If students designed their own school…it would look like this


Posted by Valerie Strauss on February 20, 2013

The Washington Post

Student Peter Boyce
(By Charles Tsai)

“It’s crazy that in a system that is meant to teach and help the youth there is no voice from the youth at all.” That’s the opening line in a video called “If students designed their own schools,” about The Independent Project, a high school semester designed and implemented entirely by students.
What did it look like? No quizzes. No tests. No grades. Students created their own learning materials and taught themselves and each other.
The Independent Project started in 2011 at Monument Mountain Regional High School, a public school in Massachusetts, after a student named Sam Levin advanced an idea about students creating their own learning environment in order to find the engagement and mastery he felt were lacking in many teacher-designed classes. Principal Marianne Young agreed to a pilot.

In this model, teachers serve as mentors and coaches, not as direct instructors, while students pose questions and find ways to answer them.

The pilot semester — in which eight students participated (one 10th grader, five 11th graders and two seniors) — was broken down into four parts: orientation, the sciences, the arts, and the collective endeavor, which all of the students would agree on a serious world issue and work together to find a solution or a piece of a solution. Students would come up with their own questions in each subject, research it and then teach it to the other students.
After the first semester, an evaluation was undertaken and changes were made to the model. Now several schools in the country have their own Independent Project.
The video was done by Charles Tsai, director of Learning Networks for Ashoka Canada, a global association of social entrepreneurs. He also works in the area of self-directed education through his organization, Social Creatives.

Here’s Tsai’s video:


STEM in the Middle

STEM in the middle

By Anne Jolly on March 25th, 2013

These days I’m a STEM curriculum writer and advocate, but I’ll confess that each year when Middle Level Education Month rolls around, I feel an extra longing to be back in a science classroom with young adolescents elbowing their way through the door, eager to learn “stuff.” It’s a place where I spent 16 wonderful years of my professional life.

Many of my middle-school students were natural scientists. They loved to explore, invent, build, figure things out and be actively engaged in their learning. While they would tolerate working with a fake scenario (“A space alien has just landed and . . .”), they were most engaged when dealing with problems that real scientists and engineers were working on. Environmental issues were among their favorites; they wanted to make the world a better place.

That’s reason enough to be a STEM advocate! Kids need a place where they can get together to learn how to approach and solve problems they care about. Looking beyond the 3 R’s, in today’s connected world students must become proficient in the 4 C’s: Creativity, Critical thinking, Collaboration and Communication. Mindy Curless, a Kentucky STEM initiatives consultant, asserts that “Developing these skills is a natural outcome of a STEM curriculum and perhaps the best reason to engage students in these experiences.”

And we need to begin in the middle grades.

Students in flux

When I began teaching, I noticed an interesting phenomenon. It seemed that every two or three years, my latest batch of 12- and 13-year-old students arrived with a whole new mindset and outlook — a different set of interests and skills and a different way of thinking and reacting. If I were going to be successful in helping them learn, I had to continually evolve — to change my way of teaching to meet their learning styles and needs.

As I continued teaching into the 21st century, I noticed another odd thing; in our high-tech, fast-paced and connected world, my students were in a continual state of flux. I had to change faster. I had to develop new teaching skills and beliefs about what constitutes good teaching.

That kind of continual change is a tall order for any middle-level teacher, much less a teacher who is called upon to integrate STEM content and techniques into the curriculum. Continual change means ongoing learning to develop new teaching skills and ideas about what it means to BE a teacher.

STEM teaching practices

Here are some aptitudes and proficiencies that seem to be valuable for STEM teachers (or for any middle-level teacher who wants to be cutting edge).

