In 2014, the LRNG Innovation Challenge posed the question: What if learning had no bells, no walls? Teams of educators developed inspiring proposals to expand the time and space young people have for interest-driven learning in schools, and those educators have shared the successes, lessons, and struggles from their work in the posts below.


No Bells, No Walls

Through the LRNG Challenge, a project supported by the National Writing Project, John Legend's Show Me Campaign, and the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, Educator Innovator is investing in teams of teachers who are working to expand the time and space students have to create, explore, and follow their interests and passions.


Connected Learning research and practice has shown that young people can achieve and learn when given support and opportunities to follow their interests and the time and space to create work that is meaningful to them. In most schools today, however, time and space are precious commodities, and students and teachers are both challenged to find time for deeper learning or the space to create. As a result, we may be missing a chance to support the innovators of tomorrow. Following the theme of "No Bells, No Walls", teacher teams proposed approaches to expand access to rich creative opportunities for the young people they work with and committed to sharing their solutions and lessons learned with educators across the country.


The 2014 LRNG Innovation Challenge grantees were selected in October 2014 and are now hard at work on their projects, described below:

summer_science Creating After School and Summer STEM Labs Silver City, NM—Laura Larisch, Scott Knight, Mark Cantrell, Steve Blake, Dave Chandler Aldo Leopold Public Charter School in rural New Mexico will offer a community-wide extended day program and an eight week summer program focused on STEM education. Students in grades 6-12 will have the opportunity to join After School STEM Labs, and the summer STEM Labs will also afford students the opportunity to devote longer segments of time to learning, skill building, projects, and products. An end of summer community showcase is planned to celebrate student work and efforts. Read More ›
lrng_castle_hill_bronx Connected Learning and Youth Participatory Action Research Bronx, NY—Martin Sanders, James O’Neill, Khalia Wesiner, Reggie Howard, Danielle Filipiack This project will allow Castle Hill Middle School students to develop their capacity as civic agents and will build opportunities that will allow them to gain greater understanding of the social and political issues impacting them and their communities. Students will conduct critical community inquiry projects that combine Common Core literacy skills with their interests. Ultimately, the team will work to create an online platform where different groups of young researchers can come together to share their research and resulting multimedia products and plan new projects. Read More ›
live_from_petaluma Expanding Access to Digital Arts/Media Production Petaluma, CA—Laura Bradley, Isaac Raya, Emily Dunnagan KTV, a student- and teacher-run morning show at Kenilworth Junior High airs for ten minutes at the start of the school day. This project envisions expanding the brief time and access students have in the studio to learn and build stronger skill sets around broadcast journalism, media production, and communication. By shifting Digital Arts/ Media Production from an early morning club to an elective course in a space with professional equipment and the time to explore, more students will be able to participate, nurture interests, and strengthen skill sets in areas such as film and photography, graphic design and production, and script writing. Read More ›
history_comes_alive Inspired Teaching: Real World History with the City as Classroom Washington, DC—Cosby Hunt, Suzanne Katz, Aleta Margolis, Robyn Sperling Real World History, a multifaceted, production-centered course designed to help high school students across Washington, DC build literacy, research, and critical thinking skills by modeling the habits and practices of historians. Divided in two semesters, students spend the first part of the year learning interviewing and research methods, and the final half of the year in a hands-on internship at one of sixteen historical sites. Center for Inspired Teaching, the organizational home for the Real World History course, works to make learning an engaging, relevant and rigorous endeavor for young people. Read More ›
learning_studio_lrng School as Learning Studio Saint Paul, MN—Marc Patton, Kent Sall, Billy Chan This project centers around the creation of a learning studio in Eastern Heights, an elementary school geared toward a school-wide focus on personalized learning. The learning studio will serve as a small, differentiated connected learning space and would ultimately replace the traditional library and media center as a place where students can explore interests, conduct research, and create presentations. Read More ›
LRNG_pittsburgh Linked Communities and STEM Pittsburgh, PA—Dr. Michelle Zuckerman-Parker, Dr. Laura Roop, Dr. Fritz Yambrach, Shelly Brown, Mahender Mandala, S. Andrea Sundaram Central Catholic High School will create a micro-network of educators, entrepreneurs, and middle and high school students focused on STEM, design, and communication to design and develop assistive devices and products to improve the quality of life for Veterans returning from war with disabilities. Educators will participate in professional learning to create a community of practice and support for students entering their plans and prototypes in a regionally sponsored competition. The aim is to instill an ethos of empathy, excitement, and passion for learning, where science, engineering, creativity, and caring intersect. Read More ›
