Ponderosa Elementary School
Exploration was a key inspiration behind the new Innovation Space at Ponderosa Elementary School. According to Tyra White, technology coordinator and teacher at the school, the upgrades to the school’s library space were designed to encourage conversations, interactions and exploration. An open design, a flexible approach to workspaces and plenty of access to technology were part of the formula in designing the new space.
The effect has been noticeable since the space debuted at the beginning of the 2018-19 school year.
“It gives our students an opportunity to explore materials and curriculum they wouldn’t have had a chance to explore in the traditional classroom,” White said recently, as a group of fifth-graders worked on iPads as another group of second-graders did research at the other side of the room. “They can talk, create and innovate in a freer environment.”
Tayla Counce and Malia Relford, a pair of fifth-graders who were collaborating on a game that stressed geometry and math skills, said the improved access and openness of the new space had made a huge difference in their learning. Even as they calculated angles and problem-solved as a two-person team, they spoke of the value of the space’s new layout and tools.
“This room is bigger, and it feels more open,” Counce said. “Last year we could only do activities like this on the computer. Now we can work on it together at tables in the space.”
Ponderosa Principal Chad Gerity said that the flexibility of the space, as well as its incorporation of technology, has made a huge difference for students in every grade. The students, staff and administrators dubbed the new space the INN-ZONE, a uniquely tailored name that represents the facility’s distinct blend of technology, literacy and collaboration. Gerity noted that they’re able to change the layout of the room according to the needs of individual learners, and that flexibility allows the teaching staff to accommodate the needs of every student.
“Our students are more engaged and energized. I see them excited when they come in to learn,” Gerity said. “We’ve revolutionized the library space. It’s a think tank, a place where multiple groups can innovate and engage at the same time.”
Similar spaces will go up in every elementary and middle school in the Cherry Creek School District, and came through funding approved by voters in 2016. The spaces are designed to develop skills like collaboration, inquiry, empathy, problem-solving, curiosity, innovative thinking and passion. According to the latest academic research, as well as firsthand input from parents, teachers and other members of the CCSD community garnered during the Cherry Creek 2021 initiative, these are the skills that are integral to preparing students for a 21st-century academic and professional landscape.
“We worked with business, we worked with industry and we worked with colleges when we created the focus of what our innovation spaces would be. The goal is helping our students become critical thinkers,” Siegfried said. “We want them to use knowledge in different ways, and we want them to learn to effectively learn to work with other people.”
Siegfried added that every innovation space was designed to meet the unique needs of every separate school and community. “One of the greatest parts of our innovation work is allowing every school, every principal, every student and every community to be engaged in what innovation should look like at their school,” Siegfried said. “This is the next iteration of excellence.”
“Our students are more engaged and energized. I see them excited when they come in to learn.”
-Principal Chad Gerity