  1. Transfer control of the learning process to the students. Develop new roles and rules that stress student responsibility. Check out this article for ideas on how to accomplish this. Provide hands-on, experiential learning, then guide from the sidelines while keeping students on target with their direction and purpose. Aim at helping them become self-sufficient learners.
  2. Foster curiosity. Learn the art of asking open-ended questions with plenty of possible answers. Pose problems rather than activities with fixed outcomes. Send students on a search for solutions. Use discrepant events to intrigue students and draw them into the problem. This article suggests six strategies for piquing curiosity so students engage in using critical-thinking skills to solve problems.
  3. Increase collaboration among students. Get yourself comfortable with teamwork. Actively teach teamwork skills and work with students to heighten awareness of their team behaviors and ways of interacting in the class. Here is a link to a student teamwork guide that you may find useful.
  4. Accept failure, both your own and that of your students. It’s a necessary part of learning. Everyone in the STEM classroom should feel safe in taking risks. I tell students that we learn more from what we do wrong than from what we do right, and engineers learn from their mistakes. In fact, failure is a necessary part of learning. If you aren’t comfortable with this idea, you might check out this online commentary.
  5. Accept some drawbacks. STEM education will improve student engagement, critical-thinking skills and workforce skills. But it may also play havoc with the well-ordered lesson plan you wrote and make it more difficult to cover content in a stepwise process. In the STEM classroom, you’ll need to be ready to make some quick shifts in your thinking. You may also need to deviate from your lesson plan depending on the direction the students’ investigations and decisions take them.

Teaching STEM in the fabulous middle grades is an adventure trip with a great destination. Here amid Middle Level Education Month, I must say that I envy my colleagues who are just beginning to make that journey!

Anne Jolly is author of the MiddleWeb blog STEM Imagineering. She began her career as a lab scientist, caught the science teaching bug and was recognized as an Alabama Teacher of the Year. Today, Jolly is a curriculum consultant for Engaging Youth in Engineering, a Mobile-based, NSF-supported project to develop standards-based STEM lessons that are easily integrated into middle-school curricula. Her practical DIY book on professional learning, “Team to Teach,” is published by Learning Forward.

Digitally Aided Education, Using the Students’ Own Electronic Gear

The New York Times


Todd Anderson for The New York Times

Middle-school students using their own electronic devices during a science class at New Smyrna Beach Middle School in New Smyrna Beach, Fla.

Published: March 22, 2013

Educators and policy makers continue to debate whether computers are a good teaching tool. But a growing number of schools are adopting a new, even more controversial approach: asking students to bring their own smartphones, tablets, laptops and even their video game players to class.

Todd Anderson for The New York Times

Meagan Strickland, 13, uses her iPhone 4S and a school-owned iPad 2 in a history class at New Smyrna Beach Middle School.


Todd Anderson for The New York Times

Students at New Smyrna Beach Middle School in Florida are sometimes told to “B.Y.O.T.,” or “bring your own technology.”

Officials at the schools say the students’ own devices are the simplest way to use a new generation of learning apps that can, for example, teach them math, test them with quizzes and enable them to share and comment on each other’s essays.

Advocates of this new trend, called B.Y.O.T. for bring your own technology, say there is another advantage: it saves money for schools short of cash.

Some large school districts in Central Florida and near Houston and Atlanta have already signed on, and they are fielding calls and providing tours to administrators from hundreds of other districts that are considering whether to follow their lead.

But B.Y.O.T. has many skeptics, even among people who otherwise see benefits of using more technology in classrooms.

“The schools are hoping, hoping there’s going to be a for-free solution because they don’t have any money,” said Elliot Soloway, a computer science professor at the University of Michigan who consults with many school districts about the use of computers to promote learning.

“If you look at initiatives in public education, this has the momentum.”

But Mr. Soloway also said he was “frightened” by the notion of schools using B.Y.O.T. as a quick budget fix because there was no evidence that a classroom full of students using different personal devices would enhance learning. Roy Pea, a professor of learning sciences at Stanford University, also has doubts. He is the co-author of a White House-backed National Educational Technology Plan published in 2011 that advocates for technology-centric classrooms.

But he said the B.Y.O.T. approach could be counterproductive if teachers were forced to build lessons around different devices — in effect, subverting curriculum to technology.

