It all began with a crazy idea.

What if we transformed a 10,000 square foot ag shop at Dayton High School into a new space, a multidimensional makerspace built around an ideation lab. A place where all students felt a sense of belonging, regardless of their interests? A place where new ideas would lead to prototypes of new solutions and creative genius was unleashed.

In the fall of 2015, that idea was hatched, one that would be instrumental in helping to tear down old paradigms of education within the school. A new space that would be called the i3 Center, where “i3” stood for inspiration, innovation and invention.

A little context

Walk into most classrooms and you see a bell curve. Within a class there are a few students who are labelled the “good kids”, who do their assignments on time and consistently do well on tests. On the other end of the spectrum are a few students who are often labelled the “troublemakers” – they are not focused on learning and are doing their best to keep other students from learning. Between those two extremes lie most of the students, some who are marginally engaged, and the others who are marginally disengaged. Map these numbers out on a graph and you get a bell curve.

Within this classroom is a teacher who is spending most of their time trying to push the middle of that bell curve incrementally forward, like a mound of jello. That is the normal and expected reality in most classrooms.

Let’s take a moment and look at that bell curve. When we do that, we find an underlying assumption about the role of public education, as it was developed over a hundred years ago, to provide society with the workers needed for an industrial economy.

You see, our educational system was designed primarily to help society slot workers into the different hierarchical roles needed for this economy. In an industrial economy, we need a small group of elite thinkers and managers, then we need a larger group of middle managers. Together, these groups are called the “white collar” workers. And then, under them, were need a large group of skilled factory workers. And finally, at the bottom, we need a smaller amount of unskilled laborers. Combined, these latter two groups are called the “blue collar” workers.

Put those numbers of workers on a graph and you have a bell curve, just like the classroom.

Further, the white collar/blue collar paradigm played out in terms of programs that we developed in our schools. For the white collar bound students, we created advance placement (AP) classes to accelerate their path to colleges. For the blue collar bound students we created our vocational programs, called career technical education (CTE). And all was good.

Well, not really. First we started gutting the funding for our vocational education, and then we overemphasized college education as the primary path for economic success. But now, even as there are calls for refunding CTE education, we face a harsh reality: our economy is being radically transformed. We are moving at light speed from an industrial economy into a digital economy. Just reviving CTE education isn’t enough.

A new reality

If the bell curve was the defining graph for the industrial economy, a very different curve defines this new digital economy. It’s called a power curve.

A power curve is used to portray exponential growth. The first power curve of this new age was used to describe Moore’s Law. In essence, this “law” describes how, in about every year and a half, computational power doubles. And doubles, and doubles, leading to tremendous increases in the the potential of computers to address increasingly complex problems. But this exponential growth has been experienced not be only in the area of computers, it also is found in the efficiencies in battery technology, the growth of networks and in the amount of data flowing through the internet. They are known, respectively, as Koomey’s Law, Reed’s Law, and Nielson’s Law. Just about everything, even the rate of innovation, is growing at an exponential rate in this new age.

If the power curve defines our new economy, how does this reality impact what needs to happen in the classroom?

Well, it now has to transform from a bell curve to a power curve, where students become fully engaged and passionate about their learning and learn at an exponentially faster rate.

At Dayton, we are beginning to see this transformation happen, as students are finding purpose in their learning. By integrating new agile learning practices into the classroom, students are solving problems that ignite their curiosity, unleash new passions, and give them a newfound creative courage.

But as they are becoming inspired in the classes, it became very clear that there needed to be a place at school where they could go beyond the classroom experience in order to learn deeper, reach higher. Where they could develop their ideas and begin to invent new solutions. Inspiration, innovation, invention. The i3 Center concept was born.

This new center is built around an Ideation Lab, were the foundational mindsets and skillsets of innovation are being taught. It is also here where teams are coming together to develop new ideas, new solutions. This lab, surrounded by fusion and fabrication makerspaces, promotes “creative collisions” of students with different interests and skills. These collisions unlock new possibilities and help unleashing the creative genius that is within each and every student.

Unlike the CTE centers of the past, this new center is quickly evolving into a place where all students feel that they belong and can become empowered to be makers and creators in pursuit of their passion.

more: What is Agile
more: Re-imagining the Educational Experience