates the data to social media. Others to the overwhelming task adolescents have to “do it all perfectly.”  Still others to the lack of sleep (or interrupted sleep with many students sleeping with their phones so they don’t miss out.)

At MIT it was mentioned that they are looking at changing their first year program because many of their students are “sad” resulting in risky behaviors.  The String Theory School in Philly’s principal talked of student joy  -- but it was not clear how this was infused into their model.  Meadowbrook School requires students to engage in projects with an empathy component.  How will what we are doing change the mental health of our students?  

East Coast: Greater than the sum of our parts

By: Nerissa Edwards

I have been asked if it is really valuable to have so many people on these innovation investigation trips. East Coast, West Coast  - that is a lot of money being spent.  And to be fully honest, I was not quite sure.  I was not even sure if I really wanted to go.  Like the rest of my colleagues, I have too many things pulling me in too many different directions and I was not sure if this was a good use of my time.  Couldn’t I just look at the websites of these schools and read the book Most Likely to Succeed?  Or watch the movie?

Nevertheless, on a cold November morning I got myself to Woodstock Union High School by 5:45AM to get into the Brown’s airport shuttle van.  Although I have worked with some of these people for 8 years I had not had many in depth conversations with many of them.  We don't cross pollinate very often at WUHSMS.  Two sophomore students, a special educator, a music teacher, a technology integration specialist and me -- a school counselor. For the 2 plus hour ride into Boston we enjoyed each other’s company and found a deep respect for Julie’s driving skills.

Upon arrival in Newton, we gathered with more members of the team - a computer science teacher, a middle school science teacher, a middle school English teacher, an elementary school principal, an elementary school librarian, the district Tech guy, the Superintendent, a School Board member, a parent, an architect!  I have been in education for 28 years and only once I have I been with such an eclectic group.

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Our friendly driver, Frank, drove us to the first stop: Harvard’s Innovation lab.  We were greated by David Stevens who spoke to us about the building and its uses.  When it was time to ask questions and physically poke around, I found myself excited by the questions posed by the others.  One was concerned about the environmental aspect, another the moveable walls and furnishings.  What was I thinking!?!?!? I could never had learned all of this by reading the website! Being able to talk with students using the spaces and seeing aspects that I want to replicate was amazing. The space reminded me of co-working spaces but so much more.  There were a variety of spaces: open tables, enclosed rooms, a techie conference room and a kitchenette with snacks. Everywhere I looked I saw something intriguing.  Owen and I checked out innovative furniture, Luis and I got ideas that we want to bring back to the Rowland Steering committee and I found a quote that will go on my chalkboard door next week. Having colleagues and students to bounce ideas and really collaborate with is essential.  Throughout the first two days the conversations were as varied as our positions yet based on a common desire to create a school system that enables all students to learn and grow to their best potential.  Although we are fabulous individual educators, this trip has once again proven that our school is greater than the sum of its parts.

East Coast: Change Is Everywhere

By: Perrin Worrell

In preparation for this journey I told myself to approach this learning experience using  my perspective as a graduate of Woodstock, as the daughter of two retired teachers of the school and now as a school board member.  I was solely focused on the educational side of my history. What I didn’t anticipate are the connections I am making to the current work I do in the business world around change management.  



There are many different stakeholders invested in the success of Woodstock Union Middle and High Schools, in addition to the elementary schools. As we adjust to a new superintendent, a new leadership team at the higher levels and prepare for consolidation, it is vital to keep all of the stakeholders in mind. Successfully implementing change can be challenging and the quickest way to derail the process is to alienate a group of stakeholders.

Visiting the schools over the last few days has highlighted the importance of flexibility, creativity and connecting content. Being surrounded by a group of dedicated, motivated and empowered teachers and educational leaders has reinforced the need for transparency and clear communications, two essential components of achievable change. Providing the opportunity for the perspective and input from all of the stakeholders being asked to implement the change seems surprisingly unexpected. The observations have led to rich conversations that have led to excitement over the possibilities.