“Why are they so happy to have these devices when just a few years ago they didn’t want them in the classroom?” Dr. Pea asked about school administrators.

The Volusia County School District in Central Florida, bordering Daytona Beach, is one of the places that used to have signs around its schools that admonished students: no cellphones allowed. But the signs have been replaced over the last two years with new ones that read: B.Y.O.T.

Volusia school officials say that they realized they should take advantage of, rather than fight, students’ deep connections with their devices. At the same time, the district found that the cost of providing and maintaining computers for students was becoming prohibitive.

Since the change, Volusia officials say, they have not encountered many tech support problems or complaints from teachers. Rather, students are more engaged, they say, and the only problem that regularly crops up is that students forget to charge the batteries in their devices.

“It’s almost like bringing your homework,” said Jessica Levene, manager of learning technologies for the Volusia district, where 21 of 70 schools are using B.Y.O.T. “Make sure you have your device and that it’s charged.”

She conceded that students could text each other more easily now but said the school was keeping them busy on their devices. And while district administrators worried initially that poorer students would not own devices, they discovered something of “an inverse relationship” between family income and the sophistication of their devices, particularly smartphones, said Don Boulware, the district’s director of technology services.

At Woodward Avenue Elementary School in the Volusia district, fifth-grade teacher Dana Zacharko said her students tended to bring in smartphones or iPod Touches. She said she had found apps that allowed her to teach all kinds of subjects.

For instance, a recent assignment entailed learning about fractions by using an app called “Factor Samurai.” A number appears on the screen, and the student is supposed to cut it with a finger — as if slicing with a Samurai sword — so that it gets cut into smaller values. But students lose points if they try to slice through prime numbers.

Ms. Zacharko will also start class discussion on a reading assignment by asking students to use their devices to write comments in an online forum. “Their typing is amazing on these devices,” she said.

The fact that students in the same classroom can use many different devices is not a handicap because they are all using the same lessons on the Internet, said Lenny Schad, former chief information officer in the Katy Independent School District near Houston, which started a program with a different moniker: B.Y.O.D., for Bring Your Own Device.

“The Internet is the great equalizer,” Mr. Schad said.

He added that students’ devices were not meant to be a substitute for teachers, but could be used as tools for assignments. He noted that the concept was catching on; he said he had given dozens of presentations to other districts and educators about his district’s initiative.

“My message: It shouldn’t be ‘if’ we do it, it should be ‘when’ we do it,’ ” said Mr. Schad, who this year moved to the nearby Houston Independent School District, where he plans to employ a similar strategy. “I don’t know how districts can’t look at this model.”

He said that policy makers who opposed B.Y.O.T. were holding on to an unrealistic notion that districts should equip students with computers themselves.

“On a smartphone, there are no limitations,” Mr. Schad said. “This is the world they live in and we’re bringing it into the classroom.”

Another district that has adopted B.Y.O.T. is Forsyth County in Cumming, Ga., near Atlanta. Because its B.Y.O.T. program started in 2008, more than 300 people have visited in the last year from other districts around the country to learn from the district’s experience. The Forsyth district has a tour planned this spring with 160 spots for visiting educators from around the country that is fully booked.

In Forsyth, the most common devices are iPhones, iPod Touches, Android phones and tablets. They are effective for students answering multiple-choice questions on math Web sites or taking a quiz, said Anne Kohler, a special-education teacher at South Forsyth High School. She says that policy makers and others who oppose the idea of using devices in classrooms are behind the curve.

“They don’t understand how kids acquire knowledge,” she said. “They’re not the people actually doing it.”

The road to learning

In the past week I have experienced two kinds of professional development (PD).

  1. Presented and Paid to attend a conference put on by a well-known education organization focusing on dyslexia, Conference A
  2. Presented and attended a free conference organized by educators in one school district, Conference B


It is astounding the difference between these two events!

