Arch 302 Students Review Findings

Students in Arijit Sen’s Arch 302 class gathered in the SARUP Commons this morning to talk through what they’ve seen in the first month of their service learning/field experience supporting K-12 students and teachers at 17 area schools. This is all part of an effort that will culminate in design proposals for each school which better align the physical design of classroom with the needs of educators and learners. In the process, a huge number of Milwaukee students engage on a weekly basis with a near peer mentor pursing an architecture career. It’s what can happen when UWM’s School of Architecture & Urban Planning and University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee’s Center for Student Experience & Talent have the chance to connect with area teachers who want a richer experience for their own students.

UWM Architecture Students Supporting 25 Teachers in 17 Schools

We’re in our second year of a working with Arijit Sen’s Architecture & Human Behavior class (Arch 302)  at UWM. In collaboration with UWM’s Center for Student Experience & Talent (SET), we’ve placed the 150+ Arch 302 students in service learning roles with 25 teachers in 17 area schools, and with us. The focus of students’ work for Arch 302 is the design of learning spaces, and the 1-2 hours per week they each spend to support teachers and students serves as a field experience and preparation for their design challenge. Over the course of the semester, In teams of 2-3, Arch 302 students will develop design proposals to better address the needs of teachers, students, and staff who use the classrooms Arch 302 students are supporting.  At five of those schools, teams are supporting teachers and students who have take on a parallel design challenge at their school. The two teams placed with us are focused on the room we use for most of our Collab Labs at MSOE’s STEM Center. 

The framework we have in place for this effort creates wins all around– a richer experience for Arch 302 students, classroom support for teachers and schools, and exposure to new ways schools might look at the learning spaces they offer. Beyond all of that, given the number of Arch 302 students involved, roughly 2,500 K-12 students most of whom are in majority minority schools with high percentages of students from economically disadvantaged backgrounds, have weekly exposure to a young person pursuing the field. For an industry with a shocking lack of diversity, this is a big step in building a pipeline of talent that looks a lot more like Milwaukee.

This collaboration was made possible because Professor Sen had a vision for what it could mean for his students, SET had processes in place to match UWM students to placement opportunities, and we’ve built up a big enough network of schools and teachers that we could find placements for everyone in such a large class. We’re continuing to explore how we can continue to sustain and leverage this model. if you’d like to get involved, let us know.





Collab Lab 59: Recap & Notes

After a break in January, our Collab Lab Series resumed last night with a session focused on dealing with setbacks and recognizing wins.


Began the discussion with an inventory of the challenges and setbacks students face when they work together on open ended projects.  These challenges primarily revolve around:


  • Focus on grades
  • Belief that their voice won’t matter
  • Opposing wants — freedom vs control
  • Expectations are unclear

An ability to deal with uncertainty

  • Lack of confidence
  • Being open to the idea that there is no one right answer 
  • Aversion to risk/failure

Communication & collaboration

  • Inability for team members to agree on a common approach
  • Ability to deal with personality conflicts within a team
  • Ability to give and receive constructive criticism
  • Lack of accountability
  • Lack of feedback

Project structure

  • Project lacks structure that would allow students to make progress
  • Space/time to iterate
  • Access to resources necessary to effectively take on the challenge


  • Ability to arrive at a good definition/understanding of the problem at hand
  • Time management
  • Need for higher level thinking skills


In our second round, our discussion shifted to look at strategies to help students address each of these challenges.


  • Set clear expectations with examples
  • Set up an environment with clear expectations for communication, collaboration, willingness to learn from things that did not go as expected.

Dealing with uncertainty

  • Students have repeated opportunities to immerse themselves in the challenge and circle back with their teacher for input and guidance
  • Acknowledge big feelings to help understand that “failure” is not personal

Communication & collaboration

  • Understand the context of students life beyond school and what they may need to work effectively with peers
  • Small, frequent check-ins
  • Create time/space for purposeful reflection

Project Structure

  • Students are given a clear view of the process they will follow to arrive at a solution even if they can’t yet see where it might lead
  • Decompose challenge into smaller pieces
  • Structure challenges students to stretch at each step of the process, but those steps are within reach, and build on each other
  • Connect students with what they need when
  • Repeated opportunities to practice and develop skills within the context of the project


  • Both students and teachers are equipped with the skills they need/supported in their development of those skills
  • Skills required build on those already acquired

A Simple Tool

With this inventory in hand, we recounted the story of the Number Talks Quick Refence Card that was developed out of a project we did with K-12 teachers and UWM Math faculty.  That project supported teams of teachers who wanted to establish Number Talks as a regular practice in their elementary school classrooms. Though teachers could clearly see the value of the practice, it was something new, so they wanted something that could rely on to help keep them on the right path.  One of the teachers suggested a small card of reminders that should could hold and glance down at while working with students.  The card we developed includes three sections: Talk Moves (strategies), Probes (questions to ask), and Pats on the Back (signs that things are working). 

