Episode 38: The School Library that Increased Student Use by 1,000 Percent

The Cult of Pedagogy Podcast, Episode 38 Transcript

Jennifer Gonzalez, Host

Listen to the audio version of this podcast.

 

Gonzalez: This is Jennifer Gonzalez welcoming you to episode 38 of the Cult of Pedagogy Podcast. In this episode, I’m going to tell you the story of a school library that increased student use by 1000 percent.

[music playing]      

It’s a given that technology continues to grow. But this growth has not been without its casualties: traditional school libraries are seeing a sharp drop in student use. In this episode, I’m going to talk to two educators from Ohio who completely changed how their school library was used, and saw truly incredible results.

Before I get started, let me just take a minute to thank those of you who have left a review for me on iTunes. I am absolutely floored by the nice things you’re saying over there, and knowing that you’re listening and really getting something out of these episodes just motivates me to keep going. If you haven’t yet left a review, please take a moment this week to go over to iTunes and leave one. Thanks so much.

Okay, let’s get into this fantastic library story.

Last year at Big Walnut Middle School in Sunbury, Ohio, there were some days when fewer than ten students passed through the library doors. Just like in so many other schools, students and teachers had a growing number of resources available to them through tablets, Chromebooks, e-readers and Smartboards, so they no longer had the same need to visit the library that they once did.

Some schools have addressed this problem by converting their libraries to makerspaces. These hands-on environments allow students to to build, create, design, and experiment. When we see makerspaces, we tend to see big Lego tables, coding and computing tools like Raspberry Pi kits, and 3-D printers where students can see their creations come to life.

But Big Walnut principal Penny Sturtevant had a vision that was a bit different from the makerspaces she was seeing. She wanted her library to be a place that was a little less open-ended, a place where students did hands-on work, but as an extension of what was happening their classrooms. Instead of taking her inspiration from the maker movement, Sturtevant was interested in trends she was seeing toward more personalized learning. The new and improved library would be called the Learning Center.

As she began the process of reimagining the space, Sturtevant asked me to serve as a consultant. She introduced me to Ed Kitchen, whom she had recently hired to develop and then run the Learning Center, and the three of us met over Skype and a shared Google Doc to explore all the possibilities, think through the logistics, and formulate a plan. Even in the early stages, we knew that this might be a story I would share here, so that other schools who might not be ready for a full makerspace could see this as a viable alternative.

So how did it all turn out? Well, Big Walnut’s brand-new Learning Center definitely doesn’t suffer from a student use problem. On an average day, over a hundred students will visit to work on projects, make use of interactive technologies, film and edit videos, and yes, check out books.

Here’s my interview with the people who made it happen.


 

Gonzalez: I am here with Penny Sturtevant and Ed Kitchen, and they’re here from Big Walnut Middle School. And this is a school in Ohio, and they have done some really interesting and creative things this year with what used to be their library media center. They had been learning a lot about makerspaces and knew that they could be getting more use out of their current library. And so, we’ve worked together quite a bit last year and over the summer and they have made some big changes, so we’re going to talk about this with them. So, hi Penny.

Penny Sturtevant: Hi.

Gonzalez: And hi, Ed.

Ed Kitchen: Hi.

Gonzalez: And so, thanks so much for talking to me about this and sharing the story of the evolution of your library, and we’re going to be sharing some pictures and videos on the website so that other people can see how it all works. I’m going to let you guys take the mic for a while and tell me a little bit about the story of how all of this got started.

Why Big Walnut Changed its Library to a Learning Center

Sturtevant: I’ll talk about the administrative piece, and then I’m going to pass it over to Ed and once we got to the opportunity where he took it from there. Last spring, about a year ago this time, I was approached with the knowledge that our library was not being used. We have a beautiful space. Our building’s just now five years old. Rarely were kids in it, rarely had it ever changed from that traditional books, come in, sit quietly, work at the table, and leave. And a number of kids we were seeing in our library had declined significantly to where days when the library was closed, no one noticed. So, what is the challenge? It’s one of these integral spaces historically that’s big, has a lot of potential resources, it’s not being used; what can you do?

Given some time just to think, a little bit of reading—I’ll be honest, I probably could have afforded some more investigation, but I came up with the idea of developing the library into a space that teachers could use. How can they use it as an extension of their learning? And was fortunate enough that our administration said, “We have a person we’re willing to dedicate to that process.” They were willing to make use of this and brought Ed on board, and together we began to talk. And Ed’s background in technology and working in a variety of ways, he really helped me to get excited about just what I said – that idea of creating a place that was an extension of the classroom, which we felt was a little twist off of what traditional makerspaces tend to be, and that was the purpose we felt we had here at the middle school. So, Ed came on board with that, and from there he took the place and began developing it – what he thought could support the classroom.

