Innovative learning opportunities preparing students for success

Students at Upper Arlington High School and Hastings and Jones middle schools are being exposed to new, innovative learning opportunities that are helping them develop the skills needed today for academic and professional success.

At the high school, students are bringing ideas to light and building relationships with community leaders through Idea Seminar, a new, semester-long class that takes a fresh, interactive approach to public speaking.

At the middle schools, students are exploring all the possibilities of new “iSpaces.” These digital media hubs in the Hastings and Jones learning centers provide the equipment and the physical space for teachers to enhance curricular studies and students to create their own learning opportunities.

“Our district has a history of being on the leading edge of new instructional techniques,” said Superintendent Paul Imhoff, Ed.D.  “It’s exciting to watch that play out in real time with these two projects.”

Middle school iSpaces

Middle school media specialists Kerri Schill at Hastings and Michelle Lombardi at Jones imagined the iSpaces as “the design of place and space to empower students to learn, work, play, create and connect more richly.” The Upper Arlington Education Foundation and the school PTOs, with support from the district’s Teaching & Learning and Technology departments, provided funding for the iSpaces and related enhancements to the learning centers.

Students and staff now have at their fingertips in the learning centers technology ranging from green screens and Padcasters to sound mixers and guitar microphones to Sphero robots and virtual-reality headsets. Schill and Lombardi have both been working with students and staff to explore the new equipment and integrate it into the curriculum.

For example, Lombardi said, “Reading classes have expressed interest in using the recording equipment to create book trailers, global language classes can take virtual trips to different countries using the virtual reality headsets, and math and science classes can practice coding skills with the Sphero robots.”

Schill believes these iSpaces will soon serve as an essential academic bridge between the redesigned elementary schools and the new high school.

“The ultimate goal of the iSpaces,” she said, “is to revolutionize teaching and learning at both middle schools so that our students are self-directed, innovative and better prepared to actively participate in their future endeavors.”

Idea Seminar

Idea Seminar, a prototype course that is the vision of Research & Design Lab Instructional Leader Laura Moore, meets all the standards of a public speaking course but doesn’t adhere to the same structure.  

Principal Andrew Theado and other community stakeholders in a discussion with students in Idea Seminar“My course is anchored in real-world engagement,” Moore said. “Instead of allowing students to choose different topics and give a speech to their peers in class, they have chosen issues within the school or community and they give speeches to stakeholders.” 

This semester, the classwork has largely been inspired by the Big Table, a Columbus Foundation event that aims to promote community conversations by bringing together stakeholders at locations around the Columbus area.   

Since they attended the Big Table event in Upper Arlington in September, students have made presentations to and conducted focus groups with representatives from the major community groups in Upper Arlington including the Board of Education, the City of Upper Arlington and the Upper Arlington Public Library.

“This class is incredible,” said Upper Arlington High School junior Gabrielle Shell, one of 20 students taking Idea Seminar this semester. “It not only works on public speaking skills, but it helps students learn to use their voices and effectively start, plan and launch projects from the ground up.” 

Moore believes this is just the beginning for the high school looking at how to present the curriculum in ways that drive student engagement.

“I hope it will inspire us as a school community to imagine how we can thread our curriculum through different lenses,” Moore said. “I think there are a thousand ways to approach content, and I hope this course is just the start.”

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