As the final exercise of the night, we asked each of our discussion groups to develop their own Quick Reference Cards for open ended projects.  Here’s what they came up with:

Group 1


  • Give yourself time
  • Accept “I don’t know”
  • Build personal connections
  • You’ve got this
  • Accept congratulations


  • Tell me more…
  • How might we…?

Pats on the Back

  • I was afraid to try this but I did anyway

  Group 2


  • Yes, and?
  • Build community
  • Set Goals
  • Normalize failure


  • What did we learn?
  • What is your why?
  • What makes you uncomfortable?
  • What do you bring to the team?
  • How might we…?

Pats on the Back

  • Unprompted reflection

Group 3


  • Are students in the right groups?
  • What does this student need?
  • How is my relationship with this student?


  • How will you define success?

Pats on the Back

  • Students are engaged
  • Students are gaining essential skills
  • Students give and receive feedback
  • Students get the feedback they need
  • Students move from “I” to “we”

Thanks again to our Featured Participants:

  • PJ Dever — Executive Director for Playworks in Wisconsin
  • Lana M. Minshew — Assistant Professor, Director of the Human-Centered Design Lab at the Medical College of Wisconsin
  • Nina Johnston — Program Manager of the Human-Centered Design Lab at the Medical College of Wisconsin

A big thanks also goes out to Anthony, Audrey, Connor, Olivia, & Madeline, Architecture students at UWM. They are joining us this semester for Collab Labs and other sessions we run at the STEM Center as part of service learning field experience for Arch 302. In another example of 1 + 1 = 3, The students gain a field experience as they look at the design of learning spaces (in this case the STEM Center), we get help setting things up and cleaning up after each session, and our Collab Lab participants get the perspective of 5 individuals not far removed from K-12 who find themselves navigating open-ended, collaborative, community-engaged projects.

Thanks also to MSOE’s STEM Center for hosting the Collab Lab Series, as well as the students from Pathways High School and Bradley Tech who joined in person/on Zoom.

UWM School of Architecture Hosts Golda Meir Students

On Monday UWM’s School of Architecture (SARUP) hosted more than 40 middle and high school students from Golda Meir who are participating in our learning space design challenge. Members of UWM’s AIA student chapter led students on a tour of the building and supported Golda students in a hands on design challenge facilitated by Linda Keane from Next.cc

The session gave students a chance to think through some of the changes they might explore for learning spaces at Golda as well as a view into the work of SARUP students. Over the course of the spring semester Golda students will have the regular support of SARUP students in their classroom as they work through their designs. SARUP students enrolled in Arch 302 (Human Factors) will offer their time in a service learning role to gain a first hand look at how learning spaces function in preparation for the designs they will develop for the schools they serve.

Building Community and a Joy for Math

Math = A Traumatic Experience.

It’s almost universal and it stands in the way of our current generation navigating elementary, middle and high school with a different experience regarding math.

Parents who have a negative experience with math are less likely to engage with their student children about homework, encourage them to attend school, etc.

So this school year, Learn Deep is conducting a pilot, in coordination with Carmen Schools of Science and Technology’s Stellar Elementary, faculty from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee Math department and our friend Bernie Traversari, with a small seed grant from the Wisconsin After School Network to experiment with how we might provide opportunities for parents to modify their perception of math.

Our experiment Tuesday night: arrange for parents and their children to spend time together in discourse, while attempting to solve math-based puzzles in an after school setting. Since many parents are non-English speaking, we provided UWM student support for translation when needed.

The overall sentiment at the end of the evening: I enjoyed working on solving the challenges together, I will definitely be back for the next math evening, I wish we had math in this way when I went to school x years ago.

Are you a school district interested in addressing parent math trauma as a way to enable parent involvement in the learning process? Follow our story as we host 2 more Math Events this school year.

Thanks to Dean Joshua MackKevin McLeodGabriella PinterDanny McCormick


Collab Lab 57: Recap & Notes

Following the Hero’s Journey theme of Collab Labs this season, our November session explored stepping out of the known world and dealing with uncertainty. Our discussion began with an exploration of the uncertainty participating teachers and students already deal with in school.  That set some context for the next round of conversations focused on fears/worries about engaging students in open-ended challenges.  We wrapped up the discussion with an inventory of strategies and practices teachers, students, and attendees from outside of K-12 have seen or use to manage uncertainty around projects — whether that is where the project will lead or how the team will get there.