Kitchen: Yeah, so at the beginning of the school we have a large space. If you want to look at it, it just says “The Library.” So, books, a few computers. So, we had to really adapt to what our staff would want, and with that being the extension of the learning, extension of the classroom, into what we were going to call the Learning Center. So, my first job was really to kind of mainstream on what did we want this to look like. So, as we looked forward and really looked at our staff, we wanted to make it a collaboration space. So, the design of it, as we’ll get into it later, is all about collaboration pods.

Being a classroom teacher for 22 years, the last three years have been with the technology coach in our technology department, and looking at all this 21st century learning, I was really able to get a sense of what is kind of out there. So, we brought in some equipment, which we’ll talk about, to kind of really engage the kid, engage the student into not just a library, not just a common space, not just a meeting space, but really an extension of the classroom. So, the process took a little longer than we thought, because as you start to look at things that are out there, there isn’t a lot. When I say that, there’s more makerspaces than what we’re calling common learning spaces in schools. So, we took that idea and just ran with it.

How the Learning Center Differs from a Makerspace

Gonzalez: So, that’s a good thing for us to get clear right off the top of this, is that you all are calling this the Learning Center. You would not refer to it as a makerspace.

Kitchen: Not at all. I think, as I’ve been around the country presenting on different aspects of 21st century, the big word was the makerspace, getting your hands on things, doing 3D printers and so forth. And what I think was neat about Penny’s vision here is it’s an extension of the classroom. So, as we’ll talk about later, it just gives the teachers more opportunities to look at ways they do their classroom, the way they do their projects. So, we set that up in a way that we wanted it to be a true learning space, a learning environment.

Sturtevant: We look at makerspace—our high school has a setting called the innovation center, ours is a learning center. They’re all creative learning spaces, but the purpose of those spaces is different. The purpose of a makerspace is for a kid to come in and, in my mind, explore, and there are things there for them to do. That’s somewhat similar to what our technology teacher is doing: having different areas for those kids to explore and grow in different places of his technology class within the technology standards. This was for every classroom. Every class would have a place to go beyond their classroom walls physically and in a manner and means that you cannot often do within the classroom. Or individually, as students need, or in groups as they need to go and develop their projects, their presentations, or work together to grasp whatever standard, whatever learning target is needed out of that classroom.

Gonzalez: I would think that teachers would be able to grasp the concept of what you’re doing, maybe even more readily than what’s happening with makerspaces right now. I’m imagining a lot of teachers would see things like 3D printers and Raspberry Pi kits and saying, “I’m not really sure how I could even make use of that. So, you all have fun, but I’m still going to stay in my classroom.” And you are really trying to extend the classroom with other resources.

Sturtevant: Correct.

What’s Inside: The Learning Center Tech

Gonzalez: So, let’s talk about what’s actually in there. What do you offer to teachers in the learning center?

Kitchen: So, I think that was the hard part – what do we put in there? We don’t want to make it a technology center, and we don’t want to make it—in lack of a better word, we don’t want to make it a Starbucks, Panera Bread, that type of learning. I think we want it somewhere in the middle, because today’s kids, they want that. So, really, we have a couple different things. One is we have two interactive flat panels. So, they’re 65 inch and a 70 inch. We have two TVs that the kids can hook up with their Chromebooks or mobile devices, we also have an interactive projector, we have a green screen room, we have three cameras that they can use throughout the day, within that specific period, we have an iPad that can go along with the green screen room, that we use an app for green screening and video. We have ten Chromebook computers, we have five or six desktops that are still being in use in ways they’ll use through digital video editing or other apps or other programs that will need desktops. And we also have a lot of movable furniture. Really, we have ten pieces of furniture that will be moved in different configurations throughout the week.

The one thing that I noticed when I do some research and look around is you can’t have things that are in one spot. So, if you put things in fours, they’re going to stay in fours. So, everything we have there is movable, whether it’s the chairs, the interactive boards, the flat panels. The only thing, really, that you can’t move are the TVs – they’re mounted on the wall. And we also have an interactive projector that kids can get up and interact, too. And the last thing, which is probably one of the more interesting pieces, is really the start of it—and we’ll probably talk about how it’s used throughout the day—it’s an ID system. When the kids come in, they scan their student ID, which goes to a spreadsheet that then the teacher and the classroom can see what time they checked into the learning center.

