Thunder Ridge Middle School
Thunder Ridge Middle School seventh-grader Isaac Easton wasn’t concerned with boundaries as he worked on building a robot that could catapult items with precision. Along with his partner in his morning Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics class, Easton zipped between a table in the classroom portion middle school’s new Innovation Space and the neighboring workspace, where his fellow students gathered in groups to test out their projects and record results.
“I like how this space is nice and new and shiny,” Easton said as he tweaked the design on the small robot he’d just successfully constructed with his teammate. “It’s really helpful to have this new space to work in.” Easton and the rest of the class had plenty of room to circulate between the neighboring spaces, and even had easy access to the school’s media center next door if they were struck with the need to look up some facts or figures. That seamless sense of a continuous workspace was part of the school’s redesigned Innovation Space; it was integral to offering students a sense of possibility, problem-solving and creativity.
“We go back and forth between the Think Tank and the STEM Lab,” said STEM teacher Cindy Wilson, adding that the space opened at the outset of the new school year with flexible furniture and added STEM tools and resources. Along with the open, navigable design of the space, these factors have made a noticeable difference in the students’ everyday classroom experience. “Everything in her encourages teamwork. They can spread out – there’s a fluidness and flexibility. They have all kinds of ways to tackle their classroom activities and focus on learning.” Wilson spoke as the entire class focused on building a “Mars Rover” project, or a programmable robot that could tote a payload and catapult it onto a specific target. The activity saw students moving, interacting and solving problems together, and the newly designed space accommodated those skills perfectly.
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.”
"Students have more space to collaborate in a very fluid space. Our newly renovated space allows for students to move from one part of the library, into the maker space, and into a flex room where students can utilize the areas to best meet their needs."
-Executive Director of Middle Schools, Angie Zehner