I have no doubt this team, in collaboration with other stakeholders,  can make change happen. I am honored and humbled to be part of the process.

I came across a sign in one of the classrooms yesterday at The Field School that has floated into my thoughts again and again, Empathy—walk a mile in another person's shoes. As we continue on this journey, not just over the next two days but over the upcoming years, I challenge each of us to “walk a mile in another person’s shoes.”

East Coast: Echoes from the Green Mountains

By: Julie Brown


Justin Reich, an accomplished Massachusetts Institute of Technology Professor, spoke with us on Monday about MIT’s current focus on instructional reform.  The discussion was framed around the above quote by John Dewey.  Needless to say, a scholar at the very pinnacle of academic rigor quoting a Vermont born philosopher and educational reformer instantly caught our attention!

Dewey believed that education was a foundation of civil society and democracy.  He was a proponent of education mirroring life: we are social and relational by design and therefore learn best through social engagement and experience.  Current buzzwords in education innovation circles such as “problem based learning”, “experiential education”, and “teaching with passion” were advanced by Dewey in the early 1900s.  Dewey did not, however, minimize the role of content knowledge itself as a driver of learning or advocate for an entirely child-centered curriculum.  Nor did our MIT host.  Both sought a balance between advancing the boundaries of curriculum with healthy, compassionate, and effective means of acquiring and applying new understandings.

His talk highlighted the central role content knowledge (facts) serves in learning - the more you know, the more connections the mind can make in acquiring new knowledge.  MIT is asking themselves, “How, then, do our students best acquire content knowledge?”  One of the places they are going to for answers is works by John Dewey such as “Experience and Education.”  Like Dewey, and backed up by current research, they accept that sitting and listening is one of the least effective modes of instruction.  They realize that the more experiential, social, student-choice driven, and problem-based their courses are, the more successful they invariably are.

His message was both validating and inspiring for us as we pursue a common vision for the future focus of our schools.  A recurring trend in our conversations is the balance between curriculum and experiential learning and how we can continue to steer our efforts towards creating a vibrant, meaningful, compassionate, and empowering educational experience for our students.  As our fellow Vermonter John Dewey believed, a socially driven education is vital for our children, our society, and our democracy.

Layering on top of everything an investigation into how our physical building can hinder or promote such “living and learning” makes for rich discussions and exciting ideas.  Each of us is sincerely grateful for this unique opportunity. Thank you!

East Coast: Meadowbrook Integration

By: Jody Henderson

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I have not been more impressed in learning anything about STEAM Education than I was this morning in meeting Susan Fisher on our visit to Meadowbrook School. Susan introduced herself alongside Jonathan Schmid, their Director of Technology, as the people responsible for their wonderfully designed and outfitted Makers’ Space, which they refer to as the "Eureka Lab". Even more impressive than the brand new spacious lab itself was Susan’s reply when asked how Design Thinking was being integrated specifically beyond the lab setting.

Up to that point Susan had presented various details of their program with a clear degree of expertise. In answering the question about integration with the school she seemed to express a more personal tone saying, “I consider myself first and foremost a curricular coach by offering all areas of the school access to the lab in ways which are relevant to their existing programs”. Susan went on to share some exciting examples how this was happening with some less obvious units of study in Language Arts and Mindfulness, and provided equally vivid summaries of how such integration occurred in the Primary and Middle grade levels.

Susan’s examples included a strong sense of reciprocity between Design Thinking and programs throughout the school. The experiences are so much more than something merely finalized by a trip to the Eureka Lab. These units of study include things like interaction with the immediate natural surroundings, and mentorship between older and younger students, requiring them to consider and plan with empathy. The projects also present students with tools they can access and use in any classroom or at home, allowing them to save, share, and receive feedback on drafts of work, which they will eventually bring to the lab.

