Imagining the Future of Learning Takes Hold at Miami Valley School, Dayton

Exactly one year ago I was in my Prius driving through the Carolinas visiting schools and blogging from the road.  This morning I am in Greensboro, N.C. and this time the Prius is back home in California.  But I get to report on another school, Miami Valley School in Dayton, Ohio, that is taking some large first steps on the road to transforming how and what they teach. This post gives a short summary of our day of imagination, and shares some of the truly innovative brushfires that are burning at MVS.

I spent the last two days with the outstanding faculty, staff, and students of MVS, an EC-12 coed day school with about 480 students.  New head of school Jay Scheurle called his entire team, including a group of high school students and a group of parents, together for a day of imagining the future of the school. I got to provoke, prod, and push them with the twin goals of making some real progress in this imagination process…and making some heads hurt.  I think we achieved both goals!

360-degree view of creative thinking covering the walls of MVS black box theater

360-degree view of creative thinking covering the walls of MVS black box theater

On Monday 90 faculty and staff, with students at each table, gathered with a carload of post it notes, flip chart paper, and markers.  We imagined alternative futures for the school; mapped the signals of innovative learning we find at other schools; charted the connections that the students, teachers, staff, and parents have with each other, the region, and the world; articulated core values that are more and less immune to market competition; generated headlines and stories about their future success; and mined our work for creative ideas that could transform the school. It was a remarkable day of ideation and mapping of ideas.  The walls of their black box theater were COVERED with the graphical representation of the collective thoughts, dreams, and wishes of the MVS community.

The key take away from a day of mind-pushing, collaborative work like this is simple: it is utterly astounding how much knowledge and how many great ideas can be surfaced by a diverse group of people in a very short period of time.  MVS now has a foundation of shared understanding on which to build their collective vision…and to start the process of action planning.

On Tuesday, I was able to visit a number of classes, particularly in the MVS Upper division, where the brushfires of innovation are burning hot, in no small part due to the leadership of Upper School head Rachel Moulton and Director of Innovation and Technology Bryan Lakatos.  Both attended the summer conference at Science Leadership Academy in Philadelphia last year, and came back with ideas on how to shift the division to real student-owned learning. A few examples:

A learning pond at MVS!

A learning pond at MVS!

Immersion: This is a flagship program of MVS, started several decades ago, way before most schools valued a global presence.  All students take part in Immersion during the winter, but for the Upper School it is a remarkable 4-week session with extended local, regional, and global opportunities for hands-on research, work, and experiences that are completely life-changing.

TED class: students mine the broad and deep resources of TED talks for inspiration in areas of their respective interests and passions.  They create their own response videos, learning the value of effective communication in the application of their own ideas and problems they would like to see solved.

Senior Walk-About: In the last third of senior year, students can design and implement their own off-campus program…anything, anywhere…with four themes: Adventure, Service, Logical Inquiry, and Creative Expression.  I heard about students engaged in metal working, an archeological dig in Anasazi ruins, and delivery of medical supplies to families in rural Appalachia.

The Learning Project: This is a pilot program in its first year.  Students develop their own learning experience.  The teachers help them to think about how to design and scaffold the projects to ensure concrete learning outcomes and a schedule for completion during the term. Students reach out beyond the school walls to network and connect; question, analyze, and reflect; and will develop community presentations of their completed projects.  Examples of work in progress: learning to fly; moving the school literary magazine to an online format; tracing Hindu metaphysics; investigation career choices in medicine; and finding expression in fiction writing and slam poetry.

photo-1The brushfires of innovation are starting to take hold at MVS.  There is real work to do, but here is a final example of how serious leaders take innovation seriously: less than 14 hours after leaving MVS I was copied on an email from Jay to his entire team.  The message: let’s get to work and turn our ideas into action, and by the end of the calendar year, they will have taken the next big steps.  Looking for great stories to come out of MVS in the very near future!

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