Innovation and Exploration Spaces: Propelling Innovation, Critical Thinking, Creativity and Future-Readiness!

Change display time — Currently: Central Daylight Time (CDT) (Event time)
Location: Room 395-6
Experience live: All-Access Package Year-Round PD Package Virtual Lite
Watch recording: All-Access Package Year-Round PD Package Virtual Lite

Listen and learn : Ed talk

Dr. Donna Knoell  
We'll discuss the importance of implementing K-12, technology-rich innovation and exploration spaces, expanding beyond making, to creating and inventing. I'll share criteria and recommendations for what to include, and how to use these spaces to maximize technology integration, collaboration, creativity, critical thinking and increased personalized learning.

Audience: Library media specialists, Principals/head teachers, Teachers
Skill level: Beginner
Attendee devices: Devices useful
Attendee device specification: Smartphone: Android, iOS, Windows
Laptop: Mac, PC
Tablet: Android, iOS, Windows
Participant accounts, software and other materials: Smart phone or tablet, to make robotic devices function.
Topic: Innovative learning environments
Grade level: PK-12
Subject area: STEM/STEAM
ISTE Standards: For Educators:
  • Set professional learning goals to explore and apply pedagogical approaches made possible by technology and reflect on their effectiveness.
  • Design authentic learning activities that align with content area standards and use digital tools and resources to maximize active, deep learning.
  • Manage the use of technology and student learning strategies in digital platforms, virtual environments, hands-on makerspaces or in the field.

Proposal summary

Purpose & objective

The recent challenges that schools experienced as a result of the world-wide pandemic and consequent closing of many schools, make it even more important than before the pandemic, to provide innovation and exploration “learning spaces”, where ALL students are given the opportunity to develop critical thinking and collaborative skills, where they can invent and create, and where they can develop essential 21st Century skills that will make them Future-Ready. Students need to be able to work in these innovation spaces both independently on things of interest to them, and they also need to work collaboratively with other students, with hands-on activities, to propel learning and understanding, and to develop collaborative communication and social skills that were severely lacking during the distance learning that prevailed during the pandemic.

Several years ago, before the world-wide pandemic, when the concept of “makerspaces’ began taking hold, schools everywhere joined the bandwagon so they could say they also had a “Makerspace”. Yet, many schools still today, continue to lack a clear vision of what the intent or purpose of those ‘spaces’ should be, and the true potential they could offer if designed effectively, to focus on technology integration and important “Future-Proof Skills”! Unfortunately, in many cases, the “makerspaces” that developed pre-pandemic, have turned into Art, Craft, and Making Places, with as many or more art supplies as technology and electronics supplies. This perspective is totally out of sync for what the needs of today’s students are, and educators need to re-focus, to get this valuable ‘school real estate’ in line with the technology and learning needs of 21st Century students. And with the return to face-to-face learning, it is a perfect time to re-focus and assure that these valuable spaces are used to propel technology-driven innovation, exploration, inventing and creating!

While the pandemic caused much chaos, frustration and dismay, the ensuing school closures also caused many schools and communities to come to grips with the fact that there has not been sufficient technology to support students’ learning needs, and the technology that did exist when the pandemic began was far from optimal in many school communities, for advancing student learning and unwrapping student “gifts” or potential. And surely, it was rare, if ever, to find a real “Innovation and Exploration Space”, where students could invent and create, and develop Future-Ready skills. And although it seems strange to describe a ‘silver lining’, perhaps there has been some positive ‘reckoning’ as school leaders have had to face the reality that students need and deserve effective technology in order to accomplish the many educational goals that educators and educational leaders have set out for themselves. School leaders have had to come to grips with the reality of student learning needs and the technology tools schools need, to bring student learning to a level that is required in 2022 and beyond! And now that schools are once again open, it is a perfect time to create and assure that there are designated learning spaces where students can explore, invent, innovate, create, and apply their coding, robotics, engineering, and other technology skills to real world problems.

In this presentation, the speaker will share a clear vision of what schools should create for these specifically designed “technology-rich innovation and exploration spaces”. Creating and implementing “Technology-Rich Innovation and Exploration Spaces” may still include, but cannot be limited to “making”. Instead, they must focus on exploration and innovation, creating, designing, and applying with technology, thereby offering students engaging opportunities to learn meaningful skills as they also increase their social-emotional resilience. The speaker will discuss the important components and considerations that educators must embrace to make these student-centered, immersive learning environments effective, and to maximize their potential for all diverse students.

