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Thinking Ahead

The Steward School
Bryan Innovation Lab Week: Imagining the future
During this year’s Bryan Innovation Lab (BIL) Week, Steward faculty representing all divisions gathered to exchange ideas and think ahead to the upcoming academic year and innovative ways to teach and inspire their students. With a theme of “future forecasting,” this year’s BIL Week centered on the importance of thinking like futurists:  proactive, adaptive learners who are open to new ideas.

Urgent Optimism 
Led by Bryan Innovation Lab Dean Brad Kovach, Byan Innovation Lab Specialist Megan Young, and Lower School BIL Liaison Suzanne Casey, BIL Week tasked participants to deepen their knowledge of design thinking, experiential learning, and future forecasting. Ms. Young encouraged faculty to use elements from “Imaginable,” a book by futurist Jane McGonigal, as a springboard for “urgent optimism” — being ready for anything, even the seemingly impossible. 

“Futurists are optimists,” said Ms. Young, “because they are designers of a preferred future. They adapt faster to challenges, build resilience, are empathetic, and are motivated to take action. Our faculty are terrific examples of futurists: They mentor our students by equipping them to take an active role in shaping the future.” 

Service to Others 
In conjunction with the School’s 2023-24 schoolwide theme of service, the BIL Week group also brainstormed about how community engagement can be woven into classroom lessons. Upper School Social Studies Teacher Jalyn Wheatley spoke about the importance of helping those beyond the Steward campus.

“Service learning is a process,” noted Ms. Wheatley. “Studies show that when students investigate a need and follow through with service, they learn more by making connections to the real world.” Plans are in place to integrate service learning into the curriculum so that each grade level has the opportunity to participate in at least one service project throughout the school year. “The overarching theme for the year is hunger, homelessness, and poverty, with the Lower School focusing on food insecurity, the Middle School focusing on housing, and the Upper School focusing on the complexities of poverty in Richmond and beyond,” added Ms. Wheatley. 

Truths + Opposites 
During a collaborative exercise, Mr. Kovach challenged participants to team up in divisional groups and think of 25 truths about their division’s service theme and write them down. Then, he asked them to “flip” those truths and jot down their opposites. 

“By turning these basic facts on their head, we are forced to imagine the unimaginable: How would a world like this work, exactly? What sorts of events could have caused such a change?” He added, “Next, you can look for clues, or evidence of change already happening today, that these ideas might potentially be plausible. The process not only builds the skills needed for futurist thinking but also serves as an idea generator for how our community might be impactful within our service-themed categories.” 

ChatGPT: Navigating AI in Education
Upper School Technology Teacher Erin Springfield and Ms. Young challenged participants to imagine new scenarios for the future and to use ChatGPT (a chatbot that uses a natural language processing tool driven by artificial intelligence technology) to investigate those scenarios. Faculty explored the integration of ChatGPT into Steward’s classrooms, and practical strategies were shared on how to create meaningful conversations with the help of ChatGPT and encourage critical thinking. Ethical considerations surrounding the use of AI, such as bias and privacy, were thoughtfully addressed, as was the potential impact of AI on the future of curriculum design and assessment practices. Faculty left the workshop equipped with the knowledge to confidently leverage ChatGPT's capabilities in their classrooms. 

"This workshop sparked remarkable enthusiasm among our teachers, showcasing their eagerness to explore new horizons in education technology,” said Ms. Springfield. “Witnessing their engagement as they delved into the potential of ChatGPT was inspiring. It's evident that our educators are embracing innovation wholeheartedly, paving the way for dynamic classroom interactions.”

Lab Work 
Participants also familiarized themselves with the Bryan Lab’s resources. “Teachers explored the different areas of the building and were inspired by previous projects that faculty and students in Lower School, Middle School, and Upper School have implemented in these spaces,” shared Ms. Young. “In addition, we looked at the outdoor spaces, reviewed the sustainable practices that are part of the building's design, and discussed how we can continue bringing in the community to learn from and take advantage of our various resources.”

Thinking Like a Futurist
Ms. Young is excited about the new school year and the possibilities it holds.

“Futurists consider all sorts of possibilities about things that could happen,” she said. “This meshes with Steward’s mission  — to prepare students for college and for life. Spartans are encouraged to be creative, innovative futurists … and that’s something to celebrate!”

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