IUPUC Teacher Candidates Work with Elementary School Students to Design Inclusive Schoolyards

December 17, 2018
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The Division of Education at IUPUC hosted nearly 100 elementary school students from CSA-Lincoln Elementary School and Rock Creek Elementary School over the course of two days in early December, as part of a course assignment exploring inclusive schoolyard designs. This visit was funded by IUPUI’s 50th Anniversary Events Fund, a grant open to all IU campuses, and focused on the theme, “Engaging and Integrating with the Community.”

For this inclusive design project, the teacher candidates were asked to complete a project-based learning assignment in which they explored ways in which elementary schoolyards were inclusive of diverse abilities, cultures, and ecologies, and how they may be designed to be more inclusive. In this exploration, teacher candidates consider student schoolyard experience across three levels of engagement: individual, group, and environmental.

As part of this assignment, teacher candidates consider ways in which classroom curricula might be developed to enhance this work, such as inviting students to reflect before and/or after recess to consider experiences they have in the schoolyard, and ways they may be contributing (or not) to a more inclusive experience for all. Ultimately, teacher candidates engage in this design work to learn to be reflective practitioners committed to contributing to the development of more welcoming, safe spaces for children of all backgrounds to learn and grow together in ecologically rich environments, developmentally appropriate for all youth.

To prepare for this design work, IUPUC teacher candidates collected observational data  at different public elementary schools to observe recess and record ways in which students may experience and contribute to inclusion and/or exclusion, particularly across lines of difference. The teacher candidates gathered in small groups to share and synthesize their observations to ideate and create inclusive schoolyard designs addressing issues of exclusion. They presented these to the elementary school students at the December program to get feedback from elementary youth – viewed as schoolyard “experts” – in this shared learning experience. They then guided the elementary school students in their own inclusive schoolyard design work, which participating elementary teachers plan to continue in their own classrooms, after the visit.

“By engaging in inclusive schoolyard design, teacher candidates learn to reflect on their own schoolyard experience and bring this into dialogue with the experiences of elementary students, who may see and experience life through a very different lens. This project cultivates empathy in providing the opportunity for teacher candidates to grow in seeing the world – including classrooms and schoolyards – through the eyes of their students. This project also cultivates teacher inquiry and design thinking skills in completing the project,” said Dr. Laura Liu, Assistant Professor Elementary Education at IUPUC. “We ask teacher candidates to be flexible in how they conceptualize inclusion, innovative in how they design schoolyard spaces to be more inclusive, and to realize that inclusion benefits everyone.”

The elementary students ended their day on campus with a healthy snack and the opportunity to share about their reflections from the event, and to hear the Chair of the Division of Education share about inclusion efforts on IUPUC’s campus.