One year later; Students engage as learning expands

Published 8:43 am Wednesday, April 25, 2018

By Austin High School Principal Andrea Malo’s own admission, the media center at the high school isn’t like the libraries of old.

“Students are changing,” she said to the Austin School Board on Monday. “This is not a quiet place … and all corners are being used.”

The media center has been transformed, becoming not only a creative learning space, but a tech hub for teachers and students.

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The center also has a makerspace, which is, said Anne Christopherson, a media technician, “a place students can go to just to be creative after homework is done … a place where you can release that energy.”

The group – which in addition to Christopherson, includes instructional coach Alexa Dolan and technology integrationist Amy Thuesen — has been working for the past year to redo and revise goals for the space.

After weeding out duplicate or out-of-date books, the group updated the furniture, painted walls and defined space in different areas of the library.

There are places for instruction and quiet study, collaborative work and areas where kids can take a “brain break,” such as working jigsaw puzzles.

Then there is the “tech café,” where kids and staff alike can find help for their laptops.

And finally, there is the makerspace, which is outfitted with a 3-D printer and 3-D pen, technical and non-technical supplies that are either donated or recycled material; and space to save creations.  This is the area where students can actually create items. One of the staff played a video of a group of EL students who were working on making audio sound come out of a speaker they created. The delight on the student’s face showed the success of the exercise.

Dolan noted that it is not only a place for success, but a safe place where mistakes could — and should — be made. Mistakes lead to creative solutions.

Austin School Board member Richard Lee, foreground, takes in a tour of Italy, thanks to virtual reality glasses. In the background are Human Resources Director Mark Raymond, left, and district administrative assistant Sharon Alms. The equipment is part of a flexible learning space in the high school media center.

Virtual subs might also be used, staff members said. If a teacher has to suddenly leave, students — who have been trained in the process — can work independently for the day, working through prescribed lesson plans via the computer rather than be taught by a substitute teacher. Malo was quick to point out that nothing will replace a good teacher, but there are times with a virtual sub could be used.

The impact from the year’s events has been encouraging, staff said.

Christopherson said the spaces are being better used;  library circulation is also up. Teachers like the space because they can send students to the area who are not behind in their work, and can spend more time with those students who need remediation.

The space also promotes both independent and collaborative creativity. Kids also have access to robots, coding and other computer-thinking tools.

Board members got a taste of one of the digital items in the media center – virtual reality glasses, getting a kick out of “touring Italy” through the lenses.

While that deemed a neat trick, staff said the glasses can help transport students around the world or deep into subject matter.

The media center is a work in progress. In the future, staff would like to develop more afterschool activities, such as gaming clubs; they would also like to keep portable maker space kits on hand. New furniture, a digital studio, podcasting and a green screen area are also part of the wish list.

Malo praised the media center staff, noting how much had been accomplished with little budget.

“They have done a lot on very little,” she praised.

Board members extended their thanks as well.

“This is fantastic,” agreed Superintendent of Schools David Krenz. “And we thank you so much for going out on a limb” to take an idea and make it happen. “It’s really great.”