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Going Beyond the Girls' School: Ellis Innovation Institute to Pilot, Research, Share Best Practices

The Ellis School has launched the new Learning Innovation Institute to pilot, create and share innovative practices with the ultimate goal of improving learning outcomes for students and teaching outcomes for instructors.

“The Learning Innovation Institute will serve as a hub of best practices for innovative approaches to learning like design thinking, active learning and maker education,” said Lisa Abel-Palmieri, director of technology and innovation at Ellis, who will lead the institute. “It’s the right time for Ellis to create this formal learning innovation learning institute right now so we can make the biggest impact through original research, consulting in teacher training and really a global exchange of ideas.”

The institute will focus on five main areas:

  • Exploring how maker education, learning-by-doing, and active learning serve as launch pads for improving learning outcomes in K-12 environments.
  • Studying how girls learn and leading meaningful research and discussion about improving learning outcomes for girls. STEM and its intersection with the humanities will be a major focus.
  • Offering professional development for educators and administrators regarding innovative learning practices, particularly in the area of design thinking and blended learning.
  • Cultivating community partnerships and connected learning opportunities that empower girls and foster collaboration, communication, creativity, and connection.
  • Fostering global exchange of ideas, problem-solving, and dissemination of findings to benefit girls and young women worldwide.

The practices mentioned, such as design learning, are meant to give students a more comprehensive and hands-on approach to education.
“Oftentimes, in a traditional classroom, students might do a lot of looking, or they are listening to lectures or maybe doing some group discussion in class,” said Abel-Palmieri, “but we don’t oftentimes leave enough time to get to critical thinking, the understanding and even less time is dedicated to the making, the prototyping, the testing, the iteration.”

The institute will work with other school districts to do consulting, provide feedback and help them plan and develop ways to integrate learning innovations in their curricula. But, many districts operate under very tight budgets and sometimes access to technologies for students can be an issue. Abel-Palmieri said some of the innovations, such as design thinking cost nothing.

“It’s more about a cultural shift and a mindset shift,” said Abel-Palmieri. “So the biggest challenge with integrating something like design thinking or partnerships is really the idea of shifting the culture, shifting the mindset of faculty and helping them realize that approaching learning in these other ways is a much more impactful learning experience for students.”

Some of the goals of the Learning Innovation Institute include generating new research about how girls learn; presenting public programs, speakers and authors; offer professional development for teachers, create a council on innovation; establish an international student exchange program with St. Hilda’s School in Queensland, Australia; and publish and share Learning Innovation Institute news so that parents, teachers, school districts and academics can follow trends and create their own practices.