birch_school_2_19_15 Maker Rings to Promote Interest-driven Maker Activity Rock Tavern, NY—Kate Fox, Edward Helbig, Gaye Sable, Harry Sweet The Birch School seeks to develop collectives and networks that embrace play and discovery, and believes in the educational benefit of working, tinkering, and making collaboratively. To that end, they have designed “Maker Rings,” small groups of five to seven students that will work together on a bi-weekly basis and engage as an authentic community. Mentors will design a portable maker space to store and utilize resources, and will facilitate team building challenges and skill-strengthening activities using tools of collaboration, creation, and social media. Read More ›
LRNG_Making_Our_Worlds Making Our Worlds Charlotte, NC—Steve Fulton, Randy Kurstin, Erin Pfahler, Mary Kendrick, Cindy Urbanski, Lil Brannon The Making Our Worlds team will demonstrate how student energy, imagination, and concern for their community can be harnessed to address issues of interest to them and their families. They will create an innovative space for students to follow their interests as makers of the language arts: digital storytelling, filmmaking, poetry, music, visual design, and more. Students will engage in creative dialogue within a network of connected classrooms, engage with the greater community, and position themselves as digital citizens by sharing their language arts “makes” through an online platform. Read More ›
lrng_riverside Passion Projects: An Engaged Curriculum Riverside, CA—Norma Rodriguez, Tuesday Ramunni, Kristin Karrow, Kristi Forsythe, Mindie Driskel, Esther Garcia Students at Liberty Elementary School will have the opportunity to work on their interest-based “passion projects” in three designated areas or “stations” around the campus: the Maker Station, the Green Screen Production Station, and a Garden to Cultivate Learning through nature. The project will implement and highlight personalized learning, giving students rewarding hands on experience with digital technology, engineering and construction, and science exploration. Read More ›
cdags_game_jam Supporting Game Design for Students, Teachers, and Parents in South Central Los Angeles Los Angeles, CA—Antero Garcia, Marc Gomez, Andre Hargunani At the Critical Design and Gaming School in South Central LA, an educator-led team will offer both in school and after school opportunities for production and game-play. Teachers will support interest-driven game design within the formal schooling context by developing a teacher “player professional development” model. The team will also launch a game design center for afterschool and weekend youth and community engagement. Community involvement will also be addressed by the development of biannual “game jams” that celebrate youth game design. Read More ›
tilden_talks Tilden Talks Chicago, IL—Maragaret Conway, Sharon Holmes, Kelsey Leonard, Suzanne McBride, Dawn Ramos, Luke Sequiera, Krista Wortendyke, Kathleen Tieri, Maurice Swinney, Mindy Faber Tilden Talks will allow students participating in Tilden High School’s community journalism ELA literacy units to have opportunities to apply what they've learned in informal and afterschool settings. By piloting a new connected learning strategy, Chicago students will have the resources to deepen their engagement in civic and social media production, and will develop roles as “critical investigators,” able to inform their communities and networks. The team will build learning pathways in community journalism through Tilden Talks, an online, student-led multimedia journal. Read More ›
LRNG-post We, Too, Are Connecticut: Promoting Digital Ubuntu to Engage Student Production Connecticut—Shaun Mitchell, Kim Herzog, Megan Zabilansky, Kate Bedard, Jennifer von Wahlde, Paula Fortuna, Bryan Ripley Crandall The Bantu philosophy, Ubuntu, which means “I can be me because of who we are together” speaks to building strong communities. The We, Too, Are Connecticut team envisions a variation called Digital Ubuntu, or “We can be us, digitally, because of how we compose together with 21st Century tools.” A year-long, inter-district collaboration, the project will bring together more than one hundred students from diverse backgrounds and perspectives to exchange knowledge about writing in digital spaces, and produce personalized inquiry-based digital products shaped around the following units of instruction: TedTalks, Digital Scrapbooks, and Podcasting and Ethnography. Read More ›
pop_up_and_make_11_12_15 Pop-Up and Make Greenville, NC—William Banks, Stephanie West-Puckett, Michael Flinchbaugh, Monica Jacobs The J.H. Rose High School team will build upon Project Connect, an existing program that engages students in production-centered, multimodal inquiry that fosters and deepens student interests, by creating “pop-up” maker spaces. These maker spaces will increase student time and opportunities for connected, production-centered learning. Teachers will gain professional development supporting the idea of making as pedagogy, students will continue to explore creating diverse digital products, and community members will be engaged by serving as maker-space mentors. Read More ›
NYCWP_Team_760 International Community Voices: Including Our Newest Immigrants in Youth Voices New York, NY—Jane Higgins, Nick Deming, JoAnn DiLauro, James Nine, Glencora Roberts, Paul Allison, Renee Ehle This project will bring a group of fifteen immigrant teens together with teachers and New York City Writing Project teacher-consultants to create an online community called International Community Voices. The online space will be housed on and will be used to share students' interest-driven projects aimed at building their English Language capacity and academic skills. In the two phases of the project, educators will develop tasks for students to complete that combine academic and interest-driven learning, and host an after-school program for 15 students of varying ages and levels of literacy to create multimedia projects, share them, and earn badges. Students will interact collaboratively with leaders and each other as peers and mentors while having the time to strengthen language development and academic learning while engaging in meaningful play. Read More ›