09 August 2015

Introducing the UAS I.C.E. Lab

For over 4 years I've been incorporating some type of dedicated classroom time for students to pursue large authentic projects. First they were open-ended, choice-based end of the unit projects. Then two years ago I came across the Genius Hour/20% time idea and incorporated that into my classroom. By the end of the 2014 school year I had my 9th grade history class working on a project I called I.C.E. Lab (Innovate, Create, Explore), using 20% time to "create something" that was loosely tied to our Technology and Change theme in our 9th grade World History class (a performance final in lieu of taking a real cumulative final).

Sometime last summer (July 2014) I visited a Boys and Girls club in Appleton, WI. The director gave us a tour and at one point he took us to a room with some instruments and music equipment. In the corner of the room was a computer and a beat kit. We looked the room over and as he was explaining everything he said something that stayed with me, something to the effect while that most of the musical equipment doesn't get used a lot, the kids are always on the computer making music with a music making software and the beat kit. It was a space where kids came to make stuff, specifically music. I very quickly asked myself internally "Why don't we have a space to make stuff like this at our school?"

When I returned to Montevideo, Uruguay to begin the 2014-2015 school year I began to put together a proposal to create an I.C.E. Lab in our school—a continuation of the idea of Innovating, Creating, and Exploring that I tried out 4th quarter. I found $5,000 left over in a budget, wrote up a vision and basic outline and proposed it to the school administration. To my surprise, it was enthusiastically supported.

By the time 2nd semester of last year rolled around (February 2015), I was busy preparing to present at Innovate Graded 2015 and was also just starting my masters degree in New Learning at the University of Illinois. As part of one of my classes I wrote an update about my proposal to create an I.C.E. Lab at our school. It was only then after another student commented on my update that I learned about the growing momentum behind creating MakerSpaces in libraries and schools (and the literature supporting it)! I was at Innovate Graded just a few weeks later where I was exposed to even more excitement and materials around design thinking in schools, especially the work Ewan McIntosh and his team at NoTosh.com are doing. I also had the chance to tour Graded's MakerSpace. Lots of great minds we're thinking alike and many were already out in front of this idea.

By this time I also had to place our international order. Armed with the keyword I needed all along—MakerSpace—I began to put together the raw materials for our I.C.E. Lab space. The idea was to try to promote four different learning strands with the space: 1) design thinking, 2) cooperative/collaborative learning, 3) self-organized learning, 4) student ownership and choice. With that in mind I tried to order products and materials that would help. I ended up settling on four broad categories: 1) 3D printing, 2) digital media production, 3) robotics, 4) coding and programming. I was able to not only convince our library to help me run the experiment, but to also move some furniture around to help create the space; we ended up being able to squirrel away a corner space of around 4 meters by 3 meters for our lab.

Flash forward to this past week. I still wanted to preserve the original name I.C.E. Lab because I had grown attached to it (and it sounds cool and unique, no?). My idea is to build out from the original Innovate, Create, Explore acronym and include this framework into the structure of the learning that goes on. My principal and I decided that creating a class to help found the lab—design and create it—seemed like a good approach (with the end goal of opening it up to a much larger audience without necessarily a "class" attached to its use). At the end of last year I had asked my two sections of 9th graders to apply to be a part of the first cohort. 10 students ended up applying and were able to fit it into their schedule—a perfect number. This Thursday (6 Aug 15) we all got together for the first time!

I wanted students to be a part of the whole process, to own every aspect of this space, right from the beginning. Class started Thursday and I decided to spend the first two 45 minute periods having students work on our first problem and first project (I decided to use this Problem/Project terminology to frame our work together, we'll see how I like it). Problem 1: How do you design a creative space? Project 1: Design our I.C.E. Lab.

I created small handouts for the first two days, having students focus on taking inventory of what we have, measuring the space, and thinking about how to organize and divide the raw materials we have. And then using that information to begin their first prototype.

This Tuesday the students are going to be coming in with their 1 Hour Prototypes, where we'll then begin to combine our ideas and change the "you" to "we": How do we design a creative space? I'm excited to see what they come up with! 

My hope is to continue to document our learning journey together over the next few months here on this blog; to create a nice set of sharable experiences for anyone else who might be looking to start a journey of their own. We'll try to post again soon about some more of the specifics of the space and the raw materials we'll be working with, and my ideas on how to structure and scaffold the work students will be doing in the lab.

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