Innovation Hubs Relaunch

Lakota’s Innovation Hubs Relaunch, Elevate Personalized Learning
Posted on 02/21/2022
This is the image for the news article titled Lakota’s Innovation Hubs Relaunch, Elevate Personalized LearningFour girls dressed in Egyptian attire standing in front of a green screen laughingWhile COVID may have temporarily derailed Lakota’s plans to leverage Innovation Hubs for more collaborative learning, the concepts driving the new spaces - personalized, student-led learning - have been as alive as ever the last two years. 

“The foundation of the Hubs is the instructional practices our teachers are using to complement the digital tools in these spaces,” said Keith Koehne, Lakota’s executive director of curriculum and instruction. “The strategies our teachers were prepared to apply in the Hub to give students more choice and ownership in their learning have simply been relocated to their classrooms during the pandemic.” 

But little by little, the spaces are beginning to return to their original purpose. “Hub Hops”, as Lakota’s team of innovation specialists like to call them, are recharging the spaces and reminding students and staff how they can be used to take personalized learning to even higher levels. 

“It’s been really exciting to witness,” said Krista Heidenreich, Lakota’s director of digital learning and professional learning. “Students and staff are rediscovering the space and with the same level of enthusiasm we saw two years ago.”

Pandemic Presses Pause on Hubs

Two students stand in front of innovation Hub door cutting red ribbon across doorA multi-year transformation of all the district’s media centers into Innovation Hubs finally concluded with the grand openings of the last six early childhood school spaces in February 2020. But no more than a month after they’d opened their doors to the new collaboration spaces did COVID force them to shut them again. 

Such tools as virtual reality stations, video production green screen rooms, makerspaces and collaboration stations - all shared by different classes rotating through the Hub all day long - didn’t exactly align with Lakota’s new safety protocols for in-person learning. So, the Hubs remained open, but in many cases were reserved for overflow classroom space or even mask breaks to help accommodate physical distancing. Staff altered their procedures for checking out books to continue operating the space as a traditional library, too. 

But despite the change in plans, Lakota teachers stayed true to their mission to continue providing personalized, student-centered learning. In fact, evidence of such instruction only grew as teachers found alternate ways to give their students innovative options to show their learning, express their ideas and share their voice. For example, teachers leaned on technology to continue providing real world connections. They used the tools still available to them to continue offering student-centered project-based learning opportunities.  

Teacher looks over shoulder of boy looking at computer. “A lot of the concepts supported by the Hub, like project based learning, collaboration, and organization and innovation through digital tools, are still happening in the classroom,” said Ridge Junior School’s innovation specialist, Jennifer Neubarth. “They found that they don’t always have to rely on the tools inside the Hub to infuse student choice into their lessons.”

Lakota’s innovation specialists point out that the district’s move to one-to-one devices for students in grades 3-12 was a game changer during the temporary shutdown of the Hubs. Having Chromebooks that provide easy access to many of the same tools promoted through the Hub made it easier to continue integrating technology into their lessons. Plus, the launch of the Hubs - as short-lived as they may have been in some buildings - sparked a sort of curiosity and comfort in trying something new.

“When the Hubs were first launched, it was the first time many of our students and teachers were using those tools and getting over the fear of trying something a little different,” Neubarth said. “Now they know the basics and feel more comfortable setting their students loose. The Hub is more of a safety net when they need extra support or access to tools not necessarily in their classroom.” 

“Our Hubs were designed as part of our ‘We are Empowered’ initiative to drive innovative learning opportunities, many supported by technology not found in our classrooms,” added Lakota’s Chief Technology Officer Todd Wesley. “These spaces are intended to evolve over time through student voice, staff feedback and best practice trends. 

“While the pandemic was unexpectedly part of the evolution,” Wesley continued, “it’s actually accelerated progress in some ways, and it’s so exciting to once again see these spaces energized with student and staff learning and collaborating.”

Hub Restart Brings Even More Student Choice

Student plays coding game on iPadWhile digital tools on student Chromebooks like the Google suite and WE Video have been a regular extension of learning, the relaunch of Lakota’s Innovation Hubs has meant reacclimating first teachers, then students, to some of the collaboration-centric tools that lay dormant for nearly two years. It has meant demonstrating, once again, just how the space can serve as an extension of the regular classroom. 

“My question is always how can you take one of these tools and show what you’re learning?” said Lori Vanover, the innovation specialist at Endeavor Elementary. “What can you create to take your presentation to a whole new level? That choice puts students in the driver’s seat and makes it so much more hands-on for them.” 

Tools like green screens and recording studios elevate the production of videos or podcasts, for example, and give students a totally different learning experience. Innovation specialists across all grade levels agree that these tools are coming back the quickest. 

At Endeavor, for example, third-graders recently frequented the Hub to produce their own Super Bowl commercials. Sixth-graders at Union Elementary produced their own Ted Talks on a topic they were passionate about. At Lakota West, an English class concluded a study about podcasts as a genre by creating their own in the Hub.

Makerspace tools like sewing machines, button makers and 3D printers are also being put to use again. Fifth-graders at Adena Elementary are tapping into their Hub’s tools to lead a recycling campaign. The school’s student-led Tech Squad gets trained on a new tool of their choice each month, taking their skills back to their peers and teachers to use on future projects.

Students present at front of room with peers at tables looking on“Beyond the tools, the actual space itself lends itself to some of the strategies of personalized learning,” Vanover said. “Most classrooms don’t have the space or flexibility to do station rotation, for example, so we are seeing it used for that quite a bit.”

Furthermore, the wide variety of tools gives students a wide variety of choices when it comes to showcasing their understanding of a topic. At Ridge Junior, for example, the health teacher is replacing tri-fold presentation boards for his students’ mental health fair with a choice board that gives students digital options to present their research.

The relaunch of the Hubs doesn’t look the same at every building either. At Independence and Cherokee, for example, the space is treated more like a seventh special. That means every student comes through the Hub about once a week. They are essentially handed a playlist of stations they can visit.

“It works. Kids know how to use everything and get to pick and choose based on what interests them. It makes for a good brain break,” said Kristina Linberg, the innovation specialist at Independence.

Student holding iPad crouched on knees next to robotAnd with all the digital access in the Hubs, the innovation specialists say it’s easy to overlook the presence of books. But this is still a major function of the spaces across all grade levels. From independent, student-led reading projects in the upper grades to story time and a regular rotation of book checkouts in the younger grades, the books are a big reason for traffic in the Hubs. 

“It’s truly a hub of tools and resources all designed to support personalized instruction and we are excited to see them used to their fullest potential again,” Heidenreich said. “There’s a lot of buzz in the buildings and our innovation specialists are encouraging staff to jump right back in.”