by Glenn Robbins (Tabernacle School District, NJ)

Welcome to Idea Street!

Collaboratory display in a hallway

Take a moment and think about the hallways in your school. Lockers, open space, bulletin boards, and student work come to mind. As you walk down your hallways, ask yourself: what kind of experience does it create for students? Does it foster a sense of excitement to learn?

Statistically speaking, hallways in a school building make up to 30% or more of unused space. That’s a significant percentage of the footprint of our school. So, it has been important to us to invest time and attention in this space, making sure that it aligns with the mission and values of our school more broadly.

Our goal is to promote learning anywhere at anytime — and the hallways are a powerful way to do that. Instead of unused space, the hallways are an innovative environment that strongly supports our goal of implementing design thinking, hands-on making, and nurturing empathetic learners. By reimagining the hallways as a student-owned space for learning and creativity, we are providing them more opportunities to lead.

Today we call our reimagined hallways Idea Street. Where might Idea Streets lead students in your school?

The making of Idea Street

When we transformed our hallways into Idea Street, we were guided by a few key principles:

Students are designers

Students having fun with a lego wall.

Students should be able to design, create, and make things whether or not teachers make time for those activities during class time.

  • Bulletin boards — out. Whiteboards — in. Open wall space has been filled with more whiteboards wherever they will fit. Students can brainstorm, sketch, and take notes all along Idea Street. Students even use the windows overlooking the library and outside as dry erase boards too!
  • A large-scale LEGO wall near the fifth grade wing. Students prototype and play, often at the same time.
  • Creativity fills the nooks of Idea Street — and of students’ schedules too.
  • A tinkering station where students can disassemble a broken toy, fix a computer, or tackle a brief design challenge. Sometimes all students need is the opportunity of space and time to flex their creative muscles.

Students are experts

When the teacher-owned bulletin boards come down, how might student-owned initiatives take their place?

  • A student-run tech squad runs the genius bar on Idea Street. We designed and cut two bars (in the shape of surfboards since we are a shore community!) to feature our tech squad’s work prominently.
  • Students designed and installed an aquarium in collaboration with a 6th grade science teacher. That old trophy case? It’s now home to our terrapin turtles.

Building a culture takes trust

All of this requires a leap of faith. Can a whiteboard or a LEGO wall on Idea Street be abused by a student who wants to test their limits? Of course. But we can only build a culture that puts students first if we trust them to take the lead.

Don’t try to make this leap of faith all at once. Take steps over time — both with students and teachers — to make these ideas an appropriate fit for your school. Idea Street is both a means to build culture and a result of the school culture that is already in place.

Where does this go next?

What impact does having an Idea Street commons have on the school community?  Perhaps the biggest shift relates to the role of student voice in shaping the culture and activities of the school. As students began using the hallways as a space to make and learn, they also began to teach each other about what they were working on. We decided to create more opportunities for student to do just that by creating student-led Edcamps.

An Edcamp is a community organized “un-conference” that is popular among educators. Instead of a typical conference format with presenters and sessions scheduled ahead of time, participants in an Edcamp suggest topics in the morning that they would like to explore and then collaboratively create an agenda for the day using sticky notes and dry erase markers. The success of Idea Street led us to try this with our students.

After a round of collaborative planning, teachers posted topics (each of which were connected to our curriculum and standards) on boards along Idea Street: Build It, Stock Market Game, Make an App, In the News, School Newsletter, Mix it Up.

Our first student Edcamp was a thrill! Students were so passionate about their sessions (that is, the classes) that they led that they ran to class. Teachers facilitated from the side, having helped the students design each session. Fueled by that initial success, we have incorporated regular student-run Edcamps into our school calendar.

Tips for successfully implementing a student-run Edcamp

  • Revamp traditional scheduling — study hall, advisory periods, once a week innovation periods can become Edcamps.
  • It’s ok to let students tell you what they want to learn.
  • It’s ok if you don’t have all the answers during the period.
  • Innovation isn’t just about technology. Students may want to teach and learn many things you wouldn’t expect!
  • Promote and support staff and student ideas.

Back to Leverage What You Have


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