Gonzalez: What did you end up deciding to do with that? Because I know that we kind of went back and forth for a while with some ideas of how that could work, but we never found any really great seamless system. What did you end up doing?

Kitchen: So, I convinced our photography place to put their bar code on the bottom of their student IDs, and that bar code was just their last name and first name – it was that simple. So, when the kids got their picture taken, they downloaded the program which they already had on their computers, and then they put on the bottom of each kid’s student ID just a long code, a bar code that has their last name and first name. So, now when they walk in, all they do is scan the bar code, it spits out their last name, first name.

Gonzalez: Okay. And then, so, where does that information go? Because you were doing this partly because you all wanted some data on who was using this and how long they stayed. Do they record exits also?

Kitchen: No. We talked about exits, but I think right now our big push is we just want to have data on how many people are using it, what times they’re using it. It was really a design too from the standpoint of the teacher: How do I know that John Smith came down to the learning center at 10:52? Well, all you have to do is check in a spreadsheet. So, I have a live Google spreadsheet that it goes into and I created a timestamp that automatically timestamps when they scan their bar code.

Gonzalez: Got it. Okay, so they come in and scan, and the information goes into a Google spreadsheet. And how did you actually connect those two? What was the software program that you used to actually make – because you’ve just got the regular, like a library bar code reader?

Kitchen: Yeah, that was it; a bar code reader that scans right into a cell and the cell – I have a program that’s just a timestamp inside the Google spreadsheets, it’s just a simple program. And anything that uses a bar code and it goes into that cell, it automatically puts a timestamp right on it.

Sturtevant: And that Google spreadsheet is shared with our staff, so our staff know that the kid’s there once the kid’s there. They have them and they stay, so that accountability piece, as you manage a larger school or the teachers, know that’s where a kid really did go.

Gonzalez: They can see right on their classroom computer that the kid just checked in because it’ll come up live right on that spreadsheet.

Kitchen: Exactly.

Sturtevant: And then the accountability back is the teacher sends them down with what we call a prescription, because we didn’t want a simple hall pass. The prescription comes in and this tells Mr. Kitchen this is what they’re working on. And then that allows them to give direction to the students of what might be there and the students make some choice. The interesting that I’ve seen in the beginning piece is the kids are often telling the teachers why they want to go to the learning center, and they’re figuring out why the learning center is a value.

Funding

Gonzalez: Okay. See, I want to do a full walkthrough on how all this happens. Let me ask one other question so that I don’t forget it, because now I’m thinking about all this different furniture and equipment and technology that you all have, and I’m imagining someone listening to this, saying, “That sounds great. How do we pay for this?” And I know you all got some grant money, I believe, for doing this. So, let’s talk about how you funded this project.

Sturtevant: When we started the proposal, we had no knowledge of any money coming our way. So, our initial start was, “What can we do with what we have?” And we had traditional furniture in there, books—if you look at the video, I believe it even shows the before-after. The books took up half the room—at least the bookstands took up half the room. Everything was very fastened, as you might say, and it was in its place. First thing Mr. Kitchen did was wipe that out; almost wiped out the contents. Didn’t give them away or anything, but opened up the space. The books now became consolidated along the wall. And for those who have a love of books, we have as many books as we did before. We consolidated them and we’re in the process of working with our local library for movement of books they have to us on a weekly basis, so kids can go in, check out books from our community library, they can be delivered here, they bring it back here, and we deliver them back to the library. So, in essence, we have expanded our library collection, not shrunk it.

Gonzalez: Nice. Okay, and that was going to be another question – kids can come in and use it the way they used a traditional library.

Sturtevant: Absolutely. They can come, get a book, read. And that’s another topic in itself. We can even grow that to possibly electronics, the Kindles, all of that, in the future. So, with that, he took what furniture we have that he could move and be creative with it. We had some donations. I donated some stuff that I had. We went out. And then, we were fortunate to get a county grant—do you remember the amount?

Kitchen: 20 thousand.

Sturtevant: It was 20 thousand. So, a significant number, but not so exorbitant that a lot of schools maybe can’t help with that. Working with some companies, and that’s where Ed’s background came in, to decide what was bells and whistles and the latest and greatest, to what was something that could grow, and what would bring kids in, and I will give Mr. Kitchen all of that with his research and some of his visits. As silly as it sounds, I would almost give up every technology thing – and there wouldn’t be one technology thing that I wouldn’t give up out of the furniture. The furniture is the integral piece, and that movement that the kids can move and go and how they sit or where they go working together in pairs or partners or large groups, or if the teacher does come down and use it and we rearrange the furniture – that’s where I see the creativity of how they’re collaborating.

