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Doing More with More

student with laser cutter

By Kiffany Lychock, BVSD Director of Educational Innovations | May 2018

In architecture it is said that form impacts function. This is most certainly the case in Boulder Valley School District schools, where we are building learning environments of the future, inspired by the innovative teaching of our educators.

As a former classroom teacher, I am passionate about supporting our teachers in their quest to provide the best learning experiences for our kids. Educators are by nature, always trying to do this--find the strategy, space, or content that will really hook each kid into learning -- but typically, they do so without being given additional resources to support them. We ask them to do more with less. 

The Educational Innovation portion of the Building for Student Success program in BVSD is a great example of what can be achieved when a community supports their educators with the financial resources to do more with more. 

Boulder Valley taxpayers passed a $576 million dollar bond in 2014. While the majority of those funds are leveraged to repair and maintain safe, healthy, and comfortable buildings for our students, another focus of the program is to create learning environments that support different approaches to instruction. This is manifested in our four new school buildings and also in the Innovation renovation projects. 

We are about half way through the bond work, and we have seen the creation of MakerSpaces, 21st Century Libraries, Modern Student Cafes, Classroom furniture transformations, outdoor learning spaces, and the repurposing of computer labs into Innovation and/or Project Labs, just to name a few.

Success on display at schools across the district

Each building creates an Innovation Project Plan that defines what kind of teaching and learning they want to implement or enhance, and then a space to support that goal for impacting the student learning experience is constructed. In order to guide these processes, we use our Innovation Guiding Principles to have conversations about our best hopes for learning. 

For example, Boulder High School wanted a large, welcoming space for students to learn together collaboratively, and for students to feel a sense of comfort and belonging. With these student learning outcomes in mind, they chose to completely renovate their library and cafeteria into a connected, modern space for their students. The project goals of Boulder High School align to the Innovation Guiding Principle of “Learning is a social process.” 

Whittier and Birch elementary schools both chose to invest their Innovation Funds on mobile, flexible furniture, but targeted different reasons for that choice. Whittier aligned to the Innovation Guiding Principle of  “Learning is personalized and learner led”, and used the new furniture and equipment to have a wide variety of spaces to match instructor and learner needs. 

Birch focused on the Innovation Guiding Principle of “Mastery of learning is demonstrated in multiple ways” and used their new furnishings to increase flexibility and versatility to give teachers a variety of pathways to learning according to what each student needs to grow. 

Aspen Creek K-8 created new learning dens in their elementary area, redesigned their library, created a distance learning lab, and repurposed a computer lab into a MakerSpace they call their “Think Tank.” These changes support the Innovation Guiding Principle of “Learning is a social process,” “Learning fosters a culture of curiosity and risk taking,” and “Mastery of Learning is demonstrated in multiple ways.”

Innovation Cohorts provide schools with support

As a part of the first year of using these new spaces and equipment, the Innovation and EdTech teams work to support schools in a professional learning group called the Innovation Cohort. A team from each building will meet four times throughout the year to engage in learning and discussions about Innovation and to measure the impact of their space on student learning.  To document their journey, each school produces a Digital Innovation Story that answers the question of “How has Innovation shifted the story of learning in your school?”.  (Check out the Innovation Stories/Project Plans from Cohort 1.0 on our Project Page - Cohort 2.0 stories will post this summer!)

These stories are presented at the end of the year in a Showcase celebration. It is easily one of my favorite days each year. The student voices in the stories speak to the ways in which the new spaces and tools have given them opportunities to grow in important Success Skills that they will need throughout their lives; skills like critical thinking, creativity, communication, and collaboration. We also hear stories of how the spaces are inviting, warm, modern, and designed to meet the individual needs of our learners. 

New schools showcase what is possible

In addition to the Innovation Renovation Projects, BVSD opened four new buildings that showcase what’s possible with new construction.

Each time I am in one of the new schools, I’m struck by how we’ve constructed schools that are truly student-centered; the facilities put the learning, comfort, and needs of 21st century students first by building design. 

The key to the new design is built on the concept of Learning Communities, with teacher and student collaboration at the heart of the philosophy.  This is a big shift from our traditionally designed schools that had hallways surrounded by individual classrooms that were all the same size. This type of environment was built for an educational experience of teacher directed, lecture style learning. Re-thinking how we can innovatively design schools to maximize learning space has empowered us to support many different modes of learning. There are spaces that work well for learning from an expert (more “traditional” lecture-style teaching), collaborative spaces where students can work in small groups to learn from each other, presentation spaces, teacher collaboration rooms, spaces that allow for individuals to work and reflect quietly, and gathering spaces for the larger community. The goal is to have a learning environment that can be agile and multi-functional depending on the learning needs of the students. Innovative Learning Environments remove the barriers that traditionally designed buildings create and allow teachers and students to learn access to a broader range of opportunities

This incredible investment by the taxpayers of Boulder Valley has served to support our teachers and leaders as they continue to strive towards providing each child with the best possible education. Although innovative teaching and learning can certainly happen independently of Innovative Learning Environments,  I am so incredibly proud of the hard work that our teachers and building leaders have put into not only creating the new environments, but most importantly in using the opportunities provided by their new spaces to create amazing learning experiences for our kids.

I can’t wait to see what is to come and to continue our work in investigating the impact of these Innovative Learning Environments on student learning. We are very grateful for the support of our local community in making this work possible.

Kiffany Lychock has been an educator for 18 years. She spent 10 joyful years in the classroom as a high school Spanish teacher and an instructional coach at the building level. At the district level, Kiffany has served in the roles of an Ed Tech Specialist, Professional Development Coordinator, and the Director of Professional Development. Her current role as the BVSD Director of Educational Innovations engages her in working collaboratively with schools to lead the transformation of the physical environments, and influence the instructional practices of schools to support the teaching and learning of 21st century skill outcomes.