Making Space for Innovation

Innovation Center - workshop area

I’m a big believer in the importance of space. Remember how sacred your bedroom felt as a child? I still think about when I finally got my own room and no longer had to share with my brother. It was heaven and it was mine. Teachers are known for the thought they put into classroom design because it matters. Arrangement of furniture, lighting, color, and what adorns the walls goes a long way to making a space conducive to learning. But, as education changes to a less teacher-centered model, we’ll need to rethink our spaces and design for student-centered collaboration.

You’ve no doubt noticed the explosion of makerspaces popping up around the country and world. These community spaces are specifically designed to foster hands-on, self-directed learning that incorporates technology, design, and engineering. But the most important aspect of a makerspace is that it is a shared, collaborative space. A good introduction to the maker movement, and a resource to which I often return, is the Makerspace Playbook.

Innovation Center - studio side

Innovation Center – studio side
This image is a little outdated. The LED studio lights on the counter have since been installed and there are some more folding trapezoid tables.

At my school, we are now about four months into life with our new and improved Innovation Center, created by combining the existing space with the former computer lab. I was fortunate enough to be part of the team that designed the space and now coordinate its use. After a year of planning, gathering input from students and teachers, and visiting other schools, the space was finished this past August. I’m happy to say we now have an awesome community space where students can imagine and create.

In planning and designing the space, we wanted to keep things as flexible as possible so the Innovation Center is not only a makerspace, but an idea space. The open plan, moveable furniture, and plentiful whiteboard surfaces make it a perfect setting for brainstorming sessions. Multiple projectors allow for quick and easy presentations and sharing.

Our students do a lot of video work with green screen. The last iteration of the Innovation Center was often used for video projects and we knew this was an important feature to keep. Instead of painting walls green with chromakey paint we opted for a retractable green screen and LED studio lights. As shown in the photos, the studio side of the space is perfect for video work but maintains flexibility for other activities.

Here we used a combination of SMART's new interactive Lightraise projector and IdeaPaint to make the wall a dry erase surface.

Here we used a combination of SMART’s new interactive Lightraise projector and IdeaPaint to make the wall a dry erase surface.

Retractable green screen. This is getting a lot of use. Students love transporting themselves to other worlds by dropping in interesting backgrounds.

Retractable green screen. This is getting a lot of use. Students love transporting themselves to other worlds by dropping in interesting backgrounds.

Work table with storage space.

Work table with storage space.

Another view of the workshop space.

Another view of the workshop space.

Lastly, the space also serves as a prototype classroom. The Innovation Center gives us an experimental setting to try new features that might become part of regular classrooms. Flexible furniture, interactive wall projectors, folding walls, and hidden whiteboards are just some things we’re trying out.

The Innovation Center has opened up so many possibilities for our students and we will continue to iterate how it is used. I look forward to all that will stem from this amazing space in the years to come.

View from the corridor, with ghost student :)

View from the corridor, with ghost student 🙂

Our 5th grade attends a parent presentation on electric guitar building.

Our 5th grade attends a parent presentation on electric guitar building.

The screen in the corridor creates another learning space. Here 4th graders observe classmates drafting a constitution.

The screen in the corridor creates another learning space. Here 4th graders observe classmates drafting a constitution.


Posted by on January 11, 2014 in Innovation Center


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Comment on NPR piece on Coachella Valley’s iPad Initiative

Here’s a comment I left on the NPR article A School’s iPad Initiative Brings Optimism And Skepticism

When we talk about integrating technology in the classroom I think it’s difficult to have the discussion outside the traditional framework of education: The teacher has to be an expert first and access has to be tightly controlled through pre-selected content, management software, and strict guidelines. I think this does a disservice to students, communicates that they are not capable of using technology well without adults telling them what to do first and breeds over-dependence.

As was shown by the music teacher’s experience, when you give students some agency in their own learning they’ll come up with some amazing results. I think teachers’ reluctance to adopt technology is often a reluctance to relinquish control. I understand that it’s difficult to change what has been the norm for a long time. But if there’s one thing technology has provided it’s the ability to direct one’s own learning. I think we’re obligated to facilitate this and provide all students with high speed internet and devices to access it. Of course there are financial and infrastructure obstacles to overcome. But I don’t think it’s acceptable to essentially say, “The world’s knowledge is readily accessible, just not for you.”