Gonzalez: That’s really interesting, yeah.

Sturtevant: So, that’s my non-technological perception. Mr. Kitchen, from there…

Kitchen: I agree. I think the first question would be, “How much did you spend?” And the first half of the year, we didn’t have that, so it functioned very similar to how we’re functioning now. We’re just fortunate to have the money to get some, for lack of a better term, fun tools in there that the kids can use. So, without those tools, it still functions in a very similar way it is now, with the collaboration and the different ways. We just had desk chairs with wheels on them, the old computer chairs that rolled around, and some in-house furniture. Just the newer stuff has really put a top on the collaboration part of it.

Logistics: How Teachers and Students Use the Learning Center

Gonzalez: Yeah. So, I want to go in the direction that you all want to go, and one thing we could do is sort of just look at this in terms of how does it get used – when a teacher, and then their student comes in to use it. Or we could talk about how you actually rolled it out to staff?

Kitchen: Okay. I’ll talk a little bit about how the day works, or really how the period works, and then I think Penny can talk about the staff. Just imagine yourself as a classroom teacher and you probably want to send kids out to the hallway, but are afraid to send the kids out to the hallway because of X, Y, and Z – some teachers are hesitant of that. So now, this space has opened that. So, if you want to now personalize your learning, which is what we’re doing nowadays anyway, you can send now three or four kids down to this learning center with this prescription that allows us really to work with them.

So, it start out with the kid walking in with the prescription from the teacher, scan their ID, and from there what our job is, we need to really get an analysis of the student’s needs, and then what kind of work are they doing? Do they need the green screen room, do they need just a quiet space, do they need to sit with each other or grab a Chromebook? What’s funny is, at this age, they know what they’re going to do. So, when they come down here, they have an idea. If they don’t, they’re old enough and young enough at the same time to really ask, and to be inquisitive on, “How can I make this project different?” So, once they walk in, scan it, go to their appropriate area, then they start working. And, really, we’re just kind of a facilitator. And they know over time where they should be going and working on what project, whether it’s an interactive white board, whether they go to the green screen, or whether they do it old paper and pencil, cutting, things like that.

So, my job was I wanted them to know when they walked into the door where to go –what station, what collaboration pod, what can I move, where do I go to work. And they’re really on their own. So, we have kids from art, science, math, language arts. We can have those kids from each discipline at any given time.

Gonzalez: Can you give me a few examples of some of the neat things you’ve seen kids working on when they come in? Maybe some things that you just weren’t expecting that have just arisen now from having this space available?

Kitchen: Well, one is the video. As a technology teacher, and even when I taught math it was very hard to create technology math, so this has really given me the opportunity to kind of give kids examples. So, when they go present, they can use the green screen room, for example; we have an app that has a newscast on it. So, we have kids coming in and instead of giving a PowerPoint or Google slide presentation about a certain project they’re on, they will partner up with the kids and they will do actually a newscast. And we have a teleprompter that I hooked up through a Chromebook that they can actually look at it as a newscast or a weather forecast or a sports center forecast or a top ten. I mean, we’re really using things that they’re seeing every day, that they enjoy, that will make the presentation more personal, and the accountability of it is the piece that I think what you’re going to see from the teacher perspective, is you’re going to get some work that’s more personal.

So, we have some green screen use with the apps. We also have just plain old video, where they will just look at themselves as an interviewer out in the field somewhere, interviewing somebody, or I had a kid one day—and really, you got to get the pulse of what the kids are looking at, and they watch a lot of MTV and I had a kid do an MTV Cribs of our LC. So, he had somebody do the camera and they walk through the LC like it was his house, and he explained everything what was going on in it. And it was just really off the cuff. It wasn’t planned. It was very neat to see. So, we have a lot of those different types. The other ones I think that’s probably used more is just a collaboration piece on the Chromebook and just to be able to display it on a 40-inch TV, and for everybody to have input on it is, I think, missing out there, because that’s what we do in our working world – we have to work with people. And that was the goal of the collaboration pods.

Sturtevant: So, as a principal, when I go down, I’ll see a group of kids studying for a test in a traditional sense. I’ll see a kid in the green screen room that’d be taping their bulletin for language arts class, or two or three kids doing a skit in there. I’ll see another group and they have two or three Chromebooks tied in to one of our flat screen TVs as a monitor, and they’re working and editing all three together on some paper or some topic or some presentation. I’ll see a couple other kids over on one of our panels working through some math, and it’s kind of great for some of our tactile kids. So, they’re coming in and they’re just doing their traditional math equations, but they’re writing them with their finger on this flat screen, and working through it. So, it’s got a tactile point. Mr. Kitchen, being a math person, will pull up something that will help them understand. You’ll see six different classrooms, different kids, and some of them are just in there just talking, or they’re sitting on the rocking chair that’s on the floor, because that’s the way it works for them. Depending on the space that you have, you have some quiet spaces.

