Highline Elementary School
Isabella Newman and Brianna Almida were getting a kick out of writing directly on their worktable.
The two Highline Elementary School fourth-graders were hard at work on a lesson in their STEM class, jotting down ideas and showing their progress. Instead of bothering with pencils, pens, erasers and paper, they were working directly on a dry-erase tabletop with markers.
The process offered an immediacy that fully engaged them in the lesson.
“I really like how we can draw right on our table,” Newman said. “It makes lessons and games a lot more fun!”
Almida agreed. She bore a huge smile as she sketched out ideas and equations on the surface of the table, even as she took full advantage of the “fidget chair” that allowed a more dynamic classroom experience.
“We can rotate the table, and I can rotate my chair,” she said.
This element of movement and dynamism was a key part of the design of Highline’s new Innovation Space, which launched with the beginning of the 2019-20 school year. What was once a traditional library and media center has transformed into a multifaceted and innovative learning environment – a STEM lab/Maker Space built within the boundaries of the old library features new screens, new furniture and flexible, movable learning environments. All of these novel touches fit with the bookshelves and materials one would expect in any traditional library.
“Everything in this new space moves,” said Highline Principal Darla Thompson. “We can fit our approach to our students’ needs. It’s made a huge difference for learners of all different types and orientations.”
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. This innovative approach to learning is also tied directly to the Instructional Excellence priority in Cherry Creek Future Forward, the district’s roadmap for maintaining educational excellence.
“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.”
"I think our students are most excited about the different ways they can work with their friends and use the furniture to be both comfortable and engaged in the learning!"
-Principal Diana Sanchez-Hart