TMI Episcopal is introducing the classroom of the future, where students aren’t tied to a desk, brainstorming is encouraged and teachers are guides, not authoritarians, officials said.
The Walker Innovation Center broke ground Sept. 19, designed to enable learners and lecturers to stretch their creative muscles, educators at the 126-year-old private school said.
“If you’re expecting to see a traditional classroom structure, you’re going to be shocked,” said headmaster the Rev. Scott Brown. “You’re going to see students walking around, you’re going to see the teacher as a guide, a chief questionnaire and a supporter, not the subject-matter expert, in an innovation and creativity lab.”
Construction starts in late November; the center is scheduled for completion next summer, in time for the 2020-2021 academic year.
“Most schools are based on an old Industrial Revolution mindset of learning content, sit in the row, learn the history, regurgitate it on the test, that’s learning content; we want to teach them concepts so that when they leave here, they’re adaptable in a variety of places,” the headmaster added.
Funding originates with major gifts — school donations more than $250,000 — and the project’s cost is estimated at $3.5 million.
The 8,000-square-foot building will be located near the All Saints Chapel and Ayres Hall and will feature a winding path ending with a labyrinth, or meditative front passageway.
Inside, there will be a broadcast studio, an augmented reality and virtual reality, or AR/VR, room, a fabrication lab, the robotics area, plus two classrooms.
“It’s going to be pretty special,” said Dirk P.D. Mosis III, board member and Finance and Facilities Committee chairman. “It’ll be new and fresh.”
Stephen and Debra Walker, the center’s namesake, are frequent donors, having seen several grandchildren graduate from TMI.
Justin Kutscherousky, the center’s coordinator and innovation and design teacher, said the space should bring everyone together through the concept of “design thinking,” an idea used for years in the corporate world.
“It’s a place physically and in the curriculum where students can come and have a completely open forum educationally, to do whatever it is they are passionate about,” Kutscherousky said.
Design thinking is a solution-based concept involving empathy, brainstorming, prototyping, testing and product launching. It entails creativity, collaboration, problem-solving and critical thinking, Kutscherousky added.
Innovation and design currently is an elective taught to middle and high school students starting in eighth grade. This semester, students in the course are implementing personal projects and assisting instructors.
Pupils have created an Android and iPhone app chronicling who’s played what position for a teacher’s Little League team, and a self-cooling shirt.
“We’re teaching concepts, and it’s an innovation center where creativity will be turned loose. We have no idea what will come out of that, what students will think of to help solve a problem in our community,” Brown said.
Next semester, schoolchildren will get involved in community projects and collaborate with local charities, nonprofits or religious groups.
“Imagine the entrepreneurial opportunities and businesses that will be born in a middle school innovation room,” Brown said.
The center will allow students to use new tools for learning, such as a religious course using the virtual-reality equipment to “walk” through the Holy Land.