This week we pulled those factors into a system map, connecting elements based on what we heard in the discussions. What’s striking, though not unexpected, is the importance of trust and open communication in all of this. It is what allows both teachers and students to take some risks, try something new, and be willing to accept and learn from efforts that don’t work out as hoped. 

You can view the system map here, and we welcome your thoughts and input on what else we might include, or how we might better repent the dynamics at play. Those of you who have explored the map produced from last seasons sessions focused on feelings of safety and affirmation at school, will recognize a number of familiar elements. Going forward, we’ll be looking at how we can merge or otherwise use these maps and what we hear in upcoming Collab Labs to paint a more complete picture of the forces at play when we look to offer students the hands-on community-engaged learning experiences they deserve.

Next up on our Hero’s Journey, we meet the mentors and helpers as we explore what it takes to support authentic work.  Join us on December 14th for Collab Lab 58.

Thanks again to our Featured Participants:

Thanks also to MSOE’s STEM Center for hosting the Collab Lab Series, as well as the students from Pathways High School and Bradley Tech who joined in person/on Zoom.


Love The Problem

STEM Forward’s annual sySTEMnow conference brings K-12 educators together with folks from higher-ed, industry, and nonprofits that have an interest in advancing STEM Education.  With such a diverse group in attendance, we wanted to create an opportunity for students to share not what they have completed, but the problems they are working on as part of a longer running project– a chance for them to articulate the problem the are focused on and get input and feedback from a broad range of perspectives.  

Our session at the conference last week gave four teams of students the chance to do just that, with two rounds of feedback followed by a general discussion to pull out overarching themes, advice, and commendations for the participating students and their teachers. Participating teams included:

  • St. Francis High School -Independent Study Robotics Cohort
  • Glen Hills Middle School -Future City
  • Golda Meir Middle School -Fire App
  • JCI / Elmbrook Schools -FIRST Robotics

After our session students had a chance to share their work with more attendees as part of the Generation STEM showcase. A big thanks to Milwaukee Succeeds for sponsoring the session!

St. Francis High School – Independent Study Robotics Cohort
Glen Hills Middle School – Future City
JCI / Elmbrook Schools – FIRST Robotics
Golda Meir Middle School – Fire App Team

Collab Lab 56: Recap & Notes

For our 8th season of Collab Labs, we’re exploring how the lens of the Hero’s Journey can inform how we approach community-engaged project based learning, and what more we can offer students when we do so. Over the course of the 2023-24 season, each of our Collab Labs will focus on a different phase of the Hero’s Journey. We kicked things off last week with Collab Lab 56, a session focused on the call to adventure.

How do we motivate our students to take the first couple of steps on their own learning journey? How do we channel the enthusiasm of some students who clearly identify with a topic and want to set off in pursuit of the prize, bypassing what we as educators believe are essential knowledge and skills in the order we believe these ought to be learned?

What makes a call compelling for students?

We began our discussion with the question, “What makes a call compelling to students?” As attendees explored the conditions for getting students engaged in a big challenge they noted:

  • Authenticity of subject, intrinsic motivation
  • A teacher’s excitement & confidence
  • Proximal development
  • Involvement in ‘the process’
  • Confidence in the person leading the process >> proper guidance and support, constant work on trust and relationships
  • Align with student’s experience and expertise, attitudes and aptitudes (don’t set the student up for failure)
  • Culturally responsive and relevant
  • The end result will be tangible
  • (Appropriate) level of autonomy & power to choose the path that seems most interesting or rewarding

Additionally, much relies on (role modeling) a certain mindset:

  • Overcoming competing forces that may hold someone back
  • Failure is an opportunity to learn. “A bump in the road is not the road itself”

What has your experience been with creating compelling ‘call to adventure’ for your students?

What do educators and students need to commit to the journey?

