Tuesday, September 18, 2012

If You Build It...They Will Innovate!

We needed a space.  A space where educators could come together to brainstorm, share, plan and strategize.  A place to inspire teachers and help them transform their practice.

Ballroom A in June 2012.

That space was nicknamed Ballroom A. It was awful! Dark green carpet instantly brought to mind casinos, slot machines, run down hotel ballrooms, everything but…education. Tattered blinds hung on the windows and mismatched chairs sat looking depressed.  This was the space to inspire teachers!!? Eek! We had to do something! This is the story of how Ballroom A transformed into the iLearn Design Studio.

A photo of the Stanford d.school. Photo credit: d.school website.
Last Spring, the AdCo team visited the Stanford d.school for a collaborative meeting. With moving white boards, furniture on wheels and wide open spaces, the d.school aims to “make space” for collaboration and the emergence of creative ideas. Principals came away from the experience raving to teachers about the dynamic experience.
       “Visit the d.school!” they said. “Tours are on Fridays! It is so cool!” If only we could capture some of the creative spirit at the d.school and bring it back to Los Altos!

During iLearn Summer Academy, Grace Choi and Gina McDonell create their vision for the classroom of the future.
iLearn Summer Academy
   Fast forward to the iLearn Summer Academy when 24 teachers and four facilitators had a professional development experience in Los Altos like never before. Jeffrey Fairchild donated the whiteboard furniture rental for the week-long teacher technology training program. The multi in Covington was transformed. The whiteboards, designed by MGTaylor and Atheneum International, allowed individuals to share their ideas and dreams with each other for the classrooms of the future.
Teams from Santa Rita and Almond Elementary utilize breakouts to collaborate in small groups.
In contrast to our classroom furniture, which constrains movement and flexible grouping, these whiteboard walls are on wheels and reconfigure to the needs of the group. During the week, teachers learned a plethora of technology tools, danced to fun music, listened to guest speaker presentations and brainstormed and collaborated in a fashion like never before. Visitors loved the energy in the room. Guest speakers from edtech companies said that they had never seen such an inspired group of educators. They were so impressed with Los Altos. The environment, the music and the content of the training channeled passion and energy for teachers to create change. We were on to something.
iLead Learners Jill Croft and Genie Sitler are energized after a visit from Edmodo.
Scanning Environments and Seeing Patterns
Inspired by the Stanford d.school and the environment at the iLearn Summer Academy, we set out to create a mini iLearn space for our teachers in Los Altos. Our team wanted to  design and create a place devoted to teacher collaboration.  We visited the d.school and took copious notes and tons of photos.  We delved into the book, Make Space and Courtney added lots of her post-it notes. 
Photo credit: Stanford d.school website.

For months, everywhere I went, the iLearn Studio was on my mind.  I visited a classroom created by Shelby Biddy at Loyola with her hanging whiteboards and chart papers, explored Yahoo Inc.’s collaborative training space and visited 8works consulting space during a trip to London. 
I visited 8works collaborative space in downtown London.
I thought back to my years

in MGTaylor Navigation Centers and adult learning spaces like the Lean Learning Center. What did all of these spaces have in common? Patterns started to emerge.  The spaces share key elements: large whiteboards, furniture on wheels, bright accent colors to elicit creativity and space for people to move and learn.

Our team narrowed down a list of key components for our collaborative, creative space and the iLearn Studio was born.

*Whiteboards: Rolling and Wall Mounted
*Stackable chairs
*Lightweight, fliptop tables
*Furniture on wheels
*Bright colors for accent walls and chairs

Under construction: A bright blue color adds vitality to the space.
The new iLearn Studio
Reconfigurable and Flexible
Our work is multifaceted and we can configure our environment in a variety of approaches.  With moving walls and reconfigurable furniture, we can quickly transition from whole group learning experiences, to small breakouts and individual thinking spaces in minutes. In contrast to our classroom furniture, which constrains movement and flexible grouping, the whiteboard walls are on wheels and reconfigure to the needs of the group. The rolling, stacking and nesting furniture allow us to be flexible and agile. We can “make space” for small groups or large groups to convene.

Resource and Special Day Class Teachers in a recent session at the iLearn Studio.
Opportunities for Collaboration and Creative Expression

Large whiteboards allow people to stand up and share their ideas so all people can participate in the collaborative process. When ideas, notes and concepts are written on large whiteboards, it is amazing how group engagement and individual participation increases. People build on each other’s ideas and discuss ideas more openly, moving quickly through an iterative process.
Whiteboards encourage interaction and participation. 
A New Era
The iLearn Studio excites people! They love the bright “pop” of color on the chairs, they want to write on the walls and work together. It is a fresh start and a symbol of a new era in Los Altos. And I’m thrilled to be part of it! I’m thrilled that teams of teachers are using the space on planning days, teachers are dropping in for coaching support and teacher groups are having collaborative sessions in the studio.  I’m thrilled that over eighty teachers signed up for our iLearn classes. The quote from A Field of Dreams, “If you build it, they will come” is ringing true here! Teachers are coming in droves to the iLearn Studio to inform and transform their practice. 

Ultimately, another goal is for the iLearn Studio to inspire teachers to rethink their own classroom environments. Stay tuned for my next post when I’ll highlight some of the innovative changes teachers are making in their classroom environments to improve the student learning experience.

Ellen Kraska is the Technology Integration Instructional Coach for Los Altos School District. She is passionate about edtech, creativity and collaboration within innovative learning environments. You can email her at ekraska@lasdschools.org and/or follow her on Twitter @kraskae.


  1. Great post Ellen! The iLearn Studio has come a long way from Ballroom A! I love the pop of blue- a very inspiring space. I truly believe that when you recreate your space, it causes a mindshift in your normal routines and thinking. Ditching my teacher desk and using a big table created valuable square footage and a flexible place for cooperative groups to work. I look forward to your next post to see what other LASD teachers are doing to inspire creativity with their space!

  2. Congratulations Ellen! Thank you so much for taking the time to share this exciting information.

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