The speaker will help participants embrace the concept of “inventing” and “creating” rather than limiting students’ efforts to “making”, so that students can truly develop their own products and models rather than building, replicating, or copying a commercial model. She will also discuss the importance of designing these spaces to facilitate collaboration and communication among learners, and designing them with sufficient space to make original artifacts to document learning, and to provide sufficient space for students to analyze and evaluate the performance of robots and other models, and to enable students to re-design or alter models to test out science and engineering concepts.

The speaker will share criteria and recommendations for what to include in these technology-rich spaces, and how to utilize these spaces to maximize technology integration, including video and audio generation tools, and tools for graphic production and editing. She will also emphasize the importance of including data collection tools, to help students use these spaces across disciplines. She will also emphasize the importance of including learning resources with multiple reading levels and resources in a variety of formats, (text, visual, video, and virtual reality) to differentiate learning opportunities and the learning styles of all diverse students.

The speaker will help participants embrace the importance of using technology-rich “Innovation and Exploration Spaces “to engage diverse students and to provide all students with opportunities to engage and pursue inquiry with topics of interest to them. She will also discuss ways to fund these important “technology-rich learning spaces”, the necessity of equitable and accessible scheduling of these spaces, consideration of where in a school these spaces should be located, and how to measure their effectiveness.

The speaker will provide a clear vision of what effective, specifically designed “Technology-Rich Innovation and Exploration Spaces” should be and the potential they offer for increasing student learning, and enhancing and intensifying student engagement, helping participants embrace the importance of creating student-centered “learning spaces” that may include “making”, but definitely move away from a standard ‘making mindset’ to a broader more engaging learning world that focuses on creating, innovating, and inventing, a learning space that will maximize technology to increase student engagement and achievement. These “technology-rich learning spaces” must be places where students can utilize innovative technology and apply rich concepts to real world problem solving, places to collaborate, communicate, and use critical thinking, to create and invent, pursue topics of interest to students, and places that ignite a love of learning and engagement for all 21st Century students.

The purpose of this proposed session is to help participants embrace a vision for creating an effective, technology-rich “Innovation and Exploration Space”, an effective, student-centered, technology-rich learning environment that includes “making”, but is not limited to “making and constructing”. Designing, inventing, evaluating, critical thinking, collaboration, and integration of graphic, audio and video generation tools will all be rich and essential components of these important learning spaces.

As a result of the presentation:

1. Participants will learn about and recognize the importance of re-focusing their vision for creating effective, immersive, technology-rich learning spaces, moving away from a limited “maker” space concept, and expanding and re-focusing their vision to include creating, designing, exploring, and inventing. Participants will learn how to design and implement Innovation and Exploration Spaces, to develop student-centered, technology-rich learning environments where resources in a variety of formats, at varying levels of difficulty and complexity, and where age-appropriate technology tools come together, so students can analyze, design, invent, and “make’ products, models, robots, and pursue topics of interest.

2. Participants will learn how to utilize rich technology tools to facilitate student learning, to collaborate with peers, to communicate what they have learned, and to ‘unlock’ learning pathways and expand and incorporate higher order applications of technology, to develop “future-proof skills”, to ignite a love of learning for all students and launch students into a successful path for College and Career Readiness.

3. Participants will learn criteria for what resources and technology tools to include in effective “Innovation and Exploration Spaces”, how to assure equitable and accessible scheduling of these spaces, where to best locate these spaces within a traditional school or alternative learning landscape, and how to maximize their use to advance learning and engagement for every student.

4. Participants will learn how to differentiate learning opportunities for students of varying abilities, interests, and experience, and they will learn ways to engage diverse students, including age-appropriate real-world problem solving challenges and development of essential 21st Century “Future-Proof” Skills, using rich technology resources.


I. Introduction and background information to support the creation and implementation of “Innovation and Exploration-Focused Learning Spaces” – helping participants re-focus, to include, but greatly expand from the prevalent and more limited concept of “making” and constructing.
10 minutes

II. Creating a clear vision and establishing goals and objectives, to create effective technology-rich, student-centered learning environments where “inventing”, analyzing, evaluating, and independent inquiry will thrive.
10 minutes

III. Criteria and recommendations for what to include in “Innovation and Exploration Spaces”, how to best schedule these spaces, and consideration of where best to locate these spaces within a school, (to enable educators to reach their instructional and student learning goals and objectives). Discussion will include considerations for scheduling when schools employ a hybrid learning model, and how and if, these spaces can be scheduled or used by those learning in remote, virtual, or “home school” learning models.
15 minutes

IV. Engaging diverse learners and assuring equitable and accessible opportunities for all diverse learners. (Successful school implementations will be shared, including implementations from diverse socio-economic locations and urban, rural, and/or suburban areas.)
15 minutes

V. Questions and Answers and Wrap Up
10 minutes

Supporting research

“Create a Makerspace for Your School in 5 Easy Steps.”
Concordia University – Portland Blog. July 14, 2018.

