Space Matters: Creating a Tinkering Lab for Education

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One of my current projects is a partnership between TeacherSquare and the San Jose Tech Museum to create a still-to-be-named tinkering lab for education. The goal is to create a cutting edge space that matches the energy and enthusiasm of the edtech startup world, with a specific focus on empowering educators and school leaders to understand the trends and tools, and offer clear systems to support thoughtful technology integration. The energy behind this work is based on supporting tech integration that specifically impacts learning. (If you have time, this somewhat lengthy post from one of the founders of the Digital Harbor Foundation outlines some reasons why we’ve just barely begun “to scratch the surface when it comes to education in the era of the Internet.”)

The growing buzz around education technology has led to a boom in the number of edtech companies launching products designed to help improve teaching, learning and frankly how we ‘do school.’  While these efforts are incredibly promising on multiple levels, it has created a new gap in the education space- the information and implementation gap. Millions of dollars are being invested in the creation of new edtech companies/tools as well as supporting those entrepreneurs; however, very little resources (read time, energy & money) are focused on how to effectively integrate these new tools into current learning environments.

Creating a tinkering lab for education is not a new idea, and frankly with all the activity in the education space in the Bay Area I’m surprised we don’t already have more spaces to support experimentation around implementation that are specifically optimized for the educator perspective. A place where startups can conduct focus groups with teachers and demo their products, tech directors can host PD sessions for their teams, educator incubator programs can facilitate their design thinking workshops, community members can host hackathons…this list can go on and on.

Much of this work is based on existing ideas that have been floating around in education discussions for a while now. Drawing on Alex Hernandez’s idea for a Fab Lab for Education, we aim to create a highly flexible and customizable space to provide educators with the environment and resources to prototype and “try amazing, new ideas without ‘re-tooling’ a whole school.” (You can read more about how schools are rethinking designing their learning spaces on this School Design 101: Space Learnist board.)

A recent op-ed piece on EdSurge from Wikispaces co-founder on How to Succeed in Education Technology captured what’s driving these efforts, stating that “when you empower teachers to use technology effectively, it magnifies the impact they can have on their students.” Currently much of the experimenting with education technology is taking place within charter schools, because they have flexibility to create cultures of experimentation. This project seeks to extend that culture of exploration and experimentation to traditional public schools by providing educators a delightful and engaging space to test ideas as well as a connected community for ongoing support and learning.

TeacherSquare is prototyping this work in San Jose and I plan to document all our learnings so we can bring this experience to other regions. I’d love to hear from you, the edu community, on this topic. What would you most like to see from this community and physical space? What would be most beneficial to support educators?

If you’re interested in getting involved in this work, please let me know.

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