When the next school year begins, TVT students will have access to some of the most innovative learning spaces in Orange County. Our 21st century campus building projects feature state-of-the-art makerspaces, science labs, a fabrication and prototyping facility, a film studio, a visual arts studio, and spaces for collaboration. These spaces are designed for students to learn actively by building things and making things, by creating knowledge, not just consuming it. Taken together, they are an unprecedented investment in the future of learning for TVT students and represent our commitment to preparing your children for the complexities of life in the coming decades. These new facilities are truly awesome, and not just for high school students! Students across the board, from TK through grade 12, will have ample and regular opportunities to learn in these new spaces.
What is the purpose of these kinds of spaces? In her book Worlds of Making, Laura Fleming argues that “it is a place where young people have an opportunity to explore their own interests; learn to use tools and materials both physical and virtual; and develop creative projects. It should be envisaged and implemented as a concept that can adapt to a wide variety of uses, shaped not only by educational purposes defined by teachers or the school or the wider curriculum, but also by students’ own creative goals and interests.” These spaces give both teachers and students the flexibility to pursue teaching and learning through different methods.
Great facilities inform an inspiring curriculum; a great curriculum inspires how great facilities will be used. To that end, TVT faculty members and I, along with Head of School Dr. Jeffrey Davis, Head of Lower School Dr. Laura Roth and Head of Middle and Upper School Ms. Jill Quigley, have been working to modify and create curricula that will make the learning that goes on in these new facilities meaningful and memorable. Some of these ideas and programs include:
- Coding and Robotics in the Lower School curriculum (currently in the curriculum)
- A Lower School Science curriculum developed by scientists and educators at UC Berkeley (which will be significantly enhanced by the new labs and LS makerspace)
- More Lower School AI programs in science, technology, engineering and math designed to stimulate creative problem solving and critical thinking
- Beast Academy mathematics in the Lower School for highly advanced students and its Middle School counterpart, Art of Problem Solving (AOPS) mathematics for students who have completed Beast Academy and still want the unique challenges of the AOPS approach.
- Singapore Mathematics in the Lower School for students not enrolling in Beast Academy.
- Maker Lab, Pre-Engineering and Coding courses for Middle School students as part of their explorations curriculum.
- Film-making courses for Middle School students.
- Makerspace project integration with Upper School courses that are explicitly designed to enhance student learning.
- Even deeper AI programs for Middle and Upper School students.
- An integrated program for deeply-interested and self-directed Upper School students in which they can follow a research, engineering or creative approach for their entire high school career with mentorship from both TVT faculty and from mentors in the local industry community.
And that’s just the beginning. These spaces are all about collaboration, creativity, critical thinking and playful learning. In his book Free To Play, Peter Gray observes that “critical thinking is founded in creativity and creativity always requires a degree of playfulness. The critical thinker plays with ideas – tries them out – turns them upside down to see what happens, explores the consequences.” This is what these spaces will afford our children. Why have spaces like this? Why should we fully commit to using them as they should be? We believe this kind of learning encourages students to develop seven qualities to be effective in the 21st century:
- to understand the way they learn and to have the desire to pursue learning on their own without constant prodding from adults.
- to be able to solve problems creatively.
- to be able to solve problems with the materials and means at hand (which are sometimes not ideal).
- to develop increasing tolerance for productive failure.
- to tinker.
- to create answers to real problems and argue their perspectives in front of live audiences composed of real professionals, not just doting parents.
- teachers who are able to use new spaces to better individualize instruction.
Educators everywhere are working to transform education along these lines. Why? Because the needs of the 21st century learner transcend conventional approaches to education. Schools assuming that what worked ten, twenty or thirty years ago will still work with this new generation of learners run the risk of becoming irrelevant in the lives of young learners. Parents need to be as mindful as schools of the needs of their children and be reflective on the fact that their own experiences give them an imperfect understanding of 21st century realities. In her book How To Raise An Adult, former Stanford dean Julie Lythcott-Haims argues for a, frankly, radical reassessment of teaching, learning and parenting. She argues that a core requirement for present-day learning is play. She encourages parents to value free play, and to find materials and equipment that foster imaginative play. She wants parents to model play and create a family culture of free play outdoors. She goes further. Play is critical, but critical thinking is even more important. She writes: “critical thinking isn’t just about being able to understand the news and balance your checkbook….they haven’t been taught to wrestle win the intellectual gray areas, to contend with the right and wrong of the matters they’ve memorized. They’re doing what they think they’re supposed to, without pausing to ask if it’s what they actually want for themselves, and why.”
As these spaces become available to TVT students and teachers, training and professional development for faculty will be critical to ensure that student learning along these lines doesn’t become about building and making for its own sake. Our school’s mission remains unchanged. What will change is the day-to-day experience each of our students will have as they learn everything that we care about in our curriculum, but learn it as I described above.