Conference A:


The conference began with a wonderful keynote, and there appeared to be strong attendance, although found out later that attendance on day one was a little over half of whom had registered.   The sessions that followed were sorely disappointing.  None of the sessions I attended were conducted by K-12 educators, but rather professionals in related fields and college professors, none directly in the field of dyslexia.  Two sessions I attended covered that exact same material, and was to me and others I was with, presented as new content, but for us was…

View original post 770 more words

36 Things Every 21st Century Teacher Should Be Able To Do

36 Things Every 21st Century Teacher Should Be Able To Do


36-things-21st-century-teacherWhat should every teacher in the 21st century know and be able to do?

That’s an interesting question. After just now seeing this excellent post on educatorstechnology.com, I thought I’d contribute to the conversation.

I added the twist of ranking them from least complex to most complex, so novices can start at the bottom, and you veterans out there can skip right to 36.

36 Things Every 21st Century Teacher Should Be Able To Do

1. Select the right platform to communicate.

Whether you choose a text message, email, social media message, Skype session, or a Google+ Hangouts depends on who you need to communicate with and why—purpose and audience. So whether you’re sending an email to a parent when a phone call is necessary, or responding in a closed Google+ circle,choosing the right platform is everything.

2. Send large files.

Email won’t always work. You can use Evernote or dropbox; yousendit or SugarSync; a blog or a YouTube channel. Whatever you’re sending, a teacher in 2013 should be able to get it there quickly, and with minimal hassle from the recipient.

3. Take a screenshot on PC, Mac, and mobile devices.

Hit the Print Screen button near your number pad on a keyboard on Windows. Push down volume rocker and power buttons simultaneously on iOS and Android devices. Command-Shift-3 on Mac OSX.

4. Appreciate memes.

Know what it means to be Rick Roll’d, the difference between a fail and an epic fail, why Steve is a scumbag, and who sad Keannu is. You may not care, but your students do. Even if you choose not to speak their language and instead prefer the king’s tongue, you can at least understand what they’re saying, lol.

5. Explain how and why to use technology to those who don’t use it.

Not everyone loves technology. Not only is it not necessary for learning, it’s not even the most important part of learning (how did Socrates every get along without twitter?) That being said, it can indeed transform learning given the right instructional design and learning model. Communicating this to others that may not use it is increasingly important as a network building strategy and as a tool to be used locally to change culture.

An RT as an olive branch.

6. Use digital media in light of privacy, copyright, and other legal issues.

Terms of Use, copyrights, spam, phishing, age requirements–the whole ever-evolving and hopelessly complex shebang. You may never master this, but don’t teach in the dark.

7. Communicate clearly.

Tone is lost when you type. Know this and pre-emptively address is with clarity, choosing the right platform to communicate, and even smiley faces if you have to.

8. Search for, install, organize, use, and delete apps.

This is dead-simple, but you never know.

9. How to create, open, use, and share a variety of filetypes.

What are the benefits of a PDF over a .doc file? When should you send a .wav file and when you should send an .mp3? How about a .jpg versus a png?

10. Help students share files.

Students need help “turning in” digital work. Digital portfolios help, as can blogs and social media platforms. Learning management systems can too. Whatever you use, help them figure it out.

11. Subscribe to and manage YouTube channels, podcasts, learnist and pinterest boards, and other dynamic sources of digital media.

Self explanatory, yes?

12. Create and maintain digital portfolios.

Of your own work, and for your students. The tools, habits, and strategies to do it well are accessible to anyone in the 21st century. You know, especially if you follow any blogs that cover this kind of thing.

13. Blog.

That doesn’t mean you have to blog, but blogging is the among the best ways for students to survey, combine, and share digital media. You may not have the energy—or desire—to blog, but to effectively teach your students, you should know the basics.

14. Share learning data with students.

Sharing is easy. Sharing visual and digestible data not so much. More on this one below on #34.