Of particular note was a clear and upfront statement that the Eureka Lab was not intended to replace coursework students were doing or had done in any other area of the school. This was completely evident in our visit to one of their Woodworking classes, where we delightfully observed primary grade students working safely with hand tools on a wooden dinosaur project. Yet just a few feet away from the workbench full of dinosaurs, the same woodworking shop housed a state of the art CNC machine capable of handling 4’ x 8’ sheets material.


Before leaving the Eureka Lab I was able to ask Susan if she would suggest any models or resources she had found specifically inspiring to the inclusive way they initiated Design Thinking at Meadowbrook. Her answer revealed a deep commitment to the school and the work of her colleagues. “Before I was involved with all of this I was the school librarian for 7 years, where I learned that the most effective work I could do was providing and connecting resources to what was already happening in classrooms throughout the school.”

East Coast Innovation Team Hits the Road!

By: Mary Beth Banios

This Monday, members of our Windsor Central Innovation Team arrived in the Boston area for a 4-day tour of innovative programs and facilities.  Our itinerary included the following visits:


Monday, November 27th



Tuesday, November 28th

  • A tour of the recently renovated K-8 Meadow Brook School in Weston, MA with emphasis on their eurekaLab

  • A tour of the Field School in Weston, MA


Wednesday, November 29th (off to Philadelphia, PA for the day!)


Thursday, November 30th

  • A full-day visit to Olin College of Engineering, this institute of high ed is considered one of the best engineering schools in the country.  Olin College of Engineering is focused on graduating engineering innovators who will be leaders in solving the pressing global challenges of today and tomorrow but also on being a resource to other colleges and universities across the world seeking to broaden and rethink their educational approaches and learning environments.

East Coast Team

Raphael Adamek: Director of Instructional Technology
Gabe Bango: 10th Grade Student
Luis Bango: Technology Integration Teacher
Mary Beth Banios: WCSU Superintendent
Julie Brown: Special Educator/Reading Specialist
Nerissa Edwards: High School Counselor
Melissa Fellows: Science Teacher-7th grade, Science Department Co-Chair
Erin Hanrahan: English Teacher- Middle School
Jody Henderson: Instrumental and Digital Music Teacher
Andrew Smith: Computer Science Teacher and Innovation Lab Teacher
Owen Spann: 10th Grade Student
Hannah Thein: Principal, Barnard Academy
Eileen Vaughn: Elementary Library Media Specialist & Tech Integration
Perrin Worrell: WCUD and WUHSMS Board Member

Through our visits, reflections, and collaborative conversations, our team is developing a vision for what teaching and learning could become in the Windsor Central Supervisory Union.

East Coast: Programming and Master Planning

By: Raphael Adamek

Throughout our master planning process we’ve been considering the programmatic and facilities changes which will help us provide a 21st century education to our students. The value of working of programming and facilities simultaneously is illustrated by the creation of the Eureka Lab at the Meadowbrook School in Weston, Massachusetts.


As you walk through the main entrance of the Meadowbrook School the Eureka Lab is directly in front of you. Meadowbrook believes that the heart of learning is creation and discovery, and the position of the Eureka Lab is no accident. The Eureka Lab is both the literal and philosophical core of the Meadowbrook School.


In the Eureka Lab students from Pre-K to 8th grade use tools and resources to work on projects that are meaningfully interwoven throughout the curriculum. From Pre-K students designing their Dream Car to 7th graders reading Macbeth and creating a garment for a character in the play, the Eureka Lab is used by all students on a wide variety of projects.


While explaining the history of the Eureka Lab, Jonathan Schmid described the value of implementing the programming before the physical space was ready. As a result, when the Eureka Lab opened teachers were clamoring to use the space.

I see some similarities between how the Meadowbrook School created their Eureka Lab and how the WUHSMS is building their Innovation Lab. In both cases the programmatic changes occurred first and generated interest among students and staff. Although we are early in our master planning process, by implementing these programmatic changes first we have the opportunity to immediately give our students meaningful project based experiences and to help have the programming inform our facility planning. Together these programmatic and facilities changes could lead to an incredible educational opportunities for our students.

