What differentiates the Mayfield Innovation Center from traditional classrooms is evident not just in the virtual reality technology, the 3-D printers or the open architecture that make the two-floor, 30,000-square-foot building seem less of a secondary school than a Google satellite office.
It is also in the words emblazoned on the crimson-colored wall of the Computer-Aided Drafting and Design lab, a quote attributed to Curt Richardson, the founder of OtterBox, which makes consumer electronics accessories:
Failure is a part of innovation. Perhaps the most important part.
Wait a minute. Failure, being extolled, even celebrated? In a high school?
Yes, in part because this is not a typical school. The center at suburban Mayfield City Schools, a district of 4,300 K-12 students 15 miles east of Cleveland, is a striking example of an approach to education that could eventually make traditional methods as outdated as chalk and blackboards.
Mayfield’s model is described as project-based, team-centered, career and industry-aligned learning.
Project Lead the Way, an Indianapolis-based nonprofit that is one of the prime progenitors of this educational philosophy, articulates it in its mission statement:
“We believe all students — beginning at a young age — need access to real-world, applied learning experiences that empower them to gain the skills they need to thrive in college, career and beyond.”
At programs like Mayfield’s — where 11 teachers have completed Project Lead the Way’s certification since 2014 — that means not only access to state-of-the-art technology, but also partnerships with local organizations to provide those experiences. These include the Cleveland Clinic, which collaborated with the high school this semester in a six-week project in cardiopulmonary education.
Eighty-seven students in grades 9 through 12 were assigned cases that required learning about the anatomy of the heart, as well as advanced medical technologies addressing heart disease. Working in teams of five or six, the students used materials like balsa wood and foam board to create three-dimensional models showing specific problems in the heart, and they became immersed in sophisticated virtual reality simulations that allowed them to see a stent being inserted into an occluded artery.
During the process they were mentored not only by their own teachers, but also by staff members from the hospital. Maria Held, a clinical nurse specialist, was dazzled by the Innovation Center, a $3 million facility that opened in 2015 and was largely paid for by a bond issue.
“It’s almost futuristic,” Ms. Held said. “Especially compared to when I was in school.”