15. Support students in managing their online “brand.”

And this starts with what you model–your visible social media profiles, Google search results for your name. That means a professional image, and no cliché quote from Gandhi in 24 point yellow font.

16. Manage your own social media and internet use.

It’s a tool, not an end. Self-manage accordingly.

17. Plan around a lack of technology elegantly.

Not all students have access. Do all that you can to give students that lack it a similar experience.

18. Delineate the difference between academics and entrepreneurial learning for students.

And in a way that doesn’t completely undercut academic learning, but rather contextualizes it.

flickeringbradshoulder19. Troubleshoot stuff that breaks.

Be MacGyver with a keyboard. If the Wi-Fi signal drops, the app freezes, or the password just won’t take, have a plan.

20. Skim and process large quantities of information.

Otherwise you’ll drown in the very thinking and resource stream you’re trying to benefit from. A powerful combination to use here? An RSS reader like Google Reader connected to Pocket.

21. Use the cloud to your advantage.

Offline access. Automatic syncing. Push notifications on apps. Writing and composition. Use the cloud.

22. Model digital citizenship.

To model it, we have to agree on what it means. We’ll talk more about this one soon, but for now, these resources should help.

23. Casually name-drop reddit.

Reddit is a downright cultish community of active and intelligent forum users that are addicted to socializing everything. And it’s awesome. If you don’t use it, try to mention it here and there as if you do (#streetcred), and when students ask just smile and nod your head a lot.

24. Support students in finding their own voice.

It’s not as simple as “band, books, or cheerleading” anymore. With visibility comes nuance. Now we have facebook groups of cheerleaders who are left-handed and prefer Fiji water over Dasani 50,000 members strong. Luckily, technology can step in and help–drawing, music, acting, writing, a charismatic YouTube channel; it’s now unnecessary for any student to be anonymous and isolated.

25. Research effectively.

And then model that effective research for students constantly in highly visible ways.

25. Use formal or informal learning management systems.

Whether you use a formal LMS, or just setup a Google+ Circle or community, either can help frame your curriculum for students and parents.

26. Leverage the relationship between physical and digital media.

What is the relationship between the app, the YouTube channel, the podcast, the play, and the poem? This is something you need to figure out–especially the English-Language Arts/Literature teachers among you.

27. Highlight the limits of technology.

If we don’t understand both the micro and macro impact of technology–the good and the bad–we’re doomed as a species to be completely overran by it. Sounds dramatic, but it just might be true.

28. Connect students with communities using project-based learning.

This can be one of the most powerful things you do, as it moves the learning from sterile classrooms to authentic audiences.

29. Model the value of questions over answers.

This shift changes the whole tone of the learning process.

30. Understand how play leads to learning.

Play is not a whimsical recreation, but a zen-like cognitive resonance that rips learning out of the hands of well-meaning adults and seeks to self-direct children by allowing them to experiment, fail, and try again.

31. Use Game-Based Learning effectively.

That doesn’t mean to just play video games, or make students play them then ask them awkward questions about their experience, but to understand how video games support both academic and authentic learning.

32. Curate functionally.

What to save and how to save it? Great questions. And what kind of process do you have to keep from  hoarding digital resources and actually use all the crap you save? An even better one.

33. Record, process, mash, publish, and distribute digital media.

Digital media is likely the future of learning. So, begin the transition.

34. Visualize learning data for students.

This is different than just sharing an alphanumeric digit–this is about knowledge, progress, and the right data and the right time that is packaged in a highly-digestible way.

35. Connect with other educators both in person and online.

Don’t be a twitter diva; don’t be a Luddite. Find a blend.

36. Personalize learning.

To genuinely personalize learning for all of your students in a typical K-20 public school or university is impossible (unless we have different definitions of personalized learning). That’s why this is last.

3 Classroom Blogging Tips For Teachers

By Bill Ferriter


As some of you may know, I started a new classroom blog with my students that is designed to raise awareness in tweens and teens about the amount of sugar found in the foods that they are eating.