East Coast: On Display

By: Andy Smith

Our site visits have convinced me that a culture of innovation depends on many things, and one of the easiest to implement is to put student thinking and work on display. To students I would say:


  • Everybody. Everybody's physical products are on display. At Meadowbrook's Eureka Lab, there are no cabinets with doors. Instead all work at all stages is visible on shelves, glass-door cases, and windowsills. More than mandatory, it's not even possible for someone to hide their products. It is non-negotiable and expected, which makes it part of the culture.



  • Ideas. In all the schools we visited, whiteboards were everywhere. At the Harvard iLab, there are long curved walls and structural columns wrapped in whiteboard material. At Meadowbrook there were tables surfaced with whiteboard material. We saw doors and movable walls covered with whiteboards and of course lots of rolling whiteboards. As long as pens are plentiful and within reach, anyone can put their ideas on display.

  • Problems. At Harvard's iLab, there is a wall covered with the names of people asking for help on projects. Having these on display reinforces the idea that bringing a concept to life doesn't happen alone.

  • In Progress Work. The open floor plan at Harvard and all the glass walls at Dearborn and Meadowbrook allow people to see students as their are working. This increases opportunities for collaboration and sets an expectation that hard work is part of the culture.

  • Finished Projects. Milestones and finished work are celebrated at Harvard with their gong and microphone. Glass walls at the Field School hold rotating student products. At Meadowbrook, stools have student-made vinyl stickers on them, and tools rest on student-made tables. Showcasing finished products gives students something to aim for.


  • Instruct. Including some instructions helps other people build on your ideas. One student at Meadowbrook made a laser-cut piece of acrylic. He hung the finished product on a poster together with a print-out of the computer code he used to create it. This makes it easy for someone else to build on his idea.

  • Inspire. Ideas don't come in a vacuum. Having lots of ideas-made-real around you as you work can inspire new ideas. We saw examples of this everywhere.

  • Generate discussion. At Meadowbrook there were signs posted on or near work that said "guess how this was made" and "guess what this is for". This can get people talking.


An innovative culture can be shaped by many things. One lesson these site visits can teach us is the power of making student work visible.

East Coast: Outdoor and Indoor Learning Spaces

By: Hannah Thein

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Today we visited Meadowbrook! What beautiful grounds: 30 acres that include a pond, a river, a meadow, a forest, gardens, and a playground. When we drove in, geese were “skating” on the pond and kids were playing nearby. During our visit, I learned that the outside is considered as valuable an asset as the inside of the school:  kids visit all the habitats regularly and partially integrated, project based learning takes place. Some of the projects are river and pond water studies, and removing non native plant species, replanting native species and learning about the fauna that is thereby attracted. The middle school students study the local flora and fauna and create ways to teach the youngest students about what they learned. Lee, the architect, related that school had lost the “meadow” and the “brook” in Meadowbrook--the original school was built in the “20’s--- and the school community is dedicated to bringing the meadow and the brook back to the kids. Very similar to the idea of “putting the ‘Vermont’ back into Vermont kids.”

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The beautiful, efficient (low carbon footprint) building fit into the natural and cultural landscape. It was constructed so that it was lit by natural light. I immediately felt welcome and comfortable. It was a warm place, a happy place where empathy and community service is at the forefront. Indeed their mission is: “ We will know, love, and challenge every child.” Simple. And powerful.

Once inside, the Curriculum Coach and Director of Technology and Innovation met us in the Eureka lab, where they host a nationally recognized STEM program. As I listened, a (silent) Ah HAH! erupted. I had found a school with Place Based Learning AND STEM were integrated! Exactly what I was looking for!  Throughout this visit and in other schools, we came across numerous ideas to bring back to our fellow Vermont educators in our quest to improve (no, transform) our schools: primary in my mind is that our students need extended time in nature in order to care for and sustain our one and only planet.