Grant will boost innovation initiative in Newberg schools
Several Newberg School District administrators were introduced to design thinking (d.T) and agile learning (a.L) last year as part of the School ReTool program offered by the Construct Foundation and the Stanford University Design School.
Newberg High School has increased offerings that integrate those teaching and learning strategies, while also adding equipment to support them, as part of its career and technical education (CTE) program in recent years, including the introduction this year of the cross-curricular Integrated Design Studio (IDS) course taught by new instructor Matt Miller, a pioneer in the field.
But thanks to a $50,000 grant from the Austin Family Foundation, Newberg public schools will begin integrating d.T and a.L into core subjects like science and social studies at both the middle and high school levels this winter and spring.
"Design thinking is something we were implementing at CAIS (Clackamas Academy of Industrial Science), so I was seeing the power of that over there," Laier said. "To be able to give our teachers and our kids this opportunity to learn about it and to start to weave it into what we do here, it's got great potential."
The district's efforts in these areas fall under the umbrella of the Innovate Newberg initiative, the latest iteration of the Innovate Oregon program, which has chosen Yamhill County as the testing ground for its model of collaborative partnerships between schools, communities and businesses to teach and learn "the skills and mindsets of innovation that are needed to drive economic growth in our region."
That includes successful programs at four other school districts in the county, the best known of which is the heralded Innovate Dayton initiative.
"This is kind of the first attempt of doing that in a larger comprehensive high school," Laier said. "I've been in conversations with (Innovate Oregon co-directors) Thompson Morrison and Carr Biggerstaff concerning this since I got here, trying to get to a point where we can do this."
Specifically, the grant will fund four different efforts in the district, beginning with a "Make-a-thon," a kickoff event where student teachers and community professionals will get an idea for d.T. and a.L by taking a crash course on a particular topic and work together in teams to complete a related project challenge.
The second aspect will include training from the Construct Foundation for the NHS freshman science and social studies teacher teams, as well as elective teachers at the middle schools.
Those teachers will then engage their classes through student-led design challenges that involve partnering with local industry professionals in the spring.
Lastly, the grant will help fund equipment purchases for a new agile learning lab or "makerspace" at NHS to provide a venue for hands-on, project-based learning. The school has cleared out space for the lab, which is specifically intended for use by traditional (non-CTE) teachers and classes, in an area of the school that wasn't being actively utilized.
"If I'm an English or math teacher and I want to do a design thinking unit or project, now you've got a space to do that," Laier said. "It may have some small tools, it may have 3-D printers. There are all kinds of things you can put in that makerspace. It's a much-scaled down version than, say, the innovation center at George Fox, but same idea."
Newberg established three design thinking electives for sixth-grade students this year, each running for nine weeks and focused on art, STEM or digital innovation. The grant will enable those students to participate in the design challenges as a culmination of their learning in those classes.
It was a specific goal of the grant to help address the gap in design thinking approaches between the middle and high school.
"So we can start to see some design thinking between sixth grade and where we're seeing it now, which is in 11th and 12th grade in IDS," Laier said. "So it's starting to fill that gap and get teachers some background in that."