It’s called #SUGARKILLS.  Check it out:


So far, the project has been a remarkable success.  We’ve literally posted a new bit every school day for the past month — and my students are straight jazzed about the notion that THEY have the power to make a difference in the world.

Need proof? 

Then check out this quote from a recent interview that we completed for Middleweb:

A couple weeks ago, Mrs. Swanson left us a comment about how her dad has diabetes and our blog is really helping him.  It makes us feel great to know that we’ve made a difference in someone’s life.  

What if Mrs. Swanson’s father made the decision to say “no” to one candy bar, because of us?  Then he would keep making healthier choices, and that could eventually save his life!  We would have made a huge difference.

We’ve also discovered that other teachers are actually sharing our work with their students, which makes us feel like we really matter to other people.  How many 12 year old students can say that they are changing people’s lives around the world?  

The fact that we can is amazing!

So how can YOU get a great student-driven blog up and running in YOUR classroom? 

 Here are three of my favorite tips.

Tip 1:  Create ONE Topic-Focused Blog

A lesson that I learned early in my work with blogs is that they are far more vibrant — and attract far more attention — when they are updated regularly.  The challenge for student bloggers, then, is generating enough content to bring readers back for more.

The solution in my classroom is to always START classroom blogging projects with ONE classroom blog that EVERY student can make contributions to.  Doing so takes the pressure of generating content off of individual students simply because there are dozens of potential writers who are adding content at any given time.

I also tend to create blogs that are focused on a specific theme or topic rather than general blogs that contain content across several domains and/or interest areas.  By focusing my blogs on a specific theme connected to a cause that my kids are passionate about, I can tap into the desire of students to “do work that matters.”

Tip 2: Train Student Editors to Lead Your Blogging Project

I’m going to be honest with you:  Student blogging projects take a TON of time and energy and effort.  Posts need to be written and revised and edited.  Images need to be found and cropped and inserted.  Schedules for creating new content need to be created and maintained and monitored.

Sounds exhausting, doesn’t it?

Here’s the good news:  YOU don’t need to be the one that does all of the drafting and coaching and revising and posting!

Instead, work to train a small handful of student editors.  Give them the username and password to your classroom blog and turn them loose.  You’ll find that they are JUST as capable as you are — and probably MORE motivated!

Our #sugarkills team currently has two fully trained student editors — Andy and Daniel — and four other kids who are “editors in training.”  They handle the VAST majority of the nitty gritty details of generating content for our blog.

Training student editors makes classroom blogging projects WAY more manageable for classroom teachers.  More importantly, training student editors reminds students that THEY can be powerful WITHOUT needing the help of their teachers.


Tip 3: Recruit Readers and Commenters to Your Blog

For any blogger, the ultimate reward is crafting a piece that actually gets READ.  Every page view and comment left on a classroom blog is proof positive to your students that they DO have an audience and that they ARE being heard.

Just as importantly to classroom teachers, every page view and comment is an opportunity for a student blogger to have their thinking challenged — and the tension that results whenever thinking is challenged ALWAYS leads to new learning as students are forced to refine and revise and polish their positions on the topics that they care about.

The challenge, however, is that classroom blogs won’t AUTOMATICALLY generate enough attention to receive page views and comments automatically.  The simple truth is that in a digital world where there are thousands of new blogs created every hour, “being heard” isn’t nearly as easy as “getting published.”

To address this challenge, I always recruits volunteer readers and commenters when my students are working on a blogging project.

Most of the time these volunteers are parents or PTA members who want to help at school but can’t find the time to get away from work during the day.  I ask them to monitor the blog for a month at a time and to leave two or three comments a week that are designed to challenge students.

Other times, I turn to my own professional friends and family members — pointing them to specific posts that I want to generate traffic for.  Doing so generates momentum, ensuring that students feel the reward that comes along with having an audience.

