When Skyline High School opened in the fall of 2008, it boasted a media center so modern, it was named The Skyline 21st Century Library.
But in some ways, six years is a long time ago.
Ann Arbor Public Schools are increasingly focused on project-based learning and STEAM magnet programs as well as 21st Century skills, all of which depend on collaboration both inside and outside the classroom.
“If a modern school library wants to support project-based learning, it needs to look and function very differently,” says Skyline’s librarian, Dr. Sara Duvall, who worked with Skyline’s instructional technologist, Peter Pasque, to design the original library and redesign it this fall.
The newly reorganized facility—now called the Skyline iCommons—brings into one space most of Skyline’s academic resources and information services, including digital and physical resources, services and equipment such as computers, printers, copiers, collaboration spaces, maker spaces, books, instructional DVD’s, the Writing Center and College & Career Center.
“Our library has been innovative since we opened it,” said Pasque, noting that 21st Century skills are often difficult to measure within the curriculum in specific classes. “Now we’re structuring this space as an information commons where students and staff can come together and share all kinds of resources and construct their knowledge around different concepts and ideas and project-based learning.”
New collaboration spaces in the Skyline iCommons consist of pods of tables and chairs for six collaborators. Each pod is equipped with a whiteboard, maker and presentation supplies, projector, charging station and wireless connectivity.
Duvall and Pasque repurposed and rearranged existing furniture and supplies, using whiteboards from the AAPS warehouse, tables withdrawn from other schools, etc.
Students and staff reserve collaboration spaces in the same manner they sign-up for laptops and computer labs by use of a shared Google Reservation Spreadsheet.
“To be literate in the digital age requires fluency not only in traditional disciplines, but also in empathy, collaboration, agility with technology and perseverance,” Pasque says.
Collaboration is not a new concept.
“Yet it becomes an increasingly important skill as the digital age connects the worlds of education and the workplace in ways that we could not image even 10 years ago,” Duvall says.
Students use the iCommons before and after school, when they have no assigned class during an hour, after they eat lunch, and with a class or collaboration team as planned by the students or their classroom teacher.
Senior Jonathon Muir-Cotton spends time every day in the iCommons working on his online math class. He says the colorful new look of the space, along with the new computers, makes it a comfortable place to study.
There are now fewer books in the iCommons because non-fiction books have been decentralized into classrooms for immediate use when needed. The iCommons book collection is thus mostly fiction.
Digital skills are emphasized in every grade and at every staff meeting at Skyline, and the iCommons.
Ninth graders, for instance, develop Google Apps skills by creating a digital portfolio in English Language Arts 9A.
“So let’s say your biology teacher says, `I want you to make another page on your portfolio, and I want you to include all your labs on your biology portfolio page,” says Pasque. “They don’t need to teach those skills, because the students already have them. We know not every student is not going to be 100 proficient in that, but we’re building a culture of collaboration so if the student is weak in those skills or is new to our learning culture, they can lean over to the student next to them, and that student is ready to help them out and get them up to speed.”
Skyline Principal Cory McElmeel is proud of the team effort that went into the transformation to the iCommons.
“The new iCommons facility and program support and promote relevant learning and engaging teaching,” he said. “It’s a place where students practice the skills they will need in college and later at work.”
The iCommons will continue to be the site of events and programs, including the annual gamer event and parent technology training.