And we’re not done. We’ve already talked about what comes next, and that’s why I say it’s so important not to limit the space and have things fastened down, because it changes. I see teachers have come in and brought their whole class, because you can sign this center out and then it’s a creative place for either presentations or for some type of work going on that you really need kids doing all kinds of things and you can be there. I also see it administratively as in the future we have a side room, because we are eventually going to be a one to one school, in the near two years, I would say. Our labs are being used so much less, because our kids have their own devices or we have enough Chromebooks to work. That lab that’s next-door might even be a place where we have equipment and the teacher has an opportunity to try the equipment, bring their classroom in, experience the work with the kids, see if that’s what’s needed. You may not need a clever touch every day, but it’s here to use in this environment.

So, it’s really just a creative learning space for students first, but also the staff. And you asked me the question about how they buy in. I think when you’re planning something like this, you first have to ask what is your goal of this space. And our goal that we set was extension of the classroom. Because we were afforded this opportunity kind of in the midst of something, we didn’t get the planning process. We got “School’s starting, do it.” So, I would encourage everybody to have that opportunity prior, talk with staff, build up, get the ideas and the buy in. That didn’t happen for us, so it’s been a process through the year, creating ways to get kids in, inviting teachers in, actually working with staff and pulling them in.

But ultimately, the turning point that I saw, kind of that flip that started to occur is when students started asking the teachers to go down, to be down there. And that started drawing teachers in. “Well, why do they want to be there? What are they doing?” And when the products started coming back and the teachers saw all the kids learning as a result of that, that’s a change. Just recently in the second semester, the other change I’m seeing now is when I see our staff planning, they talk about, “Oh, they could do this in the learning center.” So, now the staff are starting to think of the learning center as a piece of their planning, and I think that’s the involvement that will occur to the point that the learning center’s not even going to be enough – everybody will be vying for it. But that’s the great piece, that the teacher doesn’t have to be there. Classrooms can plan that as an extension and send kids down.

Introducing Staff and Students to the New Space

Gonzalez: Right. How did you let everybody know at the beginning? I remember at the very beginning of the school year, you were barely even in furniture at that point, and it was just like, “Well, school’s opening, so here we go.” So, how did you let everybody in the building know, “Here’s what we have, here’s what’s available, here are all the tools.” How did you orient everybody to the new space?

Kitchen: So, I went to the science department and really just picked it apart, it really didn’t matter, and said, “Are you willing to give up one day, a period, to bring your kids down?” And we gave them their IDs, explained the check-in process, and really just described what the learning center is. And so, really, it just took one day. And then we sprinkled in, obviously, throughout the next week or two the kids that were missing. So, just brought them in one period, kind of introduced ourselves, took a peek at what’s in the learning center, what can be done, what can’t be done, laid out some groundwork in terms of how you get in here, how the teacher’s going to let you in here, what we’re going to have in here maybe in the future—this was very early, this was September, and we didn’t get our furniture until after Christmas break. So, this was very early.

So, really, I just grabbed the class and took one day. It was the best way, really. We thought to do it rather than kind of message it out through announcements or paper – just bring them in physically, show them what’s going on, and from there, it took off.

Managing Student Behavior

Gonzalez: Were there any kind of special guidelines that you had to set for students or teachers, really, just to make sure that the space was used appropriately, that you managed for crowd control, or taking care of the equipment, or anything along those lines?

Kitchen: Yeah. As a classroom teacher—and I kind of lend myself back to that and kind of just try to think how I managed my classroom—I didn’t have rules, I had procedures. So, really, my goal was to teach the kids and explain to the teachers, “This is what happens when you walk in,” I think the process becomes a little easier. So, obviously, we talked about food and drink and how many kids can you bring down at one time. That was a huge question from the teachers. “How do I know?” And our thought was, “You send how many you want, I’ll send you back what I don’t want,” and we really didn’t have an issue with that. We know what our limit is. We try to accommodate as many as we can. So, I think if you put rules on, you put parameters on it, I don’t think the space then lends itself to what it is. I mean, we are breaking down the walls within the classroom.