If you are interested in establishing relationships with other classrooms that are blogging, spend some time poking around the growing collection of blogs at the Comments4Kids website.  And if you are trying to generate traffic  for individual blog entries, consider sharing a link to the post in Twitter using the #comments4kids hashtag.

Any of this make sense to you?  More importantly, do YOU have any tips for teachers interested in starting classroom blogging projects?


Related Radical Reads:

Introducing Our Newest Cause: #SUGARKILLS

Technology Gives Kids Power

Are Kids REALLY Motivated by Technology?

New high school designed by and for students

Posted toEducation News Virginia Beach

By Elisabeth Hulette
The Virginian-Pilot
© March 10, 2013


Most years, Chris Freeman’s Advanced Placement Environmental Studies students design a hypothetical, sustainable house for a class project.

More recently, they’ve been designing a high school – theirs. That’s how plans for the rebuild of Kellam High came to include courtyards full of vegetable gardens and native swamp plants.

They’re just a few of the features that designers claim make this a school building unlike any other. Instead of separating English, math and other departments, the new Kellam will have six “learning communities” – wings that each house multiple subjects, designed to foster collaborative, interdisciplinary learning. Flexible, open spaces will abound alongside environmentally friendly, energy-efficient features. And at every step of the way, designers have included ideas from the teachers and students they say best know what a modern school needs.

“We wanted to design the building from the inside out, based on the goals of the educational program,” said Mike Ross, architect of the project with Virginia Beach-based firm HBA. “Rather than starting with the classroom, we started with the learner workstation. Basically, we reinvented what a classroom can and should be.”

Construction began in October at the site on West Neck Road, not far from the city’s Municipal Center. Original plans called for a spring 2014 move-in date, but workers ahead of schedule are now aiming earlier, possibly for not long after Christmas. Last year, Kellam served about 1,800 students, according to state data; the new facility can house 2,000.

The building will cost $70 million, and the total project – including land, furniture and technology – will cost $100 million. The price is in line with statewide averages over the past few years, Ross said.

Tony Arnold, director of facilities planning and construction for the division, said with inflation adjustments, it’s comparable to the last high school Virginia Beach bid out – Landstown High School in 1998, for $41 million. Over time, he said, features like geothermal heat and high windows that let in natural light will save money on utilities.

“It’s pretty impressive,” Arnold said. “Ten to 20 years ago, buildings this size were energy hogs. Now they use a lot less.”

From above, the building looks like a spaceship – round, with a central cafeteria-common space branching into elevated walkways that extend over three courtyards to the six learning communities.

Teachers helped come up with the design, Ross said. In line with the division’s strategic plan that pushes “21st-century skills,” they’re increasingly collaborating among departments and asking students to tackle projects and problems in small groups. That’s why Kellam’s classrooms will have removable walls to create large spaces, glass-enclosed rooms where students can work in small groups while remaining under supervision, and wider sections of hallways where they can spread out their work.

Apart from the learning communities, there’s an arts wing with band and practice rooms and an auditorium, and an athletic wing with three basketball courts and two auxiliary gyms. Outside, the first artificial-turf football field at any of Virginia Beach’s public schools is already installed.

The three courtyards Freeman’s students helped design dominate the layout. One is an edible garden full of planters for growing vegetables for possible use by culinary students; one will house an outdoor learning area with benches made from hardwood trees cut down to make way for the school; and one will filter rainwater runoff through native Virginia swamp plants.

“You want to talk about lifelong learning?” Freeman said. “Having students take part in something real and tangible – that really fostered a sense of creativity and passion that I haven’t seen in 10 years of teaching.”

That was the idea behind gathering ideas from the school community, Arnold said. In the 1960s, schools were built cheaply. They were meant to last 40 years. Nobody cared when they were torn down, he said, because no one had a real stake in how they were built.

Now schools are built to last 75 to 100 years, and they’re designed around the needs and interests of a community.

“The way we program and design buildings today, the amount of stakeholder and public input – it’s dramatically different,” Arnold said.

“I think Kellam is just going to be a great building.”