A Virtual Symposium in Response to the Pandemic

“From Gathering to Transformation” is a weekly virtual collaboration with global partners in education to move towards learner centered transformation. Each week, our summit is introduced with a pocket keynote by a leader in education, followed by the exploration of two guiding questions in small breakout groups. On May 7, Tom Vander Ark invited participants to reflect on the “spaces” where they experience powerful and meaningful learning.


Tom Vander Ark is an advocate for innovations in learning. As CEO of Getting Smart, he advises schools, districts, networks, foundations and learning organizations on the path forward. A prolific writer and speaker, Tom is author of Getting Smart, Smart Cities That Work for Everyone, Smart Parents, Better Together and The Power of Place and has published thousands of articles and co-authored more than 50 books and white papers. He writes regularly on GettingSmart.com, LinkedIn, and contributes to Forbes. Previously he served as the first Executive Director of Education for the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. Tom served as a public school superintendent in Washington State and has extensive private sector experience. Tom is a board member for Education Board Partners, Director for 4.0 Schools, Digital Learning Institute, Latinx Education Collaborative, Mastery Transcript Consortium and eduInnovation and an Advisor for One Stone, Teton Science Schools and Whittle School & Studios.

Tom Vander Ark brought this time of disruption and rapid change into focus as he shared his wisdom on the Power of Place. He reminded all of us that place-based education can truly be as simple as attending to the world around us. Tom provided a framework for the power of place through six design principles: Local to Global Context, Learner-Centered, Inquiry-Based, Design Thinking, Community as Classroom, and Interdisciplinary Approach. Place-based education encourages us to construct meaning from the here and now and has “the extensibility to go from local to global” and back again. Navigating the uncharted territory of this pandemic has provided a unique opportunity to dig deep into the power of place.

Tom’s exposition of Place-based education revealed to the FG2T community how schools from around the United States are harnessing the unique contexts of their own community as powerful levers for learning and engagement. Given this “Power of Place” he challenged us to consider two questions: What are the appearances, sounds, and feelings of your favorite learning places, and how might schools tap into these types of environments? Participants quickly pointed out that their preferences for learning environments shift depending on the learning task they are engaged in. Sometimes an audible buzz is important to keep a curious mind active, but in other cases, soft, quiet, and relaxing atmospheres can help with focus. Although this may not be surprising to adult educators it is easy to forget that students must be taught that their surrounding environment can have a dramatic impact on their own ability to learn. This is amplified now as many students are unfortunately restricted to a less-than-ideal learning space in their own home.

A trend in responses also suggested educators wanted to help students venture into places beyond school more often and that educators must expand their thinking about what a classroom really can be. Ideas like creating more variance between classrooms and finding ways to make learning environments more flexible surfaced supporting the notion that learners deserve something more than a “Cell and Bell” existence. These patterns are important for improving the learning environment within a building, but the true opportunity for transformation may exist when you break down the mental (and sometimes physical) barriers of ‘school’ to extend into the places where the content we teach intersects with the local citizens, economies, politics, cultures, and natural systems that shape the world our students experience every day.

Key Findings

In response to “What are the appearances, sounds, and feelings of your favorite learning places, and how might schools tap into these types of environments?” participants quickly pointed out that their preferences for learning environments shift depending on the learning task they are engaged in.

A trend in responses also suggested educators wanted to help students venture into places beyond school more often and that educators must expand their thinking about what a classroom really can be. Ideas like creating more variance between classrooms and finding ways to make learning environments more flexible surfaced supporting the notion that learners deserve something more than a “Cell and Bell” existence.

Collaborate with World Educators to Explore the Potential for Change in the New Normal

Register and Join the Meeting Every Thursday at Noon ET/11am CT (1600 GMT)

https://fieldingintl.zoom.us/j/497294924

The findings from each event will be summarized in our Insight section on this website, and will be shared on social. This work is meant to be shared freely, and expanded by your own community.