We began a beautiful May day face to face with a Bengal Tiger. Our student tour guides from the Science and Math Institute (SAMi), one of three small community connected experiential high schools in Tacoma, introduced us.

SAMi is housed in the new Environmental Learning Center at the Point Defiance Zoo (an urban park second only to NYC’s Central Park in size).

Launched in a storefront in 2002 on the main drag, the first school in the network was School of the Arts (SOTA). John Kettler had a vision for a school that used downtown Tacoma as the classroom. Partnerships with three museums, theaters, businesses and UW Tacoma, provides students with a variety of authentic community connected learning experiences (see feature).

In 2009, Tacoma Public Schools opened SAMi in portable buildings in the woods near the zoo. Last year they added the Industrial Design Engineering and Art (iDEA) to the mix. The three schools take advantage of their unique location to provide students with the opportunity to explore passions and connect to the community, in a much deeper and genuine way than you may see at most high schools.

PNW LX Summit

We were visited SAMI to talk about learner experience (LX).  With support from the J.A. and Kathryn Albertson Family Foundation, we convened EdLeaders and learners to discuss strategies for designing powerful learning experiences.

After exploring learning opportunities at the zoo, we explored the importance of inclusive design and incorporating student voice. Students reminded us that they each experience learning different and “own it” in their unique community.

School district leaders shared elements of the nationally recognized Tacoma Whole Child Initiative.

The beautiful setting at the zoo reminded us that learning is limitless and can happen anywhere anytime.

In this podcast we talked to:

Key Takeaways from the Podcast

[:15] About today’s topic of discussion.
[2:18] What does Rebekah Kim think of when it comes to powerful learning experiences?
[3:04] What does Juliana Finegan think of when it comes to powerful learning experiences?
[3:54] What does Woody Sobey think of when it comes to powerful learning experiences?
[4:45] The key to making the makerspace at One Stone (the Foundry) such a magical place.
[5:41] Woody speaks about the creation of makerspaces in the Renton School District.
[6:40] What does Julie Kinzer think about when it comes to powerful learning experiences?
[7:46] How Julie thinks of designing powerful learning experiences for instructional coaches.
[8:26] What comes to mind for Christine Brandt when she thinks of powerful learning experiences.
[9:41] What Ryan Prosser thinks about when it comes to powerful learning experiences.
[10:43] How often Ryan gets the chance to work with teams, programs, and spaces.
[13:35] What does Kelly Tanner think about when designing powerful learning spaces?
[14:52] Kelly describes what she loves about the Science and Math Institute.
[16:26] John Kettler and Tawnya describe the Environmental Learning Center (preschool) at SAMi.
[18:43] What classes are in the makerspace at SAMi?
[19:20] What kind of collaboration is there between the zoo and SaMI staff?
[20:00] What does the mini theatre provide at SAMi?
[20:34] John describes the space upstairs at SAMi.

Mentioned in This Episode

Science and Math Institute (SAMi)
One Stone Makerspace: the Foundry
Renton School District
Tacoma Public Schools
Environmental Learning Center (SAMi)
Albertsons Companies Foundation
Jason Lee Middle School

For more, see:


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