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I have a good friend, James, who’s a runner. The kind of guy that without really making a plan will run thirteen miles on a Saturday morning. He ran track and cross country through high school and then went on to run in college as well. While physically and athletically impressive, what gets me about James’s love of running is how he doesn't get absolutely and painstakingly bored. I can’t run a lick. Three, maybe four miles would be a major achievement. Sure, I could train more and build up the endurance and strength to run farther and faster, but if I’m honest with myself, running just isn’t really for me. I don’t enjoy it that much, and I have no real reason to spend time and energy trying to improve at it. More often than not, most students feel the same way about school.


Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, a positive psychologist whose work focused on understanding happiness and creativity, would describe James’s experience while on a run as a state of “flow.”


A flow state can happen in almost any activity, and we’ve probably all experienced it at one time or another. Computer programmers will oftentimes talk about being “plugged-in” and dive deep into their work for ten or twelve hours at a time. Writers and painters might be at their craft for hours on end in a similar place of focus and productivity. In a flow state, people talk about losing a sense of time and are completely immersed in the experience of their task. It’s where you lose yourself and find yourself at the same time.


If you’re lucky, maybe you’ve been able to feel a state of “flow” while learning or in school. Totally engrossed by a new book or diving into a chemistry experiment. The irony of learning in a flow state is that we tend to learn most effectively when it doesn't feel like we're learning at all.


As educators at Denver Lab School, we actively think about what conditions are necessary for our students to discover this kind of flow state in their learning. In order to get there, students need to have an authentic and deep interest in the goal or the outcome of the learning challenge in front of them. They need to be able to get their hands dirty in the process. They need to have the space and support from peers and mentors to try, fail, reflect, and try again. On top of wanting to achieve the goal, students need to believe that eventually they can.


After all, James didn’t go out and run thirteen miles the first time he tried. He built up to it over time, with coaching and support from a team.


It is unfortunate that for many students, probably far too many students, school has not been a place that supported this kind of learning. At Denver Lab School, students will have the time and space to explore the world around them and time to learn more about themselves, what gets them excited and curious.


The transitional years of middle school are the most important time to focus on how students learn and what keeps them engaged in their learning. Based on a poll of middle and high school students, self-reported engagement in school drops from 67% of 6th grade students feeling engaged at school to 34% of 12 grade students. In the same poll, fewer than 20% of students felt they had the opportunity to “do what I do best every day.” These numbers need to be flipped on their head.


At Denver Lab School, we’re committed to doing that. If you have thoughts or ideas about how to make school a more engaging and transformative place to teach and learn, please send me an email (mhardiman@denverlabschool.org) or reach out and schedule a time to talk: https://calendly.com/mhardimandls/30min



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In the most-watched TED talk of all time, Sir Ken Robinson asks “Do Schools Kill Creativity?” The title is entirely rhetorical, as Robinson makes a rather compelling and obvious case that what we have prioritized in schools--a hyper-focus on reading and mathematics, reliance on standardized tests to assess performance and quality; no excuses compliance culture; the sacrifice of the fine arts, music, and theatre programs--certainly has zapped the opportunity for students to explore the world around them and to express themselves creatively.

The thing is most schools are this way. But Denver Lab School isn’t like most schools.

There’s the practical reason to foster and develop creativity in our students. For years the most powerful employers in the US have identified a persistent skills gap as the main factor in there being over 6.9 million unfilled, high paying jobs around the country. Next to digital literacy, the number one skill the research found lacking in the workforce was creativity.

More importantly, there’s the human reason. We all at some level want to be able to express unique and individual ideas and opinions. We all want to believe that we can make a difference and a lasting impact on the world around us.

“You must strive to find your own voice. Because the longer you wait to begin, the less likely you are to find it at all,” Robin Williams as John Keating, in Dead Poets Society (1989)

There’s an amazing scene from the film Dead Poets Society, in which Robin William’s character challenges one of his students to truly say something new, to create a poem on the spot in front of the rest of the class. The poem starts messy but ends with a flourish that makes you see the potential teacher sees in him.

Many, many factors will make Denver Lab School a transformative place to learn. A focus on developing creativity in our students will be one of them. Students will learn to creatively take their learned knowledge and skills and apply them to real-world problems. They’ll create murals in the community, have the opportunity to design and make new prosthetics, and figure out how to tell beautiful stories through words and images.

We prioritize creativity because we know it will help Denver Lab School students be college and career-ready, but only because it also will help them grow as a whole person. The two go hand in hand.

To learn more about Denver Lab School and be part of our design process, schedule a time to talk: https://calendly.com/mhardimandls/30min


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Never before have more schools, parents, students, teachers been looking critically at what the current system has to offer and where it falls short. While the world has changed dramatically in the last century, far too many schools have continued to embrace an industrial model of teaching and learning, where students are expected to passively absorb information from their teachers and present that knowledge uncritically on a test a few weeks later. Nearly every other system critical to society has evolved many times over, but education has failed to keep pace. The careers that our students will enter would have seemed unimaginable 25 years ago, let alone a century ago. They are not being adequately prepared by our current system.


The Denver Lab School aims to change that. We will embrace the evolving world around us with our vision to prepare the next generation of leaders to reshape the world around them.


Denver Lab School students will take their learning into the laboratory of the real world. Students will thoughtfully and passionately follow their natural curiosity and learn their place in our rapidly evolving society. Our students will master skills for life, enduring long after their graduation from Denver Lab School.


A challenge that the community of independent schools has faced is how to deliver this kind of authentic, student-centered education in an equitable way. At Denver Lab School, we are committed to being accessible, reflecting the diversity of Denver, and becoming the school of choice for families looking for a different kind of learning community.


We look to our greater Denver community to join us in our design. We need a diverse body of committed and innovative thought partners, funders, community leaders, families, and students to help us build this community and make school different in Denver. Join us today.

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