With that inventory in place, we moved to a discussion of what needs to be in place for students (and their teachers) to commit to the journey.
On the student side, that includes:

  • Trusting relationships, respect, sense of belonging
  • Build an iterative experience that gets progressively more challenging
  • Create oral/written feedback opportunities that encourage engagement
  • Defined roles based on prior experience
  • Adjust composition of the learning space to reflect the work
  • Normalizing uncertainty
  • Being able to see your peers as resources
  • Learning how to co-create
  • Know and/or find yourself as a learner (EQ)
  • Develop understanding of what ‘commit’ means

Barriers for students fully participating in these challenges include:

  • Housing instability
  • Health issues, Food availability
  • May exist outside the school environment >> teacher less aware
  • Overall stability inside & outside the learning environment

For educators, the list includes:

  • Bring (or gain) personal experience with the journey you’re asking students to take on.
  • Professional development on relevant concepts, such as PBL, collaboration, etc., by experts >> those actually doing this work, from a ‘learner first’ perspective >> practical, hands on
  • Best practices that are share across schools and districts
  • A framework for designing and managing, similar to ‘design thinking’
  • Sustainable partnerships to 1) support student projects and 2) share resources
  • (how do you) develop community support for a different approach to learning
  • (time and energy to) Pursue grants to help support ‘extra’: field experiences, resources, PD, etc.
  • Admin support for taking risks with experiments.

If you are a teacher, how are you navigating the hurdles to offering student driven inquiry projects to your students?

In the discussion of barriers for students, several participants brought up a recent piece in the New York Times that noted that economic stability and integration of families, as well as higher levels of teacher pay in the US Defense Department’s schools were among key factors that allow those schools to outperform public school systems. You can find the article here. One caveat noted in the discussion– the focus of these schools is on a standardized curriculum with traditional models of instruction.

A special thanks for our featured guest, Andi Gomoll from Gomoll Research & Design who brought her extensive experience with understanding what motivates and engages users (customers) to the conversation. And, as always, we’re appreciative of MSOE for letting us make use of the NM Lab in the WE Energies STEM Center every month.

Up Next

Collab Lab 57: Dealing with Uncertainty Thursday November 9th, 5:30 to 8:30 pm at MSOE’s STEM Center

Actively using some form of PBL with your students and looking for ideas or encouragement from others? Consider joining your peers in the inspirED Community.

Challenge Feedback Opportunity for Students

Between science and STEM fairs, project reviews, and open houses, students have lots of opportunities to show off their solutions and designs. Those solutions will never be as good as they can be if students don’t love and deeply understand the problem they are trying to solve. Yes. it’s a great experience to present completed work. But at an event full of STEM professionals, educators, and advocates wouldn’t it be useful if students could talk through their ideas and get feedback on their approach while they are still trying to understand the problem?

Love the Problem

As part of this year’s sySTEMnow conference, Learn Deep is hosting a breakout session that will give teams of students the opportunity to talk with participants about the challenge they are working on, the assumptions they need to validate, and how they plan to do so. We’ll ask participants to probe your students’ understanding of the problem they want to solve, suggest how others have may have looked at it, and point them to resources or ideas that can help solidify their approach. We don’t want to see ideas for a solution or a solution in search of a problem. We want to see a love for the problem. That’s where great solutions will come from.

Do you have students working on something big that they care deeply about?

We’ll select up to 8 teams to join us for our break-out session at the conference. Students will share their thinking on the challenge they are exploring. We’ll rotate attendees around the room over the course of the session, so each team will have the chance to talk with at least three groups of STEM professionals. This is a great opportunity for your students to ask questions of ‘real’ experts as they validate the challenge they have selected to work on. Help your students with submission of their proposal using this form.

Selection Process

This year’s conference takes place on Wednesday, November 1, 2023. If you’d like your students to participate in this session please complete the proposal sign up form by October 1, 2023. We look to provide balance in the types of projects, ages of the students, variety of schools/organizations. We will review all submissions and confirm if your group was selected on or before October 9, 2023.

Participants in this session will get free admission to the conference, including an invitation to lunch!

Date: Wednesday, November 1, 2023
Session Time: 9:30 – 10:20am
Location: sySTEMnow Conference @ Italian Community Center



Collab Labs Return

We’ll be back at MSOE’s STEM Center on Thursday October 12th to kick off our 8th season of Collab Labs. If you’ve been looking for an opportunity build connections with individuals who share your passion to do more for students, exchange ideas with folks inside and outside of K-12, and explore opportunities to collaborate, this is the place to do so. If you are a student that would like to see your school value all that you can bring, take on real challenges, and build connections to the broader community, this is your place to.  Building off our experience with students in our April and May Collab Labs, we’re now extending a formal invite to middle and high school students who want to be part of the conversation.

Our discussion topic for October is Heeding the Call of the Student — where do we hear that want to go, how can create opportunities for their concerns and passions to drive a richer exploration of what you had hoped to cover anyway?  Collab Labs run 5:30 to 8:30 pm on the 2nd Thursday of each month October through May, except for January. There is no cost to attend, and beyond great people and great conversations, we provide food and drinks.  We look forward to seeing you there. 



2023-24 Collab Labs

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