So, really just to go about it in those ways, kind of explain, “This is what we’re going go, this is what we’re going to build with. It’s not a classroom. Don’t send your whole class down here. That’s not what we want. We want to try to get kids from each different discipline – math, art, science, language arts and so forth. So, once we set those parameters, it’ll work itself out.”

Gonzalez: Okay. Having taught middle school, I’m imagining a room full of kids that have been all sent down by their teachers and just you as the only adult in the room, or maybe you with one other person. And I’m thinking that depending on the kids that are sent down things could get rowdy and they could get off task. And I’m sure that everybody listening to this is thinking they could get off task very easily with less supervision than when they’re in their own teacher’s classroom. So, how have you managed those incidents, or do they just not happen?

Kitchen: Oh, they happen. The funny part is, as a high school teacher for 22 years, I’ve never been in a middle school classroom, so it is different. I mean, I’ve always that when I go out and do professional development. It is different. We’ve had schools come in here and look at our learning center and our equipment, and the first thing that I will talk to them about is, “Don’t just take this and put it in your school district.” I think it takes a—I won’t say a special person, but a person that will be able to handle exactly what you just said – a bunch of teenage kids going in there, because they are middle school kids. And I think if you just get up and be active with them and engage with them, they’re going to follow along with whatever they’re supposed to be doing.

Now, I’m not as specific as I would be in a classroom, because I take the learning center tends to be that flexible space, sometimes a loud space. But again, it lends itself to that collaborative piece where my gift and I think my specialty is that’s how I ran my classroom – it was controlled chaos, you know? And it’s not quiet. That’s not the design of it, because we wanted it that way. And we’ve had kids that don’t like to come in there because it is that way, and I think that’s fine. That’s perfectly okay. We want the kids to go to the space where they’ll be able to perform in and learn in. So, I had 50 to 60 kids in there at one time, and let me tell you, it’s a challenge, but I think it’s a fun challenge because as long as they’re working towards their goal then I think it’s a neat space to see.

Gonzalez: So, I think the key is for you to be actually walking around and not just behind that front desk.

Sturtevant: I think there’s two keys, Jennifer, and one is the person in there does have to be invested and buy into the process – the controlled chaos was the words that I was looking for. And if you were standing outside our library, you might see chaos. But if you walk in and you start listening, you’re hearing the different conversations, you’re hearing the different things going on, and they really all are on point. So, that person who is not the librarian that was behind the desk waiting on a book to get checked out and was shushing everybody, that day is not a learning center. They’re out there, they can tell you, and they’re guiding. They’re facilitating. They don’t have to be doing direct instruction and one-on-one.

The second piece is that prescription piece – why is the kid there? It isn’t just because this is a fun, exciting technology spot. I’m here with a purpose, and this is what I came down to do. Now, to Mr. Kitchen’s credit, the buy-in that you ask about I think has been driven from the kids. And another way that he invested in that, we have a period in the middle of our day where the kids have half an hour, we call it student center. It’s a home room study hall period they can get different services, and then the other half hour of it is lunch. So, eighth grade has student center for half an hour. They open the doors of our learning center, and instead of going off and taking their lunch right then, they open the doors to the learning center. This would be kind of close to a makerspace in a way, but interactive games, often trivia games, but they’re learning games. It’s often current events or on topics or different subjects. And the kids come down and they participate in those games, and they have a blast and they’re having fun.

And so, the kids are asking to go to the learning center. Teachers can look at that two ways – oh, they’re getting out of things and just want to go to the learning center and play, or they can say, “Hey, they want to go to the learning center. Hey, you can go to the learning center Tuesday when you get caught up in all of your language arts.” They can use it in a multitude of ways as a positive reinforcement for doing the things they need to do. And so, I think the buy in came, too, from the investment from Mr. Kitchen and his partner Jeff Stanford on how can we get kids in here to see these tools, to have fun and learn, and then that just has facilitated kids telling teachers what they can do. And I don’t mean that’s bad, I mean like, “Hey, let this project, try take it down and do this.”

Planning Ahead with Teachers

Gonzalez: Well, let’s talk a little bit about that, because I know you had talked about wanting to kind of regularly touch base with the teachers about units that they have coming up, so that you’re not just passively sitting there waiting for people to show up whenever they feel like it. It’s a more active cycle, I guess, that you had envisioned. Tell me how that has played out in terms of your engagement with the teachers.