“Create a School Makerspace in 3 Simple Steps.” ISTE Blog. August 1, 2019. Nicole Krueger.

”Create Some Space for Ideation Sessions and Design Thinking.” Rikke Dan and Teo Siang.

“Design for the Changing Educational Landscape: Space, Place and the Future
Of Learning”. Andrew Harrison and Les Hutton. London: Routledge, 2014.
“Designing a Makerspace for Pre-and In-Service Teachers. Marguerite Koole, Jordan Epp, Kerry Anderson, Robert Hepner and Mohammad Hossain. University of Saskatchewan, Vol 8, 2017.

DigiFeb Kits: Mini Mobile Makespace Design in the Arts Community. Aaron Knochel. International Journal of Designs for Learning, 2017.

“Driving Second Order Change with Technology.” Education Technology Insights. Doug Johnson.

“Educational Change in a Technology-Rich Environment.” Journal of Research on Computing in Education. February 25, 2014. Margaret Riel.

”Equity-Oriented Pedagogical Strategies and Student Learning in After School Making”. Jean Ryoo and Lianna Kali. Emporium, San Francisco.
Gravitating Towards Technology in Education: Place of Makerspace”. Roland Izuagbe. Covenant University, Nigeria, 2017.

“How to Help Kids Innovate From an Early Age.” Digital Promise. July 27, 2018.

“How Makerspaces in Schools Help Students Learn to Code.” Ed Tech Magazine. September 28, 2018. Eli Zimmerman.

Invent to Learn: Making, Tinkering, and Engineering in the Classroom. Martinez, Sylvia Libow and Gary Stager. 2016.

“It’s Time to Remake the Makerspace, But Schools Shouldn’t Go It Alone.” Ed Surge. June 13, 2019. Jessica Hickey.

“Maker Movement Spreads Innovation One Project at a Time”. Sophia Bender and Kylie Peppeler. Phi Delta Kappan, Vol 95, pp 22-27, November 11, 2013.

“Makerspaces and Scientific Creativity Level of Middle School Students”. Global Journal of Arts Education. 2018.

“Makerspaces in the Early Years: A Literature Review”. Marsh, J.; Kumpulainen, K.; Nisha, B.; Velicu, A.; Blum-Ross, A.; Hyatt, D.; Jónsdóttir, S.R.; Levy, R.; Little, S.; Marusteru, G.; Ólafsdóttir, M.E.; Sandvik, K.; Scott, F.; Thestrup, K.; Arnseth, H.C.; Dýrfjörð, K.; Jornet, A.; Kjartansdóttir, S.H.; Pahl, K.; Pétursdóttir, S.; and Thorsteinsson, G. “Makerspaces in the Early Years: A Literature Review.” University of Sheffield: MakEY Project, 2017.

“Making and Makerspaces in Education: Resources for Innovative Learning.” Jessica Parker and Stephanie Chang.

“Making Schools Different: Alternative Approaches to Educating Young People.” Kitty te Riele, Editor. SAGE Publishing, Los Angeles, 2009.

“Opening Up Education: The Collective Advancement of Education Through Open Technology, Open Content, and Open Knowledge.” Toru Liyoshi and M.S. Vijay Kumar; MIT Press, Cambridge, Massachusetts 2008.

“Promoting Positive Technological Development in a Kindergarten Makerspace: A Qualitative Case Study”. Lectito Journals, European Journal of STEM Education, 2018.

Ruben Puenedura – SAMR Model for Higher Order Applications of Technology.
“The Case for School Makerspaces, According to Those Who Use Them.” Erin Gohl.
“Why Makerspaces Are the Key to Innovation.” The TECH Edvocate. January 19, 2017. Matthew Lynch.

“Why Your School Needs a Makerspace.” School Leaders Now. June 12, 2018. John Spencer.

More [+]


Dr. Donna Knoell, Educational Consulting

Dr. Donna Knoell is an esteemed educational consultant. She works with schools, helping them improve their instructional programs. She speaks worldwide, and has spoken at ISTE, FETC, TCEA, NSTA, and ASCD. Donna is extremely knowledgeable about using technology, robotics, and AI, to advance student learning and engagement. She has authored chapters for two professional books, and has authored curriculum resources for Energizer and the Museum of Science and Industry. Donna has received numerous awards, including a Golden Apple Award, given for “excellence in teaching and leadership. Dr. Knoell has spoken in China, Korea, Bahrain, Colombia, and throughout the US.