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Posted by on October 26, 2013 in Comments


Innovative Leadership Seminar

How do you decide whether a conference was worthwhile? Many people I know say things like, “If I can just take away one useful piece of information, new tool, or practice, the experience was worth it.” This seems like a pretty low bar to me. Granted, I’ve said the same thing and been happy leaving with that one thing before. But attending conferences is an investment of time and money and it doesn’t seem unreasonable to expect more..

So, what if you had the opposite experience? What if attending a conference left you with too much information? What if, days weeks later, you’re having a hard time deciding what you want to try out? What if that experience changed the lens through which you view your school, colleagues, and students? What if you connected with a bunch of amazing people? What if you left feeling energized despite it being the end of the school year?


Much of the seminar was at the lovely Hakone Gardens.

Yep, I had that experience at the Innovative Leadership Seminar hosted by the Santa Fe Leadership Center and Hillbrook School in Los Gatos, CA. Here are just a few of the many things worth sharing.

Signature Presence

So much of what we covered at #innolead resonated with me because it was rooted in authenticity. We kept coming back to the idea of your Signature Presence. It’s the notion that we are at our most effective, and innovative, when we embrace our own strengths and weaknesses openly while staying attuned to those of the others we work with.

Practicing Innovation

It’s easy to think only some people are innovative. Sure, some people are natural risk-takers or naturally creative problem solvers. But according to our facilitators, innovation is a personal skill that can be practiced. Careful observation, making connections between your own work and what’s happening elsewhere, thoughtful questioning, networking your ideas with others’, and experimenting are concrete skills we can all adopt and practice. Doing so will help new ideas emerge.

Need Finding and Empathy

Again, authenticity. Make a real effort to find the needs of your organization and those you serve. Doing so requires us to empathize with others, going beyond walking in their shoes to explore the implicit needs that may not be easily expressed, or even known.


Look for stories. Tell stories. Our lives are stories. Instead of distilling and presenting information, tell the story around why that information is important. This is infinitely more useful for everyone. Here’s one area I need to work on.


The world of education is abuzz with Design Thinking and how to incorporate it into the classroom. One of the primary steps in the design process is to iterate your work. Stop shooting for the perfect solution or product. Start small, observe and test, make small changes, rinse and repeat. If you are someone with perfectionist tendencies, as I am sometimes, this presents quite the challenge. Nonetheless, it’s resonated with me and I’m adopting it fully!

Visual Communication

I’m a very visual person so this was pretty cool for me. The seminar included a presentation from The Grove Consultants International founder David Sibbet. He shared many visual tools with us that can be used to collect, process, and elicit ideas in group settings. David was one of the first to promote the use of the visual note taking like the popular RSA Animate videos. This type of drawing on the fly can help audiences understand the presenter’s material while also helping the presenter understand what’s coming across.

I could go on for a long time praising the Santa Fe Leadership Center and the amazing job they did with the Innovative Leadership seminar. Thanks to our facilitators Carla Silver, Greg Bamford, Ryan Burke, Richard Kassissieh and Mark Silver. And thank you to all the new friends I made!


Posted by on July 13, 2013 in Reflections


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Making and Design Thinking


My streams have been abuzz with “making” and “design thinking.” Last Wednesday was a great first Design Thinking in K-12 Twitter chat (#dtk12chat). I’m starting to get my head around the concept after the chat and attending the Innovative Leadership seminar from the Santa Fe Leadership Center.

Our school is in the middle of a huge project in which we are expanding our Innovation Center to include the computer lab. The new space will be part film studio, part maker space. It’s been an awesome experience helping design the space. I look forward to our school having a beautiful space to create and play.

We’ve started looking at how to make the space maker friendly and I’m looking at Make Space: How to Set the Stage for Creative Collaboration. It’s a fantastic mix of projects, theory, and case studies to help guide the creation and use of maker spaces. I highly recommend it. It’s one of those book you’ll return to over and over. I can tell already.

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Posted by on July 11, 2013 in Uncategorized


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  1. Just start, small.
  2. Test often.
  3. Change often.
  4. Fail fast, often.
  5. Change your perspective.
  6. Don’t aim for perfection.
  7. Try again.

Posted by on June 30, 2013 in Thinking Out Loud


#EdCampLA Reflections

EdCampers at the session board.

Have you ever had a week like this? Something awesome happens that gets you excited about life and your general direction. Then you spend the next few days riding the wave of good feelings only to have them rudely interrupted by a slew of unforeseen events that force you out of your usual routine. It’s like you’re enjoying your favorite dessert and then, on the last bite, your tooth is broken. You spend the next week nursing a sore mouth but still thinking about how wonderfully delicious that dessert was. This past week has been  like that. I won’t go into details but my awesome event in this story was EdCampLA and I’m still thinking about how great it was.

I’ve posted about EdCamps before here and you can read even more at the EdCamp Foundation site. Special thanks to the EdCampLA team: Bill Selak (@billselak), Gayle Cole (@ghkcole), Stephen Davis (@rushtheiceberg), Jamie Gravell (@dontworryteach), Jayme Johnson (@jaymej), Lisa Dabbs (@teachingwthsoul), Vicky Sedgwick (@visionsbyvicky) and John Umekubo (@jumekubo). You were awesome! I’m also glad 15 of my talented co-workers from CEE made it out. Thank you for your contributions. And thank you to our amazing school for hosting.

EdCampLA was terrific and it was great seeing so many familiar faces from previous EdCamps, conferences and local schools. A fun activity that has become a regular at conferences for me is matching faces to online personalities. I love having my impressions of people affirmed. So many people in my PLN are constantly posting intelligent things. To see that their “real-life” personalities are just as interesting makes me feel good and reaffirms my belief that what we are doing here is real life, too.

I keep returning to a thought I had during lunch, really the combination of two ideas. The first is that Twitter is a “human filter” you create to get what you want out of the Internet. At any one time your stream has a completely unique feel dependent on who is currently online and active. EdCamps are like face-to-face Twitter. Each one also has its own feel and the mix of ideas that come out of each are wholly unique. You can’t reproduce it. That’s the magic of unconferences. They’re like the salons of the past.

Here are some highlights from EdCampLA. Thanks to everyone who came out and participated. EdCamps are impossible without interested participants who are willing to share.

  • New friends were made. Great things were learned. People were inspired. We ate pizza.
  • I wasn’t able to attend this but Chris Thinnes (@CurtisCFEE) and Catherine Rhee led what sounds like an invigorating session on Public-Private School Partnerships. By the way, if you’re not following Chris on Twitter your stream is lacking.
  • Jo-Ann Fox (@appeducationfox), Jessica Park (@packwoman508), and Karen Foerch (@kfoerch) facilitated discussions on great apps for the classroom and teachers.
  • Bill Selak (@billselak) did not suck in his leading the EdCamp staple session “Things That Suck”. Side note: learn how to lead this session with Bill’s easy instructions. Our admin and faculty, of whom 15 attended EdCampLA, were so stoked on “Things that Suck” that we used it in our last faculty meeting.
  • Another session I wasn’t able to attend but heard so many good things about was Dave Burgess’ (@burgessdave) session called “Magic for Teachers”. Some of my coworkers were inspired and talking about it days later.
  • A ton of awesome tools were shared at the Slam.
  • Then some blog posts were written. Make sure to check out David Theriault’s (@MrTheriaultFVHS) Hip-Hop Reflection.

Check out the EdCampLA Wiki for resources from the day and here’s an archive of the tweets.



Posted by on January 20, 2013 in EdCamp, Reflections


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The Best of California’s Gold – So long, Huell

California lost its best friend today. I’m utterly saddened by Huell Howser’s passing. He exemplified curiosity and had a fabulous knack for connecting with people. There was no better advocate for telling California’s stories, preserving its history, and discovering its treasures.

Liz (@gypsylizzie) said it well,

“I think what most upsets me about his passing is that, without him, Californians, and even California itself, might no longer be what Huell thought we were. If he’s not here to see us that way, maybe we aren’t. I love Huell’s California. I love what he saw in us. I’m sorry for our loss.”

So long, Huell.


Learn more about Huell.

Watch his episodes.

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Posted by on January 7, 2013 in Uncategorized

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