These are a few of the concepts being examined by the District 54 Instructional Innovation Task Force this winter as we explore how to best engage students and enhance the delivery of instruction.
The 68 employees on this task force, representing all District 54 schools, began their first meeting by looking at our schools and asking whether the design promotes collaboration, communication, flexibility, critical thinking, creativity, problem solving and digital learning.
The research we have reviewed indicates that there is an explicit relationship between facility design and educational outcomes. Students learn best in environments that are bright, warm, quiet, safe, clean and comfortable.
Therefore, the Innovative Instruction Task Force is considering what changes can be made to District 54 schools, some of which were built in the 1950s and 1960s, to enhance teaching and learning.
Some of the ideas are as simple as flexible seating, where desks and chairs can be easily moved about the room to accommodate small-group work or the need for larger spaces for projects. Flexible seating also gives student an opportunity for choice -- do they want to sit at their desk or stretch out on the floor to work; do they need a place to work independently or find a table where they can solve problems as a team.
The task force is also looking at the impact of lighting, sound, color, ergonomics and whatever it takes to create spaces that elevate learning.
In addition, the task force is examining how we can broaden the learning opportunities we provide our students. Specifically, during the first meeting they investigated Makerspaces in schools. Makerspaces are designed to provide opportunities for creative expression. Students choose activities based on their interests.
These activities could include technology, such as film and music production labs. However, they also include experiences, such as sewing and MakerDo (creations made from cardboard).
What the projects have in common is the opportunity for students to personalize their learning experience. In Makerspaces, student are not just consuming information, but are taking the initiative for their learning by creating, exploring, testing and sometimes revising.
The Instructional Innovation Task Force will be presenting specific recommendations to the District 54 Strategic Planning Committee in March.
The Strategic Planning Committee (72 individuals who are teachers, support staff, parents, community members, board members and administrators) is another group that has been meeting this year to develop a plan for the district's future.
This committee has already reached consensus on three goals for the district (see below). The committee will present its final recommendations to the School Board this spring.
District 54 will perform in the top 10 percent of all schools, as measured by state and local assessments in reading and math growth and proficiency.
District 54 will close the achievement gap for ALL students in reading and math as measured by state and local assessments.
District 54 will ensure success of the whole child grounded in the belief that each child deserves to be healthy, safe, engaged, supported and challenged utilizing comprehensive approaches and programming.
I wrap up each of my columns by emphasizing that it is the people in the District 54 community who make a difference in the lives of our students. I'm grateful for the members of these task forces who have devoted their time and energy to the children of District 54.
In next month's column, I look forward to sharing with you the work of another new task force exploring what more we can do to support social emotional learning.