Kitchen: Well, I think it started at the beginning. I’m a grassroots kind of person when it comes to new things. So, when we brought in Chromebooks to the district, it’s grassroots. You find two or three people, get them to buy in and they just start talking to their peers, and then it goes that way. Kind of the same way I did this. I went to the teacher and said, “What have you got coming up, what kind of projects do you have? Let’s try it. Have you ever thought about doing it with a video? Have you ever thought about bringing your kids down and just having them work in spaces in here?” And they were like, “No.” And so, we started out that way, and then from there they meet once a day—you know how teachers are meeting now anyway—and they discuss, like, “Hey, you should take your class down to the learning center because they did this group project and they thought of a different way to do it.”

So, at first, it really started small, but then now it’s almost like a fight to get in. Then they come to me and say, “How can I make this project different?” Because they are getting tired of doing the same thing in terms of whether it’s just presenting on a Google slide or just standing up and doing a report or writing a paper. So, now it’s more of as the grassroots came and teachers went around and talking to each other. If I recognize and didn’t see in maybe a discipline here and there not using it, I’d come up to them and say, “Hey, what are you doing next? Have you ever thought bringing your kids down? Can you do a video? Hey, I found something on the green screen I think you would like.” It’s really just not forcing it, because you can’t really force the things on the teachers. You want the teachers to have the buy in, and as a classroom teacher, I didn’t like that anyway, if someone came and said, “Hey, you have to use this.” It’s really just an option. If you like it, go with it. If not, let’s try to find another way to do it.

Gonzalez: Yeah. It sounds like you actually being aware of what they’re teaching is a big key to that, as opposed to you just sort of saying, “We’ve got some great things if you ever want to.” Sometimes those generalized invitations don’t really go anywhere. You’re helping people actually connect the dots between their content and the tools that you have available to them.

Kitchen: Yeah. And the last couple years – really, the last ten years being a technology tutor, professional development has helped. You want to take the stuff that we’ve always been good at or what we like, and just try to infuse some of the tools. The key is just an extra tool in the toolbox. And nowadays, we just have a lot of kids that need that extra tool, and I think the learning environment that we have down there is we have probably four or five or six different tools that now the teacher can just lean on. And the advantages in terms of having a teacher in there, rather than just maybe an outsider or—I don’t want to say librarian or media center specialist—but an actual teacher that has been in a classroom and has done some of this, is I think very beneficial. I think it would be hard for someone who hasn’t either experienced this or even seen it to be able to kind of look through the lens that a teacher would.

Gonzalez: Right, right. And your background was math first and then you kind of moved into technology?

Kitchen: Yeah. I mean, as a classroom teacher, as the whiteboards came in in the early 2000s, and I worked with Texas Instruments a little bit with the calculator, so my passion really became on the professional development side of teaching other teachers how to use what we have, and I just thought you needed to share stuff. So, I’ve been doing that for 15 years, so now that more and more technology is coming down the pipe with 1-to-1 and Chromebooks and the live spreadsheets and live documents, this was a pretty easy transition for me.

Gonzalez: Right. So, when we share this with teachers, one of the things I would love to do is actually give them a downloadable copy of the prescription form, so that they can see how that works. Would that be possible to do that?

Sturtevant: Sure.

Kitchen: Yeah.

Gonzalez: Okay. Because I have a feeling that seeing how that actually works would help people to do that.

Kitchen: Yeah, and the funny part is there really isn’t a right way yet. Like Penny said, we haven’t really talked about what the best way is yet. We’ve tried some different ones. We tried electronic, we tried paper and pencil, so we’re trying a few different things to really see what works, and then kind of just evolving. Almost like Learning Center, where it’s not just one way to do it, so there are a few different way that we’ve tried.

Gonzalez: Right.

Sturtevant: And it’s as simple as a hall pass, really. Other than just the name and place, it just says this is what they’re doing, or they need to use this. So, it’s really simplistic, but we can do something like that. I think anybody looking to do a creative learning space, if you are going to go along the lines of the Learning Center, where it’s a classroom extension. Ed touched on the fact that he’s been a teacher. I’m sure there’s other people who maybe could do this that aren’t teachers, but whoever you have has to have buy in themselves. They have to see the vision and the lens of what it can be, because honestly, once I’ve turned it over, I got to have fun. Ed’s got to sit down there and figure out how things should go or what we could try. Initially, prior to our grant coming in, I was bringing in Legos. We were talking about just basic whiteboards kids could write on, buying film for tabletops to write on. So, there’s massive ways this creative collaboration can happen that aren’t those high-end dollars.

And I know for many school districts 20 thousand isn’t a massive amount, but we felt that that was fabulous to have. So, the money doesn’t have to be limiting. It’s the creativity that makes this happen.

How Other Schools Can Get Started

Gonzalez: And the flexibility of that space sounds like that’s a really big key. So, if a school is listening now and they’re thinking, “I would really like to try this,” where can they start? What would be some maybe tips for what not to do and things that they should do?

