Middle School Learning: If You Build It, They Will Come


Does workspace impact creativity, innovation and productivity? Google, Facebook, Samsung and a number of other major companies believe so. In fact, the Harvard Business Review published an article last year that explained how these companies are restructuring their office spaces. In the article new research argues there is a direct link between space and performance, and companies such as Facebook are responding. After reading this article, I wanted to learn more.

My wonderings led me to a book called, Make Space. This book is full of great ideas and advice on how to set up space for creative collaboration in a number of organizations. The book’s foreward was written by David Kelley, who started a company called IDEO. IDEO is an innovation and design firm that uses a design-based approach to help organizations. In his foreward, he writes, “Regardless of whether it’s a classroom or the offices of a billion-dollar company, space is something to think of as an instrument for innovation and collaboration. It’s not an initial, given condition, something that should be accepted as is. Space is a valuable tool that can help you create deep and meaningful [work].”  

This got me thinking: if space is linked to production, how can I change my classroom to optimize creativity and collaboration? What can I do to my space to spark the imagination of my students and get them excited to try something new?

I thought about changing the seating, the art on the walls, the layout. But these changes didn’t seem big or bold enough. Then I started thinking about what would get my students pumped about being in the classroom (besides having a classroom puppy, that is). The idea of building a video broadcasting booth crossed my mind. My students love to make films and be filmed. Was this too ambitious? Could we make it work?

I pitched the idea to the director of the Middle School, who gave the project the green light. Then I put the idea out to students. I asked them to join me in this ambitious task of researching how we could accomplish such a job. Eight brave students jumped at the chance.

We first met and brainstormed what we wanted the space to look like. We found images online of other DIY broadcasting booths and began to make a list of necessary equipment. Olivier offered to compile a list of all the technical equipment we’d need. He worked on it for three solid days, researching consumer reports and prices.

Once we had our equipment list together, we submitted a proposal to our amazingly supportive Parents’ Auxiliary to request funding. Within a few short weeks, we received approval for our request and we were on our way.

Orders for cameras, lighting, audio mixers and microphones have gone out. My group of eight is anxious for the arrival of all the equipment so we can finally begin to use the space. These students also presented at a recent assembly about all the uses for the space, such as recording podcasts, filming videos, creating stop motion animation, conducting interviews, creating news broadcasts, recording video blogs and using green screen technology.

During her assembly presentation, Devon called the broadcasting booth, “A space built by students, for students.” And that is exactly what it is. It is a space that was created so students will come; they will come and be creative, imaginative and innovative.

Tanya Lee teaches Humanities 6, and Communication Skills 7 and 8 at the SMUS Middle School. She is one of four SMUS teachers who dedicates a portion of their time shepherding St. Michaels University School’s plan to implement an integrated and excellent approach to personalization. The personalization team explores current best practices of personalized learning and looks at how SMUS can integrate these methodologies into our programming in a way that provides outstanding preparation for higher learning and for life.

You can also read more about personalized learning at SMUS on The Head’s Blog, written by Head of School Bob Snowden.


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here