Innovation in Learning Study Group

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.