Sturtevant: I think the initial is some strong conversations with your central office, with your teachers, with some of the leads about what’s going to be your purpose. Is your purpose going to be the makerspace where kids can come and create and be and maybe a related art? Is your purpose going to be supporting teachers to be able to bring classes in and have these extra tools to use, which is similar to our high school initiative, or is your purpose like ours where you want it to be an extension of every classroom and give these outlets? So, once you define your purpose, that’s huge because that stays your focus of where you’re headed. And then from there, who are your key players, and what are those roles? You want to get those things defined. What is your budget, and what’s going to be your opening? You always need a catalyst, a catcher, or something like that. And that was a discussion we had.

We didn’t get to have a grand opening. School opened and we had an empty room, you know? So, I would encourage somebody if they have that time to have a grand opening. We actually put together what we call a learning center committee. So, we brought in our local librarian, our high school media specialist, Ed, myself, our director of instruction, and we sat down and talked about what’s our next steps, what can we do. They were who helped say yes, that we validate, this is the way to spend the grant money. So, it was a collaborative process as well. I think we did it in a fairly short timeline. I would only encourage others to have a little bit more on the forefront of planning than we did. But if you’re graced an opportunity, you don’t turn it down.

Gonzalez: Well, and I think it’s to your credit that you guys didn’t say, “Well, we’re just going to close the library for six months while we wait for this thing to be perfect.” You just went ahead with what you had and started using the space differently instead of waiting for all the pieces to be there.

Sturtevant: And that was the grace, not knowing we had the money. I dug in my basement and found all leftover Legos, you know? Those have not been used in the way we thought, but they’re on the shelf and they will get used some day, I’m quite certain, as kids build projects.

Gonzalez: Yeah. Well, is there anything else before we wrap up that you would want to share with people interested in doing this?

Kitchen: Well, I think you have to go on your comment of what’s positive and negative. You really have to figure out how your staff and your school operates, because this is going to be different in all different parts, whether it’s high school, middle school, and where you’re at in the country. It really depends on how you want the space. You can look and read about how different schools are changing their common spaces, changing their libraries, changing their media center, and I wanted to make it unique. We wanted to do something totally different. And I think we’ve achieved that and I think we’ve achieved really connecting with the classroom and with the teachers.

And like Penny said, it’s just going to keep evolving in terms of what’s going to happen with our one-to-one, what’s going to happen with our project-based learning, what’s going to happen in, really, every day as these kids move forward. So, I really think you’ve got to look at what your teachers and what your kids are doing right now and kind of adapt to that.

Gonzalez: Well, thank you so much for sharing this, and we’re going to get pictures and video and stuff, so that anybody who’s listening to this can go to the actual blog post and look at how you guys have arranged that space so that they can really picture it.

Kitchen: Sure. And I think I would encourage people, too, if they’re near us or want to contact us, our doors are always open to come in and watch. As an educator and as a coach, we want to reinvent, we just want to go and take the best ideas. And if we can get more activity in these kids’ hands and the more things that they can be accustomed to I think is our job.

Sturtevant: I think the involvement—we aren’t done, we’ll never be done. We’ll grow, we’ll be creative. But having good people invested and taking off on it and just taking charge of it was huge, and I’ve got to be that support person that either sells it or brings in ideas. We’ve been very fortunate – a school not far from us opened their doors to us to see what they were doing. There’s no right or wrong. It’s what does your school need, what is your staff ready for, and what can you students do, whether you call that a makerspace or learning center and innovation center. Once you find your purpose, what can you do? How do you make it work for your school, your kids?

Gonzalez: I bet your teachers are really grateful that you are thinking expansively and really trying to make the most of this space. I’m sure that there are a lot of underutilized libraries out there that could use some kind of an upgrade.

Sturtevant: I think for us what’s going to happen is we’re going to take a space that maybe ran some weeks five to ten kids through its doors to it will be the integral piece that moves our school into the personalization, the technology era that our kids are entering. And it will be integral, or based around what’s happening from this learning center.

Kitchen: You know, we’re averaging around 120 kids a day that go through the doors.

Gonzalez: I was going to ask that. That’s a hugely—

Sturtevant: In a school of right around 500. We just have two grades, so that gives you some idea. It is a tool. Our teachers are still our most important facilitators of learning, and these are just tools that let that teacher have more personalized time with the kid, so they direct it. And this is going to become integral even further as our education process goes forward.

 


 

Listen to the audio version of this podcast.

See all podcast episodes.