Heritage Elementary School
The Innovation Space at Heritage Elementary School buzzed with a wide range of activities during a class held in the early weeks of the 2019-20 school year.
At a number of tables in the school’s brand-new collaborative workspace, students were mapping out precise plans for a Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) project, sketching lines and writing down specifications directly on dry-erase tabletops. At other stations, students were turning their plans into reality, assembling ambitious engineering projects out of pipe cleaners, glue and other simple materials. No matter the state of their individual projects, students had all the space and resources they needed to collaborate, innovate and create.
That flurry of activity took up only one portion of the school’s new Innovation Space, which opened to students at the beginning of the school year. Students looking to cozy up with a book for some individual learning time could easily find a spot on one of the new pieces of furniture set up among the bookshelves, while others looking to team up with partners or present their ideas had access to a dual presentation and collaboration area.
The look and feel of the space is a marked departure from its state at the end of the 2018-19 school year. According to Heritage Principal Ryan Langdon, the additions completed over the summer offer students more autonomy when it comes to their learning, even as it gives teachers and administrators more options to design effective and innovative learning plans.
“Now, it is all student-dedicated space,” Langdon said, pointing out that a previously walled-off section of the media center now opens into the rest of the space. “It allows a lot of flexibility. Given the fact that we can move furniture, let’s start with asking, ‘What do we want kids to learn?,’ and then shift the furniture to realize those goals. It’s more than just four walls and some desks.”
The transformations had already made a strong impression on Heritage fifth-graders Tyler Williams, Bennett Nofziger and Olivia Britt. The trio returned to their final year at Heritage before middle school to find a space that was more welcoming and more conducive to learning.
“It’s a big, new space. It never seems crowded,” Williams said. “It’s different than I expected.”
Indeed, the renovations have given students like Nofziger a new set of goals for the school year.
“I want to check out and read as many books from this space as I can,” he said. “I’m hoping to have the best year ever.”
Similar spaces have gone 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,” said CCSD Superintendent Dr. Scott Siegfried. “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.”
"As a result of the innovation renovation, teachers will be able to be more student centered. They will be able to start lesson and learning design from what is it the learning and how do I want the environment to support the learning and experiences I'm envisioning. From this starting point, teachers will then be able to make the room arrangement fit learning rather than having teacher's learning experience design be constrained by the traditional classroom and continue to have learning fit within the given space."
-Principal Ryan Langdon