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A Visit to Design 39 Campus

posted Nov 12, 2014, 11:12 AM by Colin Hanel   [ updated Dec 3, 2014, 1:44 PM by Tom Borer ]


Design 39 Campus is one of Poway Unified School District’s newest schools. This school was built from the ground up with very special design features. The first thing you notice when walking up to the school’s campus is the beautiful architecture and colorful windows. But what a school looks like on the outside is not as important as what is happening on the inside. Design 39 Campus is challenging traditional learning.

The Quantum Academy team had the opportunity to visit Design 39 Campus on September 18th. Sonya Wrisley, the school’s administrator, shared with us some of the school’s philosophies and gave us a tour of the campus.

A team of teachers and Sonya spent the school year of 2014-15 planning and learning about how students learn best. They visited schools across California and researched concepts such as Design Thinking. They have gathered together a phenomenal list of resources that can be found here.

Some of the unique features of this school starts right in the Welcome Center. Sonya Wrisley explained their use of this space. There is no assigned workspace and Sonya herself does not have her own office, only moving into an open desk area to do her paperwork. She does have the ability to use some of the closed conference rooms when necessary.

In addition to the shared workspaces, teachers (or LEDs, Learning Experience Designers) also do not have an assigned workspace. Teachers collaborate together each morning in their learning pods, a multi-grade group. They plan their day together as well as their use of learning spaces.There are three types of learning spaces at Design 39 Campus. There are classrooms, collaboratories, and makeries.

The classroom space is what you would expect a school to have and functions in much the same way. The unique difference is how the space is used. Since it is a shared learning space, the rooms maintain a crisp clean look without a lot of “clutter.” Students have cubbies to place their things, the teachers have a mobile workstation, and desks are on wheels so students can move the desks for easy collaboration. In addition, the desks are also whiteboard spaces.


Here is what we saw happening in some of the classrooms on our visit:



In the third grade students had just read a book called The Most Magnificent Thing. As a result students were using the Design Thinking process to create a “most magnificent thing” for a classroom partner. We saw students in the ideate stage of Design Thinking. Students were activating critical thinking skills and utilizing creativity and empathy to understand their classroom partner. They had to define a problem their friend has and use empathy to design a creative solution to their problem.

Collaboratories are areas outside of the classroom intended for an area to showcase projects and for student collaboration. These areas are furnished with comfortable benches and Hokki stools. Here is what the collaboratory looks like:


The Makery is a place for students to bring their creativity to life! This is the space where students can prototype and create. There are different types of makeries: wet makery, dry makery, etc. These rooms have sturdy workbenches and stools. They have tools that may be needed for projects available. Here are some images:



One of our favorite things we observed on our visit was watching the students move through the campus with a “no bell” system. Classrooms choose when to go out to recess based on the learning needs for the day. Teachers collaborate together to determine break times. Something we didn’t get to observe, but Sonya shared with us, is their use of music in the morning to signal the start of the day. When students hear their song, they head into class.

Another of our favorite things during our visit was when we heard from students about their Deep Dive and Exploratory classes they were taking in the upper grades. These are choice based classes. When Sonya asked a group of three boys if they would tell us about their Deep Dive classes they responded in unison with an enthusiastic, “Sure!” They shared with us they were taking such classes as Genius Hour, Tinkering, and Marine Biology. Deep Dive classes are opportunities for students to choose a class based on interests. It was evident after talking with the three boys at Design 39 Campus that these classes are loved by students.

The Quantum Academy team thanks Design 39 Campus for hosting such a great visit. We hope to